Canada’s eighth largest river, the Ottawa flows through 1271 kilometres of the Laurentian physiographic region of Canada. The section nominated as a Canadian Heritage River spans 590km and forms a natural border between Ontario and Quebec. The river flows through rural areas and small towns in the Upper and Lower Ottawa Valleys, as well as passing through the urban setting of Ottawa, Ontario.
Though tamed by multiple hydroelectric dams, the river has many interesting natural features, including underwater caves found at Westmeath. Rare plant species can be found along the riverbed and the diverse environment around the river is home to countless species of fish, birds and mammals.
There is archaeological evidence suggesting the existence of a number of Aboriginal seasonal campsites dating back more than 6000 years. More permanent Aboriginal settlements existed along the riverbank as far back as the 17th century.
Dams and mills have existed along the Ottawa River for centuries. Settlements and communities along the waterway used the river as a vital power source and natural resource, much as communities along the river valley do today. The river was also used as an important transportation and trading hub by the First Nations and then by Europeans, and was intrinsic to the development of the nation’s early logging industry.
In the 19th century, tourists were able to travel the Ottawa River on steamboats. Today, motor boats, sailboats, canoes and kayaks cruise and explore this lengthy waterway. The Ottawa is also renowned as a whitewater paddling mecca, with multiple companies offering rafting and excursions down the 12 km “rocher fendu” section of the river.
Beautiful beaches as well as walking, hiking and biking trails can all be found along the river. In the winter, ice fishing is very popular, and huts dot the river once it freezes over. Snowmobiling, skating, and cross-country skiing are also popular winter pursuits on trails along the river.
Who Manages the River?
One of the main river stewardship organizations along the river is Ottawa Riverkeeper; however, no single organization is named as the river manager in the designation document, which instead notes the importance of the many communities, industries and all levels of government to cooperate in the management of this river.
The Ottawa River is home to the eastern spiny softshell turtle, one of the rarest turtles in Canada.