Academic journal article The Hymn

Ottawa, Ontario: A "Capital" Capital

Academic journal article The Hymn

Ottawa, Ontario: A "Capital" Capital

Article excerpt

Come and gather at the rivers in Ottawa where we will "Celebrate Hymn Heritages" and the Heritage of the City of Ottawa. It was just 150 years ago, that Queen Victoria, who had never been to The Province of Canada, a British colony in North America, decided on the new Capital of Canada. Ottawa was but a rough and tumble lumber town on the river, which was the border between Francophone Lower Canada and Anglophone Upper Canada. Real cities were in contention for the title: Toronto (York), Kingston, which had been a temporary capital, Montreal, and Quebec City. Everyone was astonished at her choice! That small town has grown in the intervening years to become a bustling city and the proud home of the Federal Government of Canada.

The location is naturally beautiful for it is at the confluence of three rivers: the Ottawa, the Rideau and, the Gatineau. They all rise among the surrounding rocky uplands of the Canadian Shield with its outcroppings of granites and its cover of Boreal pine forests. The Ottawa bifurcates the Shield and the City is located on its right bank, a narrow, low-lying fertile portion of the Ottawa Valley along which the river flows in a northwest-southeast direction until it ultimately joins the St. Lawrence River and the fertile lowlands at Montreal.

Ottawa's History

The first peoples who came to the area were the Algonquins, followed shortly by the Ottawa First Nations, whose name in French, "Outaouais," was given to the area by the French explorers. Étienne Brûlé was the first known European to travel among them, doing so on an expedition to the Ottawa River in 1610-11. He was shortly followed by Samuel de Champlain and other French explorers, the Jesuit missionaries, fur traders, and the coureurs des bois who came in search of furs.

It was an American from Massachusetts who saw the potential of the timber and the power of the rivers for transportation. Philemon Wright came to Canada in 1800 looking for a place to settle. He gathered large parcels of land on the left banks of the Ottawa, called "Wright's Town" where the present city of Hull (Gatineau) is located at the junction of the Ottawa and Gatineau Rivers. He planned to develop an agricultural settlement, but the rocky landscape was not fertile and difficult to farm. However, in the early nineteenth century, the Ottawa River and its tributaries provided access to large stands of untouched forests of white pine, and a booming trade in timber developed as the large rafts of logs were floated down the river.

Following the War of 1812, the historic Township of March, located in the western part of Carleton County in eastern Ontario, was reserved for retired military officers and men, much as after the American Revolution land granted to Loyalists to the Crown resulted in new settlements in the areas of Kingston, Montreal, and York. In 1824, Nicholas Sparks crossed the river from Hull and carved a home for himself out of the heavy timber on the high cliffs of the south shore, which was given to him. Thus, he became the first citizen of what would later become Bytown.

The Rideau River posed problems to transportation because of its many rapids, and its drop over an escarpment just east of the present Parliament Hill. Colonel John By, a Royal Engineer, oversaw the construction of a 200-kilometer canal joining "Bytown" with the town of Kingston to the southwest, where the Rideau River empties into Lake Ontario.

The original purpose of this canal was to provide a safe supply route between Montreal and the Great Lakes in case of attack by the United States, a concern that was especially important after the War of 1812. The building of the canal, begun two years after Sparks took up his land, was carried out between 1826 and 1832. It was one of the greatest engineering feats of the nineteenth century, requiring the construction of 24 dams and 46 locks. It is the oldest, continuously operated canal in North America; the locks work today much as they did when first opened in 1832. …

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