The Detroit River – Flowing through Michigan History since the 1700’s

As one of the busiest waterways in the world, the Detroit River serves as a symbol for positive international relations and hope to Detroit. Beyond its historical impact between the United States and Canada, the resurgence of this historic river is timed perfectly with the city’s comeback. The integration of the riverfront’s revival with residents and visitors of Detroit embodies the new spirit of Detroit – and we love it!


Detroit River History


The river was monumental to Detroit’s automotive success, for business traveling through the strait between lakes. In addition to its transportation impact, the river was used for communication across Michigan – especially during this booming era of industrial expansion.


Today, the river serves as a beautiful natural waterway for the city. The riverfront has transformed into an iconic element of Detroit, and the revival of its shores and maintenance of refuge for local wildlife is far from finished.


This famous Detroit gathering offers amazing events by the river such as River Days, On the Plaza, Rockin’ on the Riverfront or the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix, and the GMRENCEN is proud to be a continuous core supporter of the Detroit River and the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy with all of the amazing things they do.


Whether you’re heading over the Ambassador Bridge on an international trip, or enjoying the GM Plaza, the river offers activities for everyone!


Fun Facts



  • The river stretches from Lake St. Clair to Lake Erie and operates as a strait in the Great Lakes system.


  • The river is only about 0.5 to 2.5 miles wide, making the division between Michigan and Canada very narrow.


  • Belle Isle lies in the northern section of the Detroit River, and remains a popular destination for residents and visitors of the city. Belle Isle is a Michigan State Park and is open to the public for all kinds of activities like kayaking, swimming and fishing.


  • The Detroit River was once used by the Iroquois who traveled these waters to trade fur with Dutch colonists.


  • In 1908, the Detroit News declared the Detroit River the “Greatest Commercial Artery on Earth.”


  • In 1997, the Detroit River was named as one of 14 American Heritage Rivers by President Bill Clinton due to the local community of Detroit that utilized the river to revitalize the economy, preserve the history and restore the environment.


  • The river is the only international wildlife refuge in North America. From having some of the best walleye fishing in the world, to housing an abundance of bald eagles, this river is full of wildlife!


  • The word “Detroit” is French for “strait” and the French invented this name for the river to describe the “Strait of Lake Erie” or “le détroit du Lac Érié.” This has been a major shipping channel since the 1700’s with traders navigating the waters for trade.


  • There are 28 islands located within the Detroit River. One of the islands is Belle Isle, which exists as the largest urban island park in the United States. The entire island is listed as a historic district on the National Register of Historic Places, and the also encompasses the oldest rowing club in North America.


Interested in checking out all the Detroit River has to offer? Head on down to the GM Plaza!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *