Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
January 2005

L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia


Ottawa River


Ottawa river, the largest tributary of the St. Lawrence. It rises in the Laurentian plateau in Quebec, between the 47th and 48th parallels of latitude, flows westward to lake Timiskaming, then follows a south-easterly course and discharges into the St. Lawrence above Montreal island. It was named after a tribe of Indians living on Manitoulin island and the shores of Georgian bay. It was first visited in 1610 by Etienne Brûlé, a protégé of Champlain. Champlain himself explored the Ottawa to Allumette island in 1613, and in 1615 he followed it to the Mattawa before turning off toward Georgian bay. By 1625 a regular intercourse had been established between the Hurons of Georgian bay and the French on the St. Lawrence; until the beginning of the nineteenth century, it was the great highway to the west over which the fur-trade was carried on. During the seventeenth century the trade of the Ottawa was menaced by Iroquois attacks, and in 1660 Dollard and his sixteen companions made their heroic stand at the Long Sault rapids, mid-way between Montreal and the site of Ottawa. After the conquest the North West Company at first kept the Ottawa valley fairly free of settlers. At the beginning of the nineteenth century came the settlement of the valley and with it the commencement of the lumbering industry, the construction of canals, and the employment of steam, at first on the river and later on its banks.


The Ottawa is 696 miles long and drains an area of more than 56,000 square miles. It is composed largely of deep and wide basins or lakes connected by falls and heavy rapids, including the Johnston rapids, above the Mattawa river, the Chats rapids, which are 3 miles in length and end in the Chats falls, below which are the Deschênes rapids, and, above the city of Ottawa, the Chaudière falls, which, with the rapids for 6 miles above, represent a drop of 60 feet. Between the Chaudière and the mouth of the river are the Long Sault and the Carillon rapids. The principal lakes in the course of the river are Grand Victoria, Expanse, des Quinze, Timiskaming, Seven League, Upper Allumette, Coulonge, Deschênes, and Two Mountains. The Ottawa is broken by a number of islands, including 3 at its mouth, Jésus, Montreal, and Perrot; between Ottawa and Pembroke are Allumette and Calumet islands. Its chief tributaries on the left bank are the Rouge, North Nation, Lièvre, Gatineau, Coulonge, and Dumoine; and on the right bank are the South Nation, Mississippi, Madawaska, Petawawa, and Rideau. The banks of the river are wooded with pine, hemlock, spruce, balsam, fir, cedar, oak, maple, and birch; and these made the Ottawa for one hundred years the centre of the lumbering industry in Canada . The Ottawa has great potentialities as a source of power, and has been estimated as capable of producing 2 million horse power. The construction of the St. Anne, Carillon, and Grenville canals has made possible the passage from Montreal to Ottawa of vessels drawing 9 feet. See George Shortt, The Ottawa river (Canadian Geographical Journal, February, 1931), and J. L. Gourlay, History of the Ottawa valley (Ottawa, 1896).

Source  : W. Stewart WALLACE, ed., The Encyclopedia of Canada , Vol. V, Toronto , University Associates of Canada , 1948, 401p., p. 71.


© 2005 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College