Rivers of the Upper Ottawa Valley: Myth, Magic and Adventure
Rivers of the Upper Ottawa Valley: Myth, Magic and Adventure
Rivers of the Upper Ottawa Valley: Myth, Magic and Adventure Rivers of the Upper Ottawa Valley: Myth, Magic and Adventure

* Book Type:

Not Available Online
Publisher: Boston Mills Press

Edition Notes: Revised Edition
Author Statement: Hap Wilson
Audience: Trade
Specs: 40 black and white photographs, 40 two-color maps, 18 pen and ink illustrations, bibliography, directory of services, index
Pages: 120
Trim Size: 8 1/2" x 11"
Language code 1: eng
Publication Date: 20040506
Copyright Year: 2004
Price: Select Below

Rivers of the Upper Ottawa Valley: Myth, Magic and Adventure

A well mapped and documented guide to wilderness canoe trips in Upper Ottawa Valley appropriate for a range of abilities from whitewater adventures for seasoned paddlers to quieter and shorter trips for the less seasoned.

Each year thousands of American canoeists venture north to paddle the Ottawa River and its tributaries. The Ottawa is among this continent's great rivers.

Both the Ottawa and its main tributaries have the rugged characteristics that whitewater enthusiasts crave. Wilson also includes many trips for novice and cautious paddlers.

Trips include:

  • Ottawa Valley Northwest
  • Montreal River
  • Makobe River
  • Lady Evelyn River
  • Devil Rock to Mattawa
  • Mattawa River
  • Mattawa to Pembroke
  • Petawawa River
  • Petawawa Paddle and Pedal Tour
  • Barron River
  • Rivière Dumoine
  • Rivière Kipawa
  • Rivière Noire
  • Rivière Coulonge


Hap Wilson is Canada's best-known canoeist and expedition author, with over 30 years experience. His hand-drawn maps and illustrations are featured in Voyages: Canada's Heritage Rivers, which won the Natural Resources of America Award for Best Environmental Book.


"fulfilling the quest"

The Ottawa is truly a great world river. Geographically it personifies the Canadian spirit of strength and vitality; historically it has provided a thoroughfare for exploration and discovery; culturally it embodies the very character of our heritage by delineating two distinct societies by political boundary. No other river has bestowed so much through an evolution of trade, battle, greed and exploitation, providing us with the high standard of living we so often take for granted.

In the name of progress, over a span of four centuries, we have managed to displace its aboriginal heirs, denude its shores of the greatest pine stands found on this earth, drown its rapids, native and historic sites, subdue its vitality under huge man-made reservoirs, and in final indignation, taint its water with innumerable agricultural and industrial toxins.

Yet the Ottawa river remains humbly stoic, often demure in temperament, except where we have gratuitously allowed it to express itself in tumultuous chutes along the Grand Calumet; but it has survived the great fur-trade era, the timber drives and hydro-electric developments, oddly enough. Virtually tamed but not quiet -- the spirit of the Ottawa lives on... charged with the energy of its high-country tributaries -- the Coulonge, Dumoine, Petawawa, Montreal, and numerous other tertiary rivers, all compelling and capable of capturing our hearts and commandeering our souls as we follow their paths.

This book is about those rivers; from the Grand Calumet northwest four-hundred kilometers to the rock knob uplands of the Temagami wilds, to the source-waters of the Coulonge, Noire and Dumoine rivers, born of heavy snow and spring rains that descend upon the folds of the Laurentian highlands -- the world's oldest mountain range.

Canadian Shield rivers... fast, turbulent and always unpredictable; each with its own rogue characteristics that taunt and tantalize whitewater paddlers. Topographic contour lines that meld shorelines into precipitous escarpments, allowing headwaters to spill through granitic chasms with canoe-eating ferocity; and boulder gardens that exhibit no forgiving empathy to the unskilled or foolhardy. Tepid, summer water tumbling recklessly to the Ottawa, a tributary of the ocean-bound St. Lawrence.

Along with the rapidly growing throngs of whitewater enthusiasts, I too possess that insatiable appetite for water in its mobile state. If it's deep enough to float a canoe and littered with ample boulders and ledges, chances are you'll probably see me there pondering the improbable. With adventure trends ferrying to whitewater sports, however, the northern rivers are being deluged with neophytes looking for the adrenaline rush. This book was not published in order to entice the inexperienced or make running rapids any easier for the unskilled. Its primary design is to function as a reference tool only, and by those who are well versed in reading fast-water situations. The focus on detail illustrates the inherent complexities and potential hazards of remote river tripping.

The Ottawa valley is a very special place to me; not for the singular reason of having provided avenues of escape and adventure... or a place to bump and grind my canoe down its many corridors; but for a more enduring relationship that I have enjoyed with the land itself.

I homesteaded in the valley for eight years; built a cabin, nurtured a garden, fought off marauding black bears, black flies and poachers. Lived, breathed and touched the very essence of the river and its people. I was married then and life was sometimes harsh; twenty kilometers from the nearest neighbor and you spend a lot of time soul searching and talking to yourself. But the river was my friend, my mentor... particularly when I subjugated the laws and the will of Nature. The river did allow me to live after my canoe overturned in the icy March water and I made it to shore on the Quebec side. I should have died -- hundreds of others were not quite so fortunate. I gained a deep respect for the river, not just the Ottawa but for all rivers I chance to float my canoe down.

Although it is the quality and extent of the white-water that seduces our passion for aqueous pleasures, I have learned from my experiences that there exists other inherent qualities of the river that transcend the familiar parameters that we tend to build around experiences. Rivers are more than just water flowing over and around rocks, or a theatre to fulfill vain accomplishments reserved for the attack, survive and defeat genre of canoeists. Like the water we are only passing through; if we concentrate only on the magic of the water then we distance ourselves from the land -- the very embodiment that created the spirit of the river. To know the land is an exploration of our own persona. Our vision is strengthened by our own perceptions, our ability to observe and accept the how and why until we are rewarded with abundant pleasures for our efforts. In a few words...if we suffice in only absorbing water -- we remain forever wet behind the ears!

In order to maximize our perceptions of the river we often expose or mirror our own sensitivities. And, as we allow our curiosity to probe and explore we become infatuated with a living, flowing entity. By becoming a congruous part of the river we embellish that experience. We are totally and inexorably mesmerized by the pulsating, rhythmic undulations of the current, much similar to the hypnotic stare into the flickering tongues of flame that dance above the embers of our campfire... we ride our brain impulses down a neurotic class-three rapids in search of ourselves.

Familiarity compels us to expect adventure only along those rivers with an acknowledged reputation, usually attributed to its notoriety or trendiness. As with the Dumoine, the Icon of intermediate whitewater rivers, it has become fashionable to answer its challenge simply because everyone else is doing it. And what are the consequences? We cram too many bodies down a river that can't support the traffic -- ethically or environmentally.

Indeed, recreational paddling has changed considerably over the past twenty years, evolving past the canoeing is for men only era and enveloping the interests of a much broader genre of adventure seekers. We still come for the same challenge yet in true technological methodology we have busied ourselves to make life easier along the trail; lighter canoes, better packs, tastier food and so on. There was just one thing missing... better route information.

In 1992, while canoeists were taking numbers and lining up at the Dumoine portages and rapids, I paddled for five weeks on the Noire and Coulonge and met only two other canoe parties! Why is that? Simple... we don't have enough information on alternative choices. So what do we do... we embrace the familiar.

But now we do have other options, equally as inspiring as the popular Dumoine. There are twelve rivers in this book, each individually introduced, some in more detail than others in order to facilitate the needs of the serious whitewaterist; all in all, an attempt at improving or creating a wider range of recreational possibilities... and not solely for the ardent canoeist. I've included choice hiking trails, mountain bike routes and even motor routes that blend soft wilderness with accessibility.

I have also added a personal touch to each chapter and route with my own cerebral wanderings, anecdotes and ramblings in order to make this book rise above the ordinary ranks of "how-to" mundaness. There exists a plethora of books devoted to the histories of the Ottawa Valley -- the wellspring of facts and information available is overwhelming. I have searched far and wide for the more bizarre trivia and resolved to only briefly skim over the usual stuff we learned in grade school. In composing this book I chose to include the upper Ottawa valley only in order to minimize the size and scope of the publication; also because of the associated wilderness values still compatible to the desires of today's adventurer found more commonly within this region.

I have had the good fortune of being able to paddle all of these rivers, some many times, over a period of twenty-seven years.

Discounting my other meanderous sojourns into the wilds peripheral to the valley routes, this would include 38 expeditions of a notorious sort...adventures easily recounted for some notable quirk or mishap or circumstance. This book is an accumulation of many miles paddled against wind and current and innumerable portages ascended with oftentimes Herculean loads. Blisters well-earned and a few extra lines about the eyes fashioned from the hours of squinting at the strobe-like reflection of the sun as it danced upon wave and rapid. It's all in this book, about rivers, about that insuperable desire to thrust our bodies into wild chaos and physical abuse, that compelling need to know ourselves through adventure and the fulfillment of the quest... an awakening of that primordial spirit that lives within us all.

Quintessentially, a river imbues a story or legend; a modest but honourable quality albeit less tangible than the physical presence of thrashing waves over precambrian ledges. Nonetheless, involvement allows us to peer beyond the depths of the water demon and into the realm of total experiential freedom... outdoor nirvana if you dare. Enjoy the rivers as I have, respect wilderness values and preserve the experience for others to enjoy. Keep the open side up!

Hap Wilson, January 1993



Section I: A View of the Past

  • The Physical Setting - "faultlines and folklore"
  • Soils and Vegetation
  • Weather
  • Drainage
  • Native History -- "Shamans, Sorcerers, and the everlasting leaf"
  • White History -- "Fur, axe and Hydro-power"
  • In Search of "la mer du Nord"
  • Along the "Mast Road"

Section II: Being Prepared: Things You Should Know

  • Introduction
  • No Trace Camping
  • Canoes and Equipment
  • Adventure Alternatives
  • Nature Observation -- camera tips
  • Safety and Emergencies
  • Access and Air Charters

Section III: The Rivers

  • How to Use This Book -- for detailed river descriptions
  • River Classifications
  • Water Levels
  • Detailed Rapids Maps
  • Rapids Classification (chart)
  • Map Legend
  • Ottawa Valley Northwest
  • Montreal River
  • Makobe River
  • Lady Evelyn River
  • Devil Rock to Mattawa
  • Mattawa River
  • Mattawa to Pembroke
  • Petawawa River
  • Petawawa Paddle and Pedal Tour
  • Four Days on the Barron River
  • QUEBEC'S TRIPLE PLAY -- Elevation graph
  • Riviére Dumoine
  • Riviére Noire/Coulonge Overview
  • Riviére Noire
  • Riviére Coulonge

Section IV: Afternotes

  • Politics of Wilderness
  • Trip Log and Check List
  • Menu Chart
  • River Notes -- personal diary
  • Upper Ottawa Time-Table -- historical chronology
  • Glossary of Terms
  • Bibliography
  • About the author
  • Acknowledgments
  • Directory


  • Overview: Reference Area
  • Drainage and Historic Routes
  • Hunting Territories -- native distribution
  • Ottawa Valley Northwest
  • Mattawa River (detail)
  • Mattawa to Pembroke
  • Barron River (detail)
  • Pembroke and Area
  • Quebec's Triple Play
  • Dumoine River (detail -- 7 river maps/29 inset maps)
  • Kipawa River (detail -- 1 river map/3 inset maps)
  • Overview: Noire and Coulounge Rivers
  • Coulonge River (detail -- 13 river maps/21 inset maps)

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