Canada’s eighth largest river, the Ottawa flows through 1271 kilometres (km) of the Laurentian physiographic region of Canada. The section designated 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, and passes 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 Indigenous seasonal campsites dating back more than 6000 years. More permanent Indigenous 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 along the river.
The Ottawa River carries more water than all the rivers of Western Europe combined. Measured at Carillon Dam, the typical flow rate is 1,939 cubic meters per second. During spring melt volumes have reached 8,190 cubic meters per second.
The County of Renfrew is the river manager for the Ottawa Canadian Heritage River. An advisory committee made up of municipal representatives and tourism marketing organizations from Temiskaming Shores to Prescott-Russell County has been formed to work with the river manager. The advisory committee will assist the river manager with annual reporting to the Canadian Heritage Rivers System, and will coordinate projects, communications, promotions, marketing and collaboration in support of the heritage river.
The 590 km Ontario portion of the Ottawa River from Lake Temiskaming to East Hawkesbury was designated as a Canadian Heritage River in 2016 for its cultural heritage values. The cultural heartland of the Algonquin people, the Ottawa River’s history also includes its role as an important travel route for explorers and the fur trade, as well as its industrial use for logging and hydro development. The Ottawa River was also important to the development of Canada and the choice of Ottawa as the national capital.
The Canadian Heritage River plaques offer a brief glimpse into why a river has been designated to the System. They are often located nearby one of its historically significant locations, and highlight some of the most important natural, cultural and recreational values of the river.
Ottawa River Plaque Text
The Ottawa River flows over 1,271 kilometres through the heartland of Algonquin Traditional Territory. The Algonquin call it Kitchisippi – the Great River – and for millennia it has been central to the lives of the Algonquin People, serving as a major transportation route for trade, gatherings and celebrations. In more recent history, European explorers used it for passage to the West and to other fur trade routes during the coureurs des bois and voyageurs era. In celebration of its outstanding cultural heritage, economic, natural and spiritual values, a 590 km-long portion of the Ottawa River in Ontario has been designated a Canadian Heritage River.