Ottawa River "Kichesippi" - The Great River
Upstream from the Chaudière Falls, Ottawa River, Canada
June 20, 2005 13:00 hours (1.00 PM)
© 2005 Robert Agnel, All Rights Reserved.
Formed 10,000 years ago by the retreating Wisconsin Glacier the river has miles of beautiful white sandy beaches. About 6500 years ago the first humans appeared, the Algonquin peoples lived along the Ottawa and traded with other tribes as far west as Georgian Bay and south into present day New York State.
The Ottawa River Valley is an important part of the eastern North America flyway. Each year millions of birds migrate along its length and use it for a source of food and shelter. The river supports healthy populations of fish, from the prehistoric long nosed gar pike to pickerel (walleye), bass, 60+inch sturgeon and 50+ inch muskellunge. Today the river supports a large recreational fishing industry and along its length can be found bald eagles, osprey, hawks, beaver, wolf, deer, black bear and moose.
The first European visitors were the French voyageurs (explorers), missionaries and fur traders from New France (Quebec). In 1613 Samuel de Champlain paddled up the Ottawa and produced the first detailed maps of the area that would later become the location of Ottawa, Canada's capital city and the City of Gatineau in the Province of Quebec. He named the twin falls where the Rideau ('curtain' in French) River drops 11 meters (30 feet) over a limestone ledge into the Ottawa and the Chaudière Falls. With 6 miles of rapids up stream and a drop of 20 meters (60 feet) the Chaudiere Falls were a truly majestic site and a spiritual place for the Algonquin. Tribes from across the territory would meet each spring at the present site of the Canadian Museum of Civilization to trade, hunt and gather food.
The Ottawa River was the highway to the interior of the North America continent for over 200 years. French Canadians traveled from Montreal to the interior and the Gulf of Mexico by canoe using the Ottawa River. The river was an essential link for the fur trade, allowing furs from as far west as the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains to reach Montreal. Later the river was used to float millions of board feet of lumber to markets in the United States and Europe.
In the 1700s, explorers including Lavérendrye and Mackenzie continued the exploration of the continent via the Ottawa River. In 1791, Alexander Mackenzie found a water route to the Pacific Ocean, permitting travel by canoe from sea to sea. North America had finally been traversed from the Atlantic, to the Pacific, and later to the Arctic Ocean via the Mackenzie River.
At the beginning of the 19th century came the European settlement of the Ottawa Valley. The first settlers were lumber 'jacks' who spent the winter cutting the great stands of white and red pine, many over 150 feet in height and the spring and summer 'driving' the logs down river to the mills. Timber from the Ottawa Valley supplied the lumber to build many cities in North America and the British navy prized the tall straight pine for their ships mask. The Ottawa River flows over the Canadian Shield, (the oldest rock on the planet) about 80 Kms (50 miles) north of Ottawa. It then widens into a broad valley where agriculture created a booming economy that still that exists today. The small towns of the valley contributed to the Canadian experience, (the Town of Renfrew is the birth place of the National Hockey League) and one of the earliest nuclear installations in the world is still operating as a test facility at Chalk River. Today communication technology, manufacturing, tourism (some of the best white water in North America) and government as well as the traditional industries of farming and logging make living along the Ottawa River a place with a promising future and unique past. The last log drive down the mighty Ottawa River was in 1990.