The Ottawa River looms large in the history and heritage of Clarence-Rockland and other communities located along its shores. Now the Ontario side of the Ottawa River has official designation as a Canadian Heritage River.
It has been a key part of Canada’s history for centuries, for the First Nations people who lived along its shores, and the European colonists who later came seeking furs and timber. Now the Ottawa River has official designation as a Canadian Heritage River.
Catherine McKenna, federal minister of Environment responsible for Parks Canada, and Kathryn McGarry, Ontario’s Natural Resources minister, issued a joint announcement on July 28, that the Ontario side of the Ottawa River is now designated a Canadian Heritage River “for its outstanding cultural heritage values.”
The designation applies just to the Ontario portion of the river. The federal government is still talking with Quebec about future heritage designation for the eastern shore portion of the river. McKenna expressed confidence during a media scrum session that will happen at some future date.
“We have a good relationship with Quebec,” McKenna said, “and I think we’ll be able to get it done soon.”
“I think it’s good news,” said Guy Desjardins, mayor for the City of ClarenceRockland and current warden for the United Counties of Prescott-Russell (UCPR), during a Thursday morning phone interview.
Desjardins noted that heritage designation for the Ottawa River has been a federal concern since 2003, under the Chrétien Liberal government.
The new heritage designation for the Ottawa River applies to the 590-kilometre length of the river on the Ontario side, from the head of Lake Temiskaming down to East Hawkesbury Township.
This portion of the river now falls under the Canadian Heritage Rivers System (CHRS). There is a 681-kilometre portion of the river which flows entirely through Québec.
Incorporation into the CHRS conservation program does not take away any existing responsibilities and rights that exist for senior and local governments and landowners which involve the Ottawa River.
The Ottawa River is known as “the original Trans-Canada highway” for its historical role in the early settlement of the region, during both, First Nations times when the Algonquin people first arrived in the area and the later colonial period when French, English and other immigrants came in search of land and livelihoods.
The river provides habitat for more than 300 species of birds and is an important migratory flyway for the North American continent. It is also well-known as a world-class paddling and whitewater rafting destination for recreational tourism.
The river was the focus for both economic and political growth in the region during the fur and timber trade eras.
For the town of Rockland and other communities in what is now the Prescott-Russell region, the Ottawa River was the lifeblood of their own early economic growth through establishment of sawmills and other industries, which used the river for transportation.
The annual Ottawa River Festival, now celebrated each year in riverside towns and villages like Rockland, Hawkesbury, Wendover, L’Orignal and others in the UCPR, highlights the historic and heritage value of the river.
The Ottawa River is an important part of the history and heritage of communities in Prescott-Russell and other regions located along its shores. The river now has official designation as a Canadian Heritage River.