Albany River, 982 km long, is the second longest and largest river in Ontario. It issues from Cat Lake in the northwestern part of the province and on its eastward course to James Bay, the Albany River first flows through a network of interconnected lakes on the Canadian Shield, the largest being Lake St Joseph. Near the smaller of its 2 main tributaries, the Ogoki River, the river drops over a number of waterfalls signalling a change in landscape. From here, the Albany River leaves behind the Canadian Shield and continues for another 400 km to its mouth through the Hudson Bay Lowlands (see physiographic regions), collecting the waters of the Kenogami, its largest tributary, along the way. The Albany River has a drainage basin of 135 200 km2.
The drainage basin is the ancestral lands of the Cree and Ojibwa, who continue to hunt and fish here. They participated in the fur trade after the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) established a post at the river's mouth between 1675 and 1679. The river was then known by its Cree name, Chichichiwan or Chichewan (meaning "many rivers forming one which flows to the ocean"). In 1683, the British named the fort and river for the duke of Albany, later King James II. The Albany River was an active fur-trading route, though less favoured than the Hayes River because of its poorer links to other river systems. The first York Boats were built for use on the Albany. Henley House, the HBC's first inland post, was erected in 1743 at the confluence of the Albany and Kenogami rivers. More successful was Osnaburgh House in the Upper Albany on Osnaburgh Lake. The river continued to be important in the fur trade until 1932 when a railway was completed to Moosonee.
The Albany River is one of the few remaining pristine rivers in Ontario. Access is limited with only one highway (599, built in 1956) passing through Osnaburgh to the mining community of Pickle Lake, and there are airports at Fort Albany and Kashechewan (both near its mouth), Marten Falls (Ogoki), Fort Hope, Slate Falls and Cat Lake. Except for Pickle Lake, which lies about 40 km north of Osnaburgh Lake, these are Cree (Fort Albany and Kashechewan) or Ojibwa communities whose economies are a mixture of subsistence pursuits, traditional activities (fishing, hunting and trapping) and government services augmented with tourism and some employment in regional mining and forestry projects. The Middle Albany is protected by Albany River Provincial Park.