The annual timing of river flows might indicate changes that are climate related. In this study, trends in timing of low flows for the Reference Hydrometric Basin Network were investigated under three different hypotheses namely: independence, short-term persistence (STP) and long-term persistence (LTP). Both summer and winter time series were characterized with scaling behaviour providing strong evidence of LTP. The Mann–Kendall trend test was modified to account for STP and LTP, and used to detect trends in timing of low flows. It was found that considering STP and LTP resulted in a significant decrease in the number of detected trends. Numerical analysis showed that the timing of summer 7-day low flows exhibited significant trends in 16, 9 and 7% of stations under independence, STP and LTP assumptions, respectively. Timing of summer low flow shifted toward later dates in western Canada, whereas the majority of stations in the east half of the country (except Atlantic Provinces) experienced a shift toward earlier dates. Timing of winter low flow experienced significant trends in 20, 12, and 6% of stations under independence, STP and LTP assumptions, respectively. Shift in timing of winter low flow toward earlier dates was dominant all over the country where it shifted toward earlier dates in up to 3/4 of time series with significant trends. There are local patterns of upward significant/insignificant trends in southeast, southwest and northern Canada. This study shows that timing of low flows in Canada is time dependent; however, addressing the full complexity of memory properties (i.e. short term vs long term) of a natural process is beyond the scope of this study. Copyright © 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.