The Historic Ottawa River
A bird’s-eye-view of the Ottawa Valley illustrates its most important natural feature – the Ottawa River. One of the great rivers on the continent and the second largest in eastern Canada, the Ottawa is approximately 1271 km long draining a watershed of 140 000 km squared.
Most of the Ottawa River lies within the Canadian Shield, a highland underlain by Precambrian bedrock spanning the continent. Its predominantly acidic, erosion-resistant substrate sustains vast forests essential to the production of the largest supply of fresh water in the world. From this expansive reservoir flow rivers of immense ecological and economic importance: the St Lawrence, the Saguenay, the Nelson, the Eastmain, the Churchill and the Ottawa.
The Ottawa River cradles the natural and cultural heart of western Quebec and eastern Ontario. Originally it nurtured plants and animals that recolonized vast regions of Canada following the end of continental glaciation 11 000 years ago. Centuries later Canada’s first Aboriginal peoples roamed this landscape, followed by Europeans in pursuit of furs, timber and land.
Beginning with Samuel de Champlain in 1613, many of the great names in North American exploration used the Ottawa as a river highway into the interior. These and thousands of anonymous aboriginals, coureurs de bois, loggers and Old World settlers traveled, lived and died along the Ottawa River – the original trans-Canada highway.