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North Shore Channel

The North Shore Channel is a manmade canal and part of the Illinois Waterway System. It begins at Wilmette Harbor and flows southwest through Wilmette, Evanston, Skokie and Lincolnwood. Then it continues south to the North Branch of the Chicago River and through Chicago. It joins the South Branch of the Chicago River and eventually the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal.

Chicago Harbor
Photo by Elaine C. Shigley

This channel, sometimes called the Wilmette Channel, is primarily used as a drainage canal, but engineers also wanted to correct the stagnating qualities of the North Branch of the Chicago River. Work began on the 7.7 mile channel in 1907 and completed it in 1910. It has four bends, earthen sides and is 90 feet wide and 5-10 feet deep. Unlike the Chicago River, it follows its natural, southward course like the North Branch.

The North Branch of the Chicago River drops four feet through a dam into the confluence of the channel and the river. It creates the only waterfall within the Chicago city limits in North Park community on the Far North Side. This waterfall looks like a concrete spillway.

Sluice gates at Wilmette Harbor prevent the channel from draining into Lake Michigan, but they are opened occasionally to prevent flooding downstream. Locks control boating. From 1960-1980, the channel was flushed regularly. The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago oversees this channel and the Chicago Waterway System, which the American Society of Civil Engineers named the Civil Engineering Monument of the Millennium in 1999.

Today, the Deep Tunnel Project handles waste water. The water quality of the North Shore Channel has greatly improved, and fishing and boating on the channel are approved. The North Shore Channel Trail courses through parks and woodlands. This region is now a passageway for local wildlife and a healthy, natural environment.

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