Archaeology in Eastern Ontario, Canada, and Western Quebec, Canada
including the cities of Ottawa and Gatineau
January 24, 2012:
This web page is a continuation from our Native Canadian History in Ottawa and Gatineau.
I live in the Britannia area and am interested in what settlements existed prior to the arrival of the French.
I read an early history of the Britannia area and there is only one page devoted to early history.
I understand that there was a trail linking the Britannia area to Manotick to the Rideau River, but other than that there is
As a canoe and kayak enthusiast, I know that landing above the rapids in Britannia would have been a natural stopping area,
and that access to water at the foot of the rapids would have made the spot a valuable one to be able to access water without
cutting ice during winter months. I also know that living outdoors at the end of a stretch of rapids in the winter is rather
unpleasant due to the high humidity generated by the water flow of the rapids. Living at the foot of rapids
would have put layers of frost on shelters.
It is possible also that there were some settlements above the Deschenes rapids on the Quebec side, (Aylmer) or on both sides of the river?
Are there any reference books that I can access that can provide a historical perspective of native history and pre-history in
the Britannia area?
Good afternoon, Alexandre:
Thanks very much for your interesting e-mail regarding early native settlement in the Britannia area.
Several of the folks on this e-mail list have a great deal of knowledge about early Native Canadian history in our region
and may be able to help us out.
Here are two good books regarding the early Algonquin Nation in the Ottawa and Gatineau Valleys. However, there may not be
anything specific to early settlement at Britannia.
1. Since Time Immemorial: "Our Story", The Story of the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg, by Stephen McGregor,
Kitigan Zibi Education Council, 2004, ISBN 0-9734910-1-9,
Research Team: Sandra Diabo Decontie and James Odjick, 344 pages.
This is an amazing book describing the history of the Algonquin Nation in the Ottawa River Valley and it's watershed,
mainly in the River Desert region at Maniwaki.
2. The Algonkin Tribe: The Algonkins of the Ottawa Valley, An Historical Outline, by Peter Hessel, Kichesippi Books,
Arnprior, ISBN 0-921082-01-0
We also have a brief web page at www.bytown.net/britannia.htm to which we could add new material.
I'm pretty sure that the Indian trail between Britannia and Manotick was part of what is now Jockvale Road as it passes through
Barrhaven on its way towards the Rideau River and Manotick. It comes out near Chapman's Mills at Long Island.
See www.bytown.net/longisl.htm for the location.
This trail was used by the Algonquins and later also by settlers. It comes out near the end of Woodroffe Avenue at Prince of Wales Drive,
where the Jock River enters into the Rideau - another spot to launch a canoe, these days.
Do you have any photographs of the area above the rapids and below the rapids? We could add the photographs to the Britannia page
and could link your e-mail to our Algonquin page at www.bytown.net/nativehist.htm and also to our canoe routes web page.
Another idea would be to speak to the Algonquin folk who are at Chaudiere Falls, on the Ontario side.
Thanks again for this.
... Al Lewis
E-mail Jean-Claude Dubé, Alexandre Moricz and Allan Lewis
Thanks to Jean-Claude Dubé for the following:
I concur with Al Lewis.
Here's food for thought:
The Anishinabeg (Algonquin) had many residences, depending on the season. They would not, I would think, spend their winters on the
shores of the Ottawa River and, if anyone would have been in the neighbourhood, they would have been walking on snowshoes, not canoeing.
River shores were for summertime activities: fishing, berry picking, trading and most of all, socializing and mating. In the winter,
they went to their hunting grounds in small family groups of 5 to 10 men and their wives and children. These hunting grounds were
territories that were agreed to by the members of a larger family group or tribe and usually followed the Ottawa River tributaries
to their sources on both shores. The Anishinabeg land covered an arc from the Rideau lakes to west of Sharbot Lake to all the lakes
in Algonquin Park that would be flowing south and east. Further north, they were sharing with the Nipissing (inter-marriages).
There was an archaeological dig on the south shore of the Rideau River on the bicycle path near the O-train bridge and the site was
inhabited as much as 1500 years ago. There was probably good fishing at the rapids near Carleton University.
I do not know if archaeological searches were done at Britannia but you may want to check it out with the Ontario Archaeological Association.
It would be a logical spot for summertime staying. However, with all the cottages, roads and building, I doubt that anything could be
found any more..but, you never know!
In the 19th century, there was a discovery a burial ground in the downtown Ottawa area ( by a local medical doctor, Dr. Van Courtland)) but,
once again, nobody seems to know what happened to the bones or where they were found.
BTW, hunting in winter was not only for food. Furs and hides were necessary for clothing, footwear, shelter, cooking utensils, tools,
and trading. The families would stay in a sheltered place near a lake and source of water while the hunters would go inland for days
at a time. They had traplines and, for big game like deer, they had already decided on a particular animal to kill (they knew their
game, knew their history, mothers and age and probably gave them names).
They were very responsible hunters and only killed what was sufficient for their needs. Wish we could say that for our society now.
Bruce Elliott, in his book, The City Beyond, has a map showing the forced roads and the Indian trails in Ottawa
before the Rideau Canal was built. Ira Honeywell, an early settler, bushed out an Indian trail
from the Ottawa River to Black Rapids in 1814. I think this the road that Al Lewis is mentioning in his reply.
Here is the Ottawa Chapter, Ontario Archaeological Association web site.
N.B. The following statement from their web site is a reminder to us all:
To undertake any kind of archaeological field work in Ontario, the Ontario Heritage Act requires that a person hold a valid archaeological license.
Archaeological organizations and associations offer opportunities to help on licensed sites.
Information on the ossuary found by Dr. Van Courtland http://www.civilisations.ca/cmc/exhibitions/cmc/archeo/ossuary/ossuarye.shtml
The various OAS chapters are found at http://www.ontarioarchaeology.on.ca/chapters.php.
The Ottawa chapter meets on every third Thursday. The next one on Feb 16 will be on the Jacques Cartier settlement in Quebec City on his
third trip, I believe. He had brought 700 settlers with him.
I wonder if any concerted archeaological digs were ever done for Philemon Wright's early settlement in Gatineau.
Before Wright, there were french trading posts and settlers around Chats Falls and along the Lievre River.
Robert Serre of the Gloucester Historical Society has done research about this.
There is no doubt that Anishinabeg did reside on both shores of the Ottawa River. When Wright started cutting down trees, he got a protest
visit from the local aboriginals. There were some digs done a few years ago on the NCC land (?) across Gatineau Point. I think that digs
have also been done on the Quebec shore across from the town of Cumberland.
The rapids at Carleton University are the Stegmann Rapids, named after Ottawa's very first surveyor who drowned there.
By the way, there is an excellent paper regarding early Aboriginal agriculture in the upper headwaters of the Madawaska River.
This paper was given by Mr. Bill Allen, of Heritage One Research, to Partners to the Past: Proceedings of the 2005 Ontario Archaeological Society Symposium
Good luck and keep in touch.
January 26, 2012:
The area of the village of Pendleton in South Plantaganet Township is the site one of Eastern Ontario's archaeological finds.
It is called the Lamoureux Site (BiFs-2) and is close to the Muldoon Site (BiFs-1).
Many Aboriginal artifacts have been found there. (My wife grew up on a farm at nearby Riceville, ON)
February 21, 2012:
Interesting document found in Museum of Civilization archives, The Archaeology of Lake Deschenes:
The reference to first nations people is strange to see in print.
and thanks to Jean-Claude for the following reply:
This is very interesting.
T.W.Edwin Sowter is an early member of the Ottawa Field Naturalists which still exists and of which I am a member. There all kinds of keen
naturalists and scientists in that group with interests in about anything natural. I don't know if there any archaeologists in the group now
but there probably are. Of course, there is the Ottawa Branch of the Ontario Archaeology Association and another group in the Outaouais who
had a lecture just a while ago that I missed out of. There is another group known as Geo Heritage involved with geology and sometimes there
Jean Luc Pilon of the Museum of Civilization wrote a biography of Edwin Sowter which is online. Jean Luc is also a member of the Ottawa Branch
of the OAA
By the way, I case I didn't cc you on my recent correspondence with the Bytown Museum, the stone axe in their collection is indeed a tomahawk
that was given to the Historical Society of Ottawa in 1937 by an unknown donor. The Bytown Museum will have student help this summer to work
on their aboriginal artifacts.
May be an occasion to round up what is being held privately in town to make a comprehensive collection.
From Edwin Sowter's article, the area was far from being the empty and desolate place that Philemon Wright and his contemporaries would have
made others believe.
BTW, Lac Deschenes is of course named after the oaks trees surrounding it (of which there are few remaining). Lac des Chats is named after the
raccoons found in that area. Raccoons are a very specific American continent species and were unknown to the French voyageurs and settlers in
the area. They thought they were a kind of cat. So, there were called "chats sauvages" and the lake was the "lac des chats sauvages" or
"lac des chats". "raccoon" is an Algonquian name for the animal. The French term "raton laveur" is also innapropriate since it is certainly not
part of the rat species. There is an animal in the Brazilian jungle that belongs to the raccoon family.
So much blah,blah,blah for now.
Glad to hear from you,
See also Birchbark Canoes in Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec.
May 22, 2012:
There is an archaeological dig taking place at Lebreton Flats. This is being done prior to the
building of Ottawa's Light Rail Transit system. Source: Ottawa Citizen, May 20, 2012.
March 1, 2016:
A good place to start with early First Nations archaelogy in the Ottawa area is the web site of the Canadian Museum of Civilization.
Professor Bruce G. Trigger from McGill University has written a very good book called Natives and Newcomers: Canada's "Heroic Age" Rediscovered, Kingston and Montreal, McGill-Queen's University Press,
1985, ISBN 0-7735-0595-4. There is a lot of discussion in the book about archaeology (prehistory, before the "historical
period" when written douments began to record our history. The developent of studies in prehistory and history are
explained according to the development of the academic disciplines of Archaeology, History, Anthropology and Ethnology.
May 9, 2016:
The Canadian Museum of History has some interesting research by Jean-Luc Pilon: Archaeological Mysteries of the Ottawa area.
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