Tag Archives: Ottawa River

He Could Hardly Believe His Eyes

Engraving after a 1609 drawing by Champlain of...

Engraving after a 1609 drawing by Champlain of an Indian battle near Ticonderoga (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After Samuel de Champlain founded Quebec in 1608 he wanted to explore inland.  In order to do this he had to be on friendly terms with the Montagnais Indians in the Montreal area, and their allies, the Algonquins and Hurons farther inland.  This meant joining those three tribes in their wars against the Iroquois.  It  was a decision that cost France dearly in years to come as the Iroquois were far better fighters.

Champlain made a big hit with his Indian allies in 1609 when he accompanies them to what is now Crown Point, Lake Champlain, and used firearms on the Iroquois for the first  time.  He even drew a picture of the scene.  His Indians won a great victory over the dreaded Iroquois and Champlain was “in” solidly.  The trouble was that his Indians wanted repeat performances, and arranged a really big campaign for 1615.  When he returned from a trip to France they met him at Tadoussac, and urged him to go to the Huron country between Lake Simcoe and Georgian Bay.  He would lead 2,500 Hurons in an invasion of Iroquois country.

Champlain was delighted to have the opportunity to explore so far and arrived at the chief Huron village of Cahiagué (now Hawkestone) in September.  He had travelled up the Ottawa River to the Mattawa, and then on to Lake Nipissing.  From there he turned south until he came to a body of water so large that he could hardly believe his eyes.  He called it Mer Douce, or Freshwater Sea.  It was Georgian Bay.

The plan was to attack the Onondagas, and wipe them out.  The Hurons were confident that they could do it with the help of Champlain and his men, armed with guns.  The attack on October 10, 1615, was a failure.  The Indians had no leader of their own and could not be controlled.  They were so overconfident that they would not travel quietly, and the Iroquois at Onondaga knew they were coming.  They would not use their usual shields when they attacked and the Iroquois mowed them down with their arrows.  Champlain and his men used their guns, but the Onondagas were brave and accepted their losses.  The battle was over in three hours.  Champlain was wounded, having been hit in the leg by an arrow, and had to be carried away.  The Hurons were supposed to take the French back to Quebec, but they refused to do so.  Champlain had to spend the winter at Cahiagué.  It was an uncomfortable, sometimes disgusting experience, but Champlain learned a great deal about Indian lore during the winter months, and wrote a book about his sojourn there.

To read more about today’s post, I suggest going to the Ontario Heritage Trust, and the Wyandot Nation of Kansas, as well as the “Samuel de Champlain,” The Biography Channel website, and finally the Virtual Museum Canada.


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World’s Longest Skating Rink!

English: Rideau Canal in Ottawa, Canada, Janua...

English: Rideau Canal in Ottawa, Canada, January 2005 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


The Rideau Canal between the Ottawa River and Lake Ontario is now used only by pleasure boats.  The lift from the Ottawa River to the canal is through a series of picturesque locks between the Parliament Buildings and the Château Laurier Hotel.  The first stone of one of the locks was laid by Sir John Franklin, the famous explorer.

The project that eventually led to the building of the Rideau Canal began on September 29, 1783, immediately after the end of the American Revolutionary War.  British military leaders wanted a route from the St. Lawrence to Lake Ontario that would not be exposed to the American border.  Lieutenants Jones and French were assigned to survey what was ten wild territory and reported that a canal was possible by using the Rideau River and a chain of lakes.

Nothing was done until after the War of 1812, when the building of the canal again became an issue.  In 1824, Upper Canada became impatient with the delay and had another survey made by Samuel Clewes.  The British Government offered to lend upper Canada £70,000 to build the canal, but Upper Canada would not go through with it.  In 1826, the British Government sent Colonel John By to build the canal.  he built the eight locks up the steep cliff from the Ottawa River and reserved the land on either side for military purposes.

By coincidence, the opening ceremonies for the building of the canal in 1827 were on the same date that Jones and French began their survey, September 29.  People came from near and far, on foot, in canoes and by ox-teams.  It was an Indian summer: the forests were rich in colour, with scarlet maples and golden birches.  During the opening ceremony, where Governor Dalhousie turned the first sod, frogs in nearby marshes provided their “musical” accompaniment.  The first steamer, Rideau, made the journey from Kingston to Bytown in 1832.  The route was busy until nearly 1900 when railways made it unnecessary.

However, it becomes the “World’s Longest Skating Rink” in the winter!

The Rideau Canal is amazing, as is its beginning.  To learn more about it, I suggest going to the Rideau Canal World Heritage site, the Bytown Museum, the Canadian Encyclopedia, the Parks Canada. If you would like to take a holiday in Ottawa, then I would suggest clicking your way to Ottawa Tourism!


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Just Like the Three Muskateers?

English: Fort Frontenac at Cataraqui, 1685.

Fort Frontenac at Cataraqui, 1685. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Detroit, Cadillac, and Pontiac are so identified with automobiles that few people realize their connection with Canadian history.  Detroit was founded by LaMothe Cadillac, one of Frontenac‘s officers.  The name is French, meaning “on the strait.”  Pontiac, of course, was the great Ottawa chief.

When Frontenac was asked to return to Canada in 1689, one of his problems was to try to control the Iroquois.  They used two  main routes into Canada from their territory in  New York.  They could cross Lake Ontario and go down the St. Lawrence River, or they could reach the Ottawa River via Lake Huron and French River (Rivière des Français).  Frontenac had blocked the St. Lawrence route by building a fort at Cataraqui.  The fort at Michilimackinac was supposed to guard the other route.

Cadillac had been in charge of Michilimackinac for six years, and felt that its site was awkward and out of date.  He had snowshoed all the way to Montreal several times for supplies, or to attend to some business connected with the fur trade.  How he would enjoy the same trip in a Cadillac today!  Cadillac persuaded Frontenac that a better location would be along the strait connecting Lakes Erie and Huron.

Frontenac was impressed, but sent Cadillac to France to get the approval of Louis XIV.  It wasn’t easy, because Michilimackinac was an important Jesuit mission and they did not want it weakened.  Cadillac insisted that his plan would be profitable for France and block Britain from the fur trade.  Finally he got his way.

On June 5, 1701, Cadillac left Quebec to found Detroit.  He took a party of soldiers and workmen in twenty-five canoes, and travelled the long route via the Ottawa River, Lake Nipissing, Georgian Bay, and Lake Huron, with a stop at Michilimackinac.

There was a marked resemblance between Cadillac and D’Artagnan of the “Three Musketeers.”  Both were Gascons (a region of southwestern France), fast tempered and expert swordsmen.  There was nearly a mutiny on the way, with someone knocking Cadillac’s hat over his long nose. His sword was out in a flash and he turned on the 100 men, challenging them to fight!

Nobody wanted any part of it, and the journey continued.  They reached Detroit on July 23, and began building the fort that has since expanded into one of the automobile centres of the world!

Do you want to read more about this? Well, I can steer you in a few directions. For instance, I recommend Canadian Museum of Civilization and Detroit Historical Society. There is also a site I just found out about, and is quite interesting, it’s the Waymarking (trust me, it’s an interesting site! After that, I suggest The Historical Marker database, and another site I just learned about, the Your Dictionary Biography, and finally Detroit History.


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Renfew, Ontario Found It 254 Years Later!

Astrolabe, used for navigation until around 17...

Astrolabe, used for navigation until around 1730, when they were replaced with sextants (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


In 1867,  a historic find was made near Renfrew, Ontario.  It was an astrolabe belonging to Champlain who lost it in 1613 while making a portage from the Ottawa River to Muskrat Lake.

Champlain always hoped to find the great river that would lead to the Pacific.  During one of his visits to France, he met a young man named Vignau, who had been in Canada.  He told Champlain about a trip he had made up the Ottawa River until he reached an ocean.  A wrecked English ship was seen on the shore.  This looked as though it might lead to the route to China, so Champlain brought Vignau back to Canada to act as guide.

On May 27, 1613, Champlain and Vignau left St. Helen’s Island near Montreal, and paddled up the Ottawa River.  Champlain knew an Algonquin chief who lived at Muskrat Lake.  He walked there carrying four paddles, other supplies and his astrolabe, an instrument used for reading the stars to determine latitude and longitude.

Every fisherman who has portaged through the woods in June, carrying equipment while fighting off mosquitoes and black flies, will appreciate what happened to Champlain.  He dropped the astrolabe along the way, and it was lost for 254 years.  That was the first bad break.

The Algonquin chief, after hearing Vignau’s story, laughed, and the young Frenchman confessed that he had made up the story.  Champlain decided to return to Quebec and was accompanied by the Indians as far as Chaudière Falls.   They carried the canoes to the foot of the falls, and performed a ceremony to ensure protection against all enemies.  A plate was passed, into which every member of the party dropped a piece of tobacco.  The plate was then placed on the ground, while the Indians moved around it, singing and dancing.  One of the braves made a long speech, always part of Indian ceremonies, and the plate was hurled into the midst of the cauldron.  Loud shouts rang out as Champlain departed.

The astrolabe was found in 1867 by a farmer who was ploughing land near Renfrew.  It was in a remarkable state of preservation; the date of its manufacture, 1603, could clearly be seen.

I’ve found a mix of interesting sites for you to visit to learn more about all this. The first is the Champlain Trail Museum in the City of Pembroke and in the Renfrew County Museums; an article from the Daily Observer about Marking 400th anniversary of Champlain’s 1613 journey;, for interesting facts about “It was in 1613 that Samuel de Champlain met for the first time one of the most famous chiefs of Algonquin, known under the name of Tessoüat, chief of Kichesipirinis or Algonquin of the island”.


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Defend Montreal, or Steal Furs?

The Battle of Long Sault

The Battle of Long Sault (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1660, Adam Dollard defended Montreal against the Iroquois.  There is some dispute about the date, various authorities giving it as May 10, 21 and 26.

Dollard had come to Canada as a young man under the cloud of an unfortunate event in France.  He wanted to do something big and brave to blot out its memory.  His opportunity came when it became known that the Iroquois were embarking on a campaign to wipe out Montreal!

Dollard Des Ormeaux, as he is usually called, received Maisonneuve’s permission to lead a small party of soldiers to the Long Sault rapids on the Ottawa River.  He would try to stop the Iroquois in that area from uniting with their brothers on the Richelieu.

The Long Sault is a stretch of rapids, ideal for catching a foe in ambush.  The French established a position behind a barricade of logs that had already been built, and were joined by two Huron chiefs with forty braves.

The first Iroquois party coming down the river was ambushed.  The second attack was made by 200 Iroquois, who were driven back with heavy losses.  The Iroquois then sent a party to speak with the French, who made a mistake and fired on them, killing several.

Wave after wave of Iroquois then tried to storm Dollard’s fortification and set it on fire.   The French turned them back every time.  Gradually most of the Hurons deserted, and the arrival of 500 Iroquois from the Richelieu made Dollard’s position impossible.  The end came when Dollard tried to throw a hand grenade over the burning fort walls.  It struck the top, fell back inside the exploded.   The Iroquois poured in, tomahawks and scalping knives in their hands.  Dollard was the first to be killed.

After the battle, the Iroquois gave up their plan to attack Montreal, at least for the time being.  If such a small group could do so much damage, what chance would they have against the larger fortification?

In the interests of historical accuracy, it should be added that Dollard Des Ormeaux’s motives have been questioned by some authorities, who believe that Dollard went to Long Sault to hijack the Iroquois and take their furs, not to defend Montreal.


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New Governor Appointed

When Champlain died at Quebec, on Christmas Day 1635, the man who was given the unenviable task of taking his  place was Charles Huault de Montmagny.

Portrait de Charles Jacques Huault de Montmagn...

Portrait de Charles Jacques Huault de Montmagny, gouverneur de la Nouvelle-France de 1636 à 1648 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He was appointed Governor of Canada on March 10, 1636, and arrived at Quebec in June.

Montmagny was a soldier and a knight of the Maltese Order, as was his aide, Bréhaut L’Isle. It must have been an inspiring sight when they stepped on shore wearing their black robes with white eight-pointed crosses on their breasts. They were followed by soldiers in scarlet uniforms and flashing breastplates.  The party numbered forty-five in all, including six daughters of two of its members.  Their arrival nearly doubled the population of Quebec!

Canada needed trained military men.  Montmagny and his aide, Bréhaut L’Isle, had fought the Turks on land and sea, and were believed to be the leaders who could handle the Iroquois.  The Five Nations had declared war on the French to revenge the defeats inflicted on them by Champlain and had taken strategic positions along the rivers.  It was not safe for small  parties of white men to go into the woods, and small communities were always in danger.

The Iroquois were armed with guns, most of which had been supplied by the Dutch who had a base at what is now Albany, New York.  They were remarkable warriors and planned their campaigns on lines that would be considered modern today>  They established positions along the St. Lawrence and Ottawa Rivers, from Trois Rivières to Chaudière Falls.  This separated the French from the Hurons and  Algonquins who were their allies.

The Iroquois “army” was divided into ten sections with most of the strength around Montreal Island, which was the crossroads of the trade routes.  One of the sections was a large mobile force that could be moved quickly to any sector.  The Iroquois did not commit large numbers of warriors to single actions, but used small bands to kill the French in what is now called “guerilla” warfare.”  If the French could be weakened sufficiently, that would be the time for a united attack.

Montmagny made the first plans for countering the Iroquois  but it took another thirty six years to make much headway.  Count Frontenac had arrived by that time to take charge.

Want to read more about this? Here are a few suggestions: The Quebec History Encyclopedia; the Catholic Encyclopedia; the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.

Would you rather hold a book in your hands? I suggest The Chevalier de Montmagny: First Governor of New France. Or Beginning New France 1524 1663


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Wright wasn’t Wrong

Portrait of Philemon Wright, a farmer and entr...

Portrait of Philemon , a farmer and entrepreneur who founded Wrightville, the first settlement in the National Capital Region of Canada. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hon. Clifford Sifton (Minister of the Interior...

Hon. Clifford Sifton (Minister of the Interior) b. Mar. 10, 1861 – d. Apr. 17, 1929 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Over the years, there have been periods when Americans came to live in Canada than Canadians went to the United States. The first heavy influx of settlers from the United States was that of the United Empire Loyalists, who came to Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Upper Canada after the American Revolutionary War.

Sir Clifford Sifton organized one of the most successful population drives in Canadian history when he was Minister of Immigration from 1896-1905. Although he persuaded people in many parts of the world to come to Canada, most of his settlers were from the United States and Britain.

One of the most successful settlers was Philemon Wright, one of the founders of Ottawa-Hull. Although he was a successful farmer in Massachusetts, he was attracted by offers of free land in Upper and Lower Canada, and spent several years exploring the possibilities. Finally, he decided that the area near Chaudiere Falls on the Ottawa River offered the best opportunities. Huge pine trees grew there and by climbing them Wright could see the country for miles around.

On February 2, 1800, Wright left Woburn with twenty-five men to help him. They brought their wives and fifteen children and traveled in sleighs drawn by fourteen horses and eight oxen. The women and children slept in the sleighs while the men, after clearing the snow, wrapped themselves in blankets and lay on the ground.

The most difficult part of the journey along the frozen rivers was at the Long Sault rapids where Dollard Des Ormeaux and his colleagues had made their gallant stand against the Iroquois years before. A road had to be cut through the woods to get around the rapids.

The party arrived at Chaudiere Falls on March 17, and began clearing land right away. The first summer they reaped 1,000 bushels of potatoes and 40 bushels of wheat. In 1808, Wright was ready to ship his first boom of logs down the Ottawa River to the St. Lawrence. An industry that was to become the commercial backbone of Ottawa had started.

To learn more about Wright, a good place to start is .The site also includes an extensive list of books about the people and the area’s history. The site will keep you engaged!


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