Ottawa River - History

History

See also: Ottawa River timber trade

As it does to this day, the river played a vital role in life of the Algonquin people, who lived throughout its watershed at contact. The river is called Kichisìpi, meaning "Great River" in Anicinàbemowin, the Algonquin language. The Algonquin define themselves in terms of their position on the river, referring to themselves as the Omàmiwinini, 'down-river people'. Although a majority of the Algonquin First Nation lives in Quebec, the entire Ottawa Valley is Algonquin traditional territory. Present settlement is a result of adaptations made as a result of settler pressures.

Some early European explorers, possibly considering the Ottawa River to be more significant than the Upper St. Lawrence River, applied the name River Canada to the Ottawa River and the St. Lawrence River below the confluence at Montreal. As the extent of the Great Lakes became clear and the river began to be regarded as a tributary, it was variously known as the Grand River, "Great River" or Grand River of the Algonquins before the present name was settled upon. This name change resulted from the Ottawa peoples' control of the river circa 1685. However, only one band of Ottawa, the Kinouncherpirini or Keinouch, ever inhabited the Ottawa Valley.

In 1615, Samuel de Champlain and Étienne Brûlé, assisted by Algonquin guides, were the first Europeans to travel up the Ottawa River and follow the water route west along the Mattawa and French Rivers to the Great Lakes. See Canadian Canoe Routes (early). For the following two centuries, this route was used by French fur traders, Voyageurs and Coureur des bois to Canada's interior. The river posed serious hazards to these travelers. The section near Deux Rivières used to have spectacular and wild rapids, namely the Rapide de la Veillée, the Trou, the Rapide des Deux Rivières, and the Rapide de la Roche Capitaine. In 1800, explorer Daniel Harmon reported 14 crosses marking the deaths of voyageurs who had drowned in the dangerous waters along this section of the Ottawa.

The main trading posts along the river were: Lachine, Fort Coulong, Lac des Allumettes, Mattawa House where west-bound canoes left the river and Fort Témiscamingue. From Lake Timiskaming a portage led north to the Abitibi River and James Bay.

In the early 19th century, the Ottawa River and its tributaries were used to gain access to large virgin forests of white pine. A booming trade in timber developed, and large rafts of logs were floated down the river. A scattering of small subsistence farming communities developed along the shores of the river to provide manpower for the lumber camps in winter. In 1832, following the War of 1812, the Ottawa River gained strategic importance when the Carillon Canal was completed. Together with the Rideau Canal, the Carillon Canal was constructed to provide an alternate military supply route to Kingston and Lake Ontario, bypassing the route along the Saint Lawrence River.

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