CHESS 2015 Chaudière Field Trip – A Primer

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On Saturday morning CHESS 2015 participants will be touring the Chaudière Falls region. In order to help get you situated, below you will find a little primer, some images, and further reading – the idea is that you can access these during our walking tour on a smart phone or tablet.

Chaudiere Falls

Spread across the Ottawa River, and thus the Ontario-Quebec border, within sight of Parliament Hill, the Chaudière (kettle or cauldron in English) is centered on a series of islands, rapids, and waterfalls. It has been a key driver of the capital’s historical evolution. The picturesque waterfall was long a sacred location for First Nations communities, but because of the available hydraulic power this area became perhaps the largest timber complex in the world during the 19th century. Picture the water covered with logs (and watch the classic log driver’s waltz while you’re at it), and contemplate the ecological effects of sawdust blanketing the bottom of the river (including explosions!).
19th Century Mills
Timber Slide at Chaudiere Falls

Around the start of the 20th century, industry at Chaudière transitioned to pulp and paper, hydro power, and chemicals. Indeed, some of the continent’s earliest hydro developments took place here, and much of the North America’s newsprint came through here. For over a century Chaudière Falls has been quieted by a ring dam – because of the restricted access, many locals don’t even know that there is major cataract behind Parliament Hill!

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Nor are many aware that LeBreton Flats, the open area on the south shore, was once a thriving industrial and working class neighbourhood. Expropriated in the early 1960s, LeBreton Flats was subject to a range of imaginative geographies that would be representative of a national capital. Half a century later, however, nothing has been done, aside of the Canadian War Museum, some roads, and condo developments. Currently, construction of the downtown tunnel for the Ottawa light rail project is taking up part of the area, and recently the flats have been touted as the location of a future Ottawa Senators arena (which would be most welcome, since this is the only Canadian NHL team that doesn’t have its arena downtown). Phil Jenkins has provided a fascinating account of LeBreton Flats in his book An Acre of Time (and helped me lead a tour a few years ago for my environmental studies seminar).

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LeBreton Flats before expropriation

The industrialized landscape of the Chaudière is thus a historical palimpsest, a few acres reflecting changing aspects of the nation, which our tour guides David McGee Hydro and Greg Searle will illuminate (or allumettières, in a testament to the female workers of the former E.B. Eddy match factory). Though much of the islands are brownfield and ruins (we’re going to get to do some exploring!), hydro stations are still operating. Mill Street Brewery has opened up a brew pub and restaurant that is a great place to end walking excursions. Furthermore, the Windmill group is in the process of turning the Chaudière islands into a “a mixed-use community-scale sustainable development”, thus opening much of the area up to residential, public, and recreational use – kind of a national capital version of Granville Island. But there are also Algonquin claims to the land and water that must be considered.

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Contemporary View of Chaudiere Falls


For those interested in further reading, here are some links:ère_Falls_in_the_Outaouais_Region.html


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Daniel is an Associate Professor in the School of the Environment, Geography, and Sustainability at Western Michigan University. He is an editor for The Otter-La loutre and is part of the NiCHE executive. A transnational environmental historian who focuses on Canadian-American border waters and energy issues, particularly in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence basin, Daniel is the author or co-editor of five books on topics such as the St. Lawrence Seaway, border waters, IJC, and Niagara Falls. His book "Natural Allies: Environment, Energy, and the History of US-Canada Relations" was published in summer 2023. His newest book, an environmental history of Lake Ontario, will be released in 2024. Website: Twitter: @Danny__Mac__

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