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The Ottawa River forms the natural and cultural ‘heart’ of western Quebec and eastern Ontario. Plants and animals from its shores and waters recolonized vast regions of this country after the end of the continental glaciation 11,000 years ago. The first aboriginal Canadians came 2,000 years after that. Much later, Europeans came in pursuit of furs, timber and land.
Many of the great names in northern North American exploration used the Ottawa River as a highway into the continent. First, Samuel de Champlain came in 1613, followed by LaVerendrye, Simon Fraser, Sir John Franklin and David Thompson. They and thousands of anonymous aboriginals, coureurs de bois, loggers and Old World settlers traveled, lived, and frequently died along this original trans-Canada highway.
The city of Ottawa has long been the largest among the 150 or more Ontario and Quebec communities along the Ottawa River. Ottawa was selected as the capital of Canada in the 1850s because it was the meeting point of three major rivers: the Gatineau, the Rideau and the Ottawa. The National Capital Region (NCR) of western Quebec and eastern Ontario now supports a population of over 1,000,000 people. The NCR continues to serve a vital governmental role.
In the 19th century, the Chaudière Falls encouraged entrepreneurs with the prospect of abundant and inexpensive power. Booming lumber towns grew rapidly along both shores throughout that century. Commercial fishing also thrived at that time. At the turn of the 20th century, a very significant pulp and paper industry grew up along the river and continues to this day.
In more recent times, many high tech industries have located in the NCR and now outperform natural resource based industries. These factors have made the NCR the fastest growing urban area in Canada.
With such growth comes increased demand for greater volumes of drinking water, additional roads, expanded residential development, more interprovincial bridge crossings, improved access to recreational waterways and improved support services. These demands all place additional stress on the already heavily used Ottawa River waterway.