History


The Ottawa region was long the home of the Odawa or Odaawaa First Nations people. The Odawa are an Algonquian people who called the river the Kichi Sibi or Kichissippi meaning "Great River" or "Grand River". Historical evidence indicates that the Algonquin’s over time have occupied portions of lands of the Ottawa River watershed and traveled through surrounding territory as a hunting and gathering society. The Algonquin’s of Ontario assert that they never surrendered its territory by treaty, sale, or conquest and have made such claims since 1772. In 1983, the Algonquin’s of Golden Lake presented to the Government of Canada a claim to Aboriginal rights and title within the Ontario portion of the Ottawa and Mattawa River watersheds.
Early European explorers of the St. Lawrence and Ottawa Rivers sought new territories, claimed lands in the names of their kings and queens, and sought western passages to India and Asia as well as gold and other precious commodities. Among the first of commercial enterprises to evolve in the New World after fishing, the fur trade industry, largely influenced by the Hudson's Bay Company, used the Ottawa River and its tributaries as the local conveyance for the delivery of fur products to Europe through Montreal and Quebec City
The first settlement in the region was led by Philemon Wright, a New Englander from Woburn, Massachusetts who, on March 7, 1800, arrived with his own and five other families along with twenty-five laborers to start an agricultural community on the north bank of the Ottawa River at the portage to the Chaudière Falls. Food crops were not sufficient to sustain the community and Wright began harvesting trees as a cash crop when he determined that he could transport timber by river from the Ottawa Valley to the Montreal and Quebec City markets, which also exported to Europe. His first raft of squared timber and sawn lumber arrived in Quebec City in 1806
Liked by many European nations for its extremely straight and strong trunk in heavy construction for shipbuilding and housing as well as for furniture, the white pine was found throughout the Ottawa Valley, soon booming based almost exclusively upon the timber trade. By 1812, the timber trade overtakes the fur trade as the leading economic activity in the area as Ottawa became a centre for lumber milling and square-cut lumber in Canada and North America.
In the years following the War of 1812, along with settling some military regiment families, the government began sponsored immigration schemes which brought over Irish Catholics and Irish Protestants to settle the Ottawa area, which began steady stream of Irish immigration there in the next few decades. Along with French Canadians who crossed over from Quebec, these two groups provided the bulk of workers involved in the Rideau Canal project and the booming timber trade, both instrumental in putting Ottawa on the map
The region's population grew significantly when the canal was completed by Colonel John By in 1832. It was intended to provide a secure route between Montreal and Kingston on Lake Ontario, by-passing the stretch of the St. Lawrence River bordering New York State. Construction of the canal began at the northern end, where Colonel By set up a military barracks on what later became Parliament Hill, and laid out a town site that soon became known as Bytown. Original city leaders of Bytown include a number of Wright's sons, most notably Ruggles Wright. Nicholas Sparks, Braddish Billings and Abraham Dow were the first to settle on the Ontario side of the Ottawa River.
The west side of the canal, with its higher elevation, became known as "Upper Town" where the Parliament buildings are located, while the east side of the canal was known as the "Lower Town". Lower Town was then a crowded, boisterous shanty town, frequently receiving the worst of disease epidemics, such as the Cholera outbreak in 1832, and typhus in 1847. Bytown was renamed Ottawa in 1855, when it was incorporated as a city.
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