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After the arrival of European settlers in North America, the first major industry of the Ottawa Valley was fur trading. The valley was part of the major cross-country route for French-Canadian Voyageurs, who would paddle canoes up the Ottawa River as far as Mattawa and then portage west through various rivers and lakes to Georgian Bay on Lake Huron. Later, lumber became the valley’s major industry, and it is still important in the far western part where the valley is narrow and little farmland is available. Today, the vast majority of the valley’s residents live at its eastern end in Ottawa and its suburbs, where government and technology are major industries.
In the areas of Morrison’s Island and the Allumette Island there were many archaeological sites found from the earlier years of the Algonquin First Nations tribes. Many of these sites were found by the late Clyde C. Kennedy, who was a student of history; he was very interested in history and worked hard while researching the sites. The items found on the different sites are dated from about five thousand years ago to about two thousand years ago, and are a range of different things from native copper, to spear heads.
Samuel de Champlain spent the years between 1613 and 1615 traveling the Ottawa River with Algonquin and Huron guides. He was the first documented European to see the Ottawa Valley. When Champlain first arrived there the Huron, Algonquin, Iroquois, and Outaouais tribes were living in the Valley. In charting the new land Champlain inaugurated the route that would be used by French fur traders for the next 200 years. Between 1847 and 1879 a “horse railway” was used to portage passengers from the Ottawa River steamboat in a horse-drawn car for 5.5 kilometres along the wooded shore, around the Chats Falls, on the Quebec side of the river between the ghost villages of Pontiac Village and Union Village, near Quyon Quebec, to another steamboat to continue their journey upriver.
The Ottawa Valley covers over 7,645 square kilometres. Some 12,800 years ago, glaciers retreated from what is now the Ottawa Valley region, leaving the area covered by the Champlain Sea for thousands of years. Ten thousand years ago the water retreated and land emerged, exposing fossils preserved in limestone, particularly in Eganville along the Bonnechere River and the historical site of the Bonnechere Caves and it’s subterranean river caverns.
More than half of the Ottawa Valley is now wilderness. Renfrew County, located in the heart of the Ottawa Valley, is the largest county in Ontario. (outside of “districts”, administrative regions in Northern Ontario). There are over 900 lakes and four major river systems in the Ottawa Valley. Ottawa itself is at the confluence of three rivers. These are the Ottawa, Gatineau and Rideau rivers.
More than 400 species of animals live in the Ottawa Valley. The white trillium, which grows throughout the Ottawa Valley, has been Ontario’s provincial floral emblem since 1937. Its white blossom is associated with peace and hope. White pine, the Ontario provincial tree, was the most commercially important tree during the heyday of the logging industry in the 19th century. It was exported to Europe and used for building the masts of sailing ships. Winter was the best season for cutting timber as trees fell more easily when their sap wasn’t running and ice and snow made it easier to drag the timber. Spring was the season when the loggers would “drive” the logs downriver.