From Long-Sault to Ottawa
Did you know…?
When Champlain left Hochelaga, he travelled by the St. Lawrence and then the Ottawa River.
First, he passed through Lake Saint-Louis. Champlain named this lake in honour of a young Frenchman named Louis, a fishing and hunting enthusiast, who begged the team to take him along for the voyage. He drowned in the lake's rapids, and that is why this lake bears his name.
Next, Champlain used the Lac de Soisson, known as the Lac des Deux-Montagnes today, situated at Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, near Montreal.
Finally, he arrived at the Long-Sault Rapids, then called Quenechouam. This episode was significant in Champlain's voyages for two reasons: he risked his life and lost his astrolabe.
Long-Sault Rapids, Ontario, 1913
Department of the Interior/National Archives of Canada/PA-43318/Detail
When Champlain arrived at the Long-Sault Rapids, he couldn't drag his canoe along the ground because there were many trees strewn about, creating a carpet that was too steep and thick to allow a normal portage. They therefore had to put their canoes back into the water to be able to pull them with a rope from the ground. But Champlain, exhausted, had little strength to pull his canoe. He tried with all his might to hold onto his canoe, but the powerful current carried away the small boat, spinning in the rapids. At that moment, Champlain thought for sure that he, too, would die by being pulled into the falls. By chance, his foot got caught between two rocks, immobilizing him and allowing him to remove the rope that was tightly wrapped around his wrist. The current overturned the canoe and he lost everything in it. A little later that day, Champlain recovered his canoe on the bank near the rapids.
When the canoe tipped, Champlain lost all of his supplies, including his astrolabe. Without his astrolabe, an instrument that served to orientate his navigations, he no longer knew where to go.
Canadian Museum of Civilization/S94-37602
Champlain navigated the Ottawa River between 1613 and 1616 in order to explore the area and to arrive in Huronia.
The Amerindians, who were supposed to bring Champlain to trade furs and explore all corners of New France that were still unknown by explorers in 1610, decided to postpone the voyage to 1611 or 1612. Champlain was disappointed but decided to make the most of his voyage to New France. Savignon, a Native ally who became Champlain's confidant, offered to act as his guide. Champlain accepted and after a few detours in France he undertook a voyage with Savignon that took them along the banks of the Ottawa River.
There is little documentation on the history of Champlain in the Ottawa River Valley. Champlain took this river because he considered it to be the shortest and least dangerous route to get to Huron country.
During his short trip along the Ottawa River, Champlain noticed some rough terrain but he looked on the bright side :
"It is true that God wanted to give this terrible and deserted land something refreshing for man and the inhabitants of this area. I assure you that all along these rivers there is a large amount of blueberries, a small fruit, delicious to eat and raspberries and other small fruits in such great amounts that it is amazing."
When Champlain travelled the Ottawa River, it was called the Kitchi-sippi, meaning "The Great River." Then it had several other names: "Grande Rivière", "rivière de Prairies", "rivière des Algonquins", "rivière des Français" and "rivière du Nord" before finding the name it carries today. "Ottawa" comes from "Outaouas", the name of an Amerindian tribe. Some claim that they were called the "Outaouak" or the "Ootaooa". Initially it was said that these Amerindians lived on the river bank. Eventually, all agreed that they were the first to navigate the river. In fact, the name of this tribe was given to the great river because they were the first to openly trade on its shores. The French name "Outaouais" was translated to "Ottawa" in English to facilitate pronunciation.
Indian Encampment on the Ottawa River, Ontario [ca. 1870]
National Archives of Canada/C-45487/Detail
Some say that Champlain himself changed the name of this village from "Grande-Chute" to "Chute-à-Blondeau" in memory of Blondeau, a close friend of Champlain's from Paris. However, according to more recent toponymy, this little village got its name in 1875, and for completely different reasons than the aforementioned one. Blondeau was a farmer who lived close to the falls and with his help, the economy of this little village flourished. They named this village in his honour after he drowned in the falls.
Historians know that Cartier explored the territory known today as the city of Ottawa, but there is little documentation to tell us of Samuel de Champlain's time in the Ottawa region. His stay was short, a few days or, at most, a few weeks.
Champlain chose to use the Ottawa River because he considered it to be the shortest and safest route. He acknowledged the existence of the Gatineau River and visited the Rideau River. He named the Rideau Falls (see toponymy). He travelled the Ottawa River and stopped at Île aux Allumettes.
Rideau Falls, Ottawa, Ontario [ca. 1860]
Samuel McLaughlin/National Archives of Canada/C-3853/Detail
When passing Ottawa, Champlain noticed for the first time that the Ottawa River divided two lands. He was right. Today, we know that the Ottawa River borders the provinces of Ontario and Quebec for over 1 000 km.
A statue of Champlain, holding his astrolabe in one hand, can be found on Nepean Point in Ottawa, near the Parliament Buildings and the National Gallery of Canada.
Statue of Samuel de Champlain at Nepean Point in Ottawa
Canadian Museum of Civilization/S98-393/Detail
Did you know…?
Some say that few explorers stopped in Ottawa because of the terrible cold in the winter and the unbearable humidity in the summer. In fact, many explorers tried to settle in the region but did not stay very long because they found the seasonal temperatures unpleasant.