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Whitewater Region is made up of the former municipalities of Beachburg, Cobden, Ross and Westmeath, which were amalgamated into the current township on January 1, 2001.
Whitewater Region is named after the stretch of world famous whitewater on the Ottawa River, popular for rafting and kayaking. This section is part of the Ottawa River Provincial Park.
The township also claims a distinctive place in Canada’s history. An astrolabe bearing the date 1603 and believed to have belonged to Samuel de Champlain was discovered within the township. A monument commemorating this historic site is located just outside Cobden on Highway 17.
Much of the early development in Renfrew County is largely a circumstance of location. As Pembroke and Ottawa grew so, it seemed, did the gap between them. In the 1800s the easiest route between the two was the Ottawa River. However, the presence of rapids near Portage du Fort necessitated a land route. At this time the area was mostly a vast forest untouched by Europeans. A few settlers had put down near Muskrat Lake, but for the most part there had been little activity since Champlain’s visit in the 17th century.
In 1849 Jason Gould]] built a road from what came to be called Goulds Landing to what would become Cobden on Muskrat Lake. One could catch a steamer down the lake and then go on by road to Pembroke. The traffic on the road couldn’t help but cause growth. In 1850 Gould built a Post Office and named the fledgling settlement Cobden after Richard Cobden, a member of British Parliament whom Gould admired. By October 2, 1876, the railway had crept its way to Cobden. The community started to expand from the lake towards the railway station further inland. Main Street began to take shape: the Cobden Sun, the Bank of Ottawa, blacksmith shops, a bakery, a general store, a mill, a surgeon and a jewelry store were all located in the community.
In 1880 a public school as opened to accommodate the strain on nearby S.S. No 1. Cobden was soon the biggest community in Ross Township, and became an incorporated village in October 1901.
Cobden has been the victim of many fires, which have destroyed almost all of the original buildings. Main Street has suffered worst from fire including one in 1913 which destroyed the Cobden Sun building and many historical records.
A hydro electric dam began operating at the falls south of Cobden. It supplied the town, off and on, with power until it was destroyed on April 12, 1934 in a raging flood. Large blocks of ice ripped the dam apart and poured over Highway 17, tearing away sections of pavement. The plant operator, Bill Wall, was stranded in the upper section of their house until flooding subsided. The town then started receiving power from a station in Calabogie.
Council elections in 1949 were dominated by the issue of whether or not to hold another plebiscite on establishing a waterworks system. A previous plebiscite had come out 82-56 against. But times were changing quickly — after the war a new council was elected and the next vote was 124-46 in favour and by the early 1950s Cobden had water. The waterworks system required constant maintenance up until a major retooling in the 1980s. The visibly dominating water tower was built in 1988 replacing the original (built in 1951).
In 1613, French explorer Samuel de Champlain, traveled through an area very near Cobden while exploring the Ottawa River. Due to the Chenaux Rapids, Champlain and his men were forced to portage. They presumably took shore in Browns Bay near present day McKenzie’s Hill. In 1953 a large rock was found in this area bearing a chiseled inscription. Though the inscription was hard to read it was determined that it said “Champlain Juin 2, 1613”. Champlain’s trail from this point is debatable. He may have cut straight across land to the southern tip of Jeffreys Lake, or he may have veered south skirting the far side of what later came to be known as the Champlain Trail Lakes. It is known that he eventually made his way to Green Lake and at this point, according to several 17th century authors, Champlain lost his astrolabe. It stayed there for 254 years, until it was found in 1867 by Edward George Lee, a 14-year-old farm boy helping his father clear trees near Green Lake (now Astrolabe Lake). Lee gave the astrolabe to Captain Comley, a steamboat captain on Muskrat Lake, but never received the ten dollars Cowley promised him, and Cowley sold the astrolabe to his employer, R.W. Cassels of the Ottawa Forwarding Company. The astrolabe eventually passed to Samuel V. Hoffman of the New York Historical Society in 1942, remaining there for 47 years until it was acquired by the Canadian Museum of Civilization in 1989.
In 1990 a special celebration was held in Cobden in honour of the astrolabe’s return.