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.