St. Clair National Wildlife Area


St. Clair National Wildlife Area is open to the public for day-use only. Visitors are restricted to using official trails and viewing structures only. While most trails are open, some trails and visitor facilities may remain closed until such time that they can be safely re-opened.

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Saint Clair National Wildlife Area (NWA) is located 19 kilometers (km) west of Chatham, Ontario. It lies within the extensive marsh habitat that spreads from Mitchell's Bay to the mouth of the Thames River, along the southeast shore of Lake Saint Clair.


Originally established in 1978, the NWA is comprised of two properties: Saint Clair (244 hectares (ha)) and Bear Creek (113 ha). This area is dominated by wetland habitat, with remnant patches of tall-grass prairie. Saint Clair NWA is also listed as a Ramsar wetland, an International Butterfly Reserve, and part of the Eastern Lake St. Clair Important Bird Area (IBA).

St. Clair National Wildlife Area

Lake St. Clair and adjacent marshes are the most important staging area for waterfowl in Ontario, south of James Bay. The wetlands consist mainly of cattail marsh encircled by constructed dykes that mimic natural water-level changes. This area is located at the transition between two major migratory routes: the Atlantic and Mississippi flyways.

Every year during migration, hundreds of thousands of waterfowl, including the tundra swan, pass through this NWA. Puddle ducks, geese and diving ducks also use this habitat as a staging area every year during migration.

This area provides important habitat for both common and rare marsh birds, reptiles, amphibians, mammals and rare prairie plants.

Least Bittern photo: Shawn Meyer

The St. Clair NWA provides habitat to 20 species at risk (endangered, threatened, and special concern), ranging from birds, mammals, fish, insects, reptiles and plants. Some examples of species at risk include:

  • least bittern
  • king rail
  • pugnose shiner
  • monarch
  • queen snake
  • eastern foxsnake
  • swamp rose mallow

More information on the Saint Clair NWA can be found in the summary table below.


Under the Canada Wildlife Act, NWAs are protected and managed in accordance with the Wildlife Area Regulations. The primary purpose of NWAs is to protect and conserve wildlife and their habitat. For this purpose and according to the legislation, all activities in a NWA that could interfere with the conservation of wildlife can be prohibited. Consequently, most NWAs are not accessible to the public and all activities are prohibited. However, some activities may be authorized through public notice or the issuance of permits as long as they are consistent with the management plan goals for the NWA. For more information, consult the NWAs Management and Activities section.

Access to some portions of the St. Clair NWA is restricted to protect wildlife and their habitats from disturbance. Some activities are permitted in accordance with the conservation goals of the NWA management plan. Public notices listing the authorized activities are posted at access points. Fishing and recreational boating are prohibited within the St. Clair unit, where the following activities are limited to designated areas and for day use only:

  • hiking trail
  • wildlife viewing tower

Within the Bear Creek Unit, public access is prohibited, except for boating in the Bear Creek Unit in Bear Creek and Maxwell Drain. In order to provide undisturbed staging habitat for migratory waterfowl, access to other parts of the NWA is restricted, and all other activities within the NWA require a permit.

More information on access and permitting for Saint Clair NWA can be obtained by contacting the Environment and Climate Change Canada regional office.

Map of the Area

Long description

Map of the area surrounding Chatham, Ontario. The boundaries of St. Clair NWA are indicated. This NWA is separated into two units. The Bear Creek Unit is located to the north-west of Chatham, between Highway 40 and Lake St. Clair. The St. Clair Unit is located to the west of Chatham near the Lake St. Clair shoreline. The scale on the map is in kms. Permanent water, roads and highways are all indicated on the map. A small inset national map situates the NWA in Canada.

This map is for illustrative purposes only and should not be used to define legal boundaries.

Summary table

Summary table
Category Information
Protected Area designation NWA
Province/Territory Ontario
  • Saint Clair Main Unit: 42°366334' North / -82°405108' West
  • Bear Creek Unit: 42°533290' North / -82°396169' West
Size 357 ha
Reason for Creation of protected area The area supports a population of a species or subspecies or a group of species, which is concentrated, for any portion of the year. Most of eastern population of Tundra Swans (Cygnus columbianus) passes through the region in early spring. NWA contains several thousand puddle ducks and geese. The area is rare or unusual wildlife habitat, of a specific type in a biogeographic region. Species at Risk, rare species.
Date created (Gazetted) 1978 – Legal Description
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Management Category Habitat/species management area – (IV)
Additional designations
Keystone or flagship species
Listed Species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) 20 COSEWIC bird, reptile, amphibian, fish and plant species including:
Main habitat type
  • Mixedwood plains ecozone
  • Lake Erie lowland ecoregion
Invasive species
Additional links Birds: Canada Goose
Main threats and challenges
  • controlling invasive common reed (Phragmites australis)
  • mute swans
  • adjacent land use changes
Management Agency Environment and Climate Change Canada (Canadian Wildlife Service)
Public access and usage

The following public access and authorized activities are allowed in portions of the Saint Clair Unit between sunrise and sunset daily and do not require a permit:

  • entry to the Saint Clair Unit via the main entrance (Balmoral Line)
  • hiking, skiing and snowshoeing (on designated trails along the cross-dyke)
  • bird and wildlife watching (from road, designated trails, and viewing tower)
  • photography (from road, designated trail, and viewing tower)
  • parking within the designated parking lots

There is no authorized public access to the Bear Creek Unit except by Canada Wildlife Act permit.

Note: If there is a discrepancy between the information presented on this web page and any notice posted at the NWA site, the notice prevails as it is the legal instrument authorizing the activity.

Contact us

Environment and Climate Change Canada - Ontario Region
Canadian Wildlife Service
Protected Areas and Stewardship
4905 Dufferin Street
Toronto ON M3H 5T4

Toll-free: 1-800-668-6767 (in Canada only)

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