The French River, 290 km long (to head of Sturgeon River), rises from Lake Nipissing in northeastern Ontario and flows 110 km west towards Georgian Bay. Over its course, it splits into 2 branches around Eighteen Mile Island, reunites, plunges through a narrow channel and divides into 3 main channels (Western Channel, Main and Eastern outlets) in its delta. Its rocky shores are a maze of channels and bays, and its course follows a complex of natural fissures and faults in the Canadian Shield. The river was a swift, one-day run for the voyageurs, and played a part in the fur trade as early as 1615, when it was travelled by Samuel de Champlain. The Ojibwa named the river because it brought the French into their land.
It is still a popular canoe route, and muskellunge, walleye, bass and pike are plentiful. Fur-trade artifacts and native utensils have been recovered from the area; in particular 3 Huron cooking pots in the summer of 1987 that are estimated to be 4 centuries old. Native rock paintings are visible near Keso Point. Its historical significance as a transportation corridor for natives and the fur trade led to its designation as a Canadian Heritage River in 1986. In 1989 a provincial park was established protecting most of the river.