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An historical milestone for the Ottawa River

By Sean Chase, The Daily Observer

Sean Chase/Daily Observer 
With the unveiling of this monument at Petawawa Point, the Ottawa River joins the Canadian Heritage Rivers System Wednesday. The designation was a dream of former Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke MP Len Hopkins. On hand for this special occasion was Hopkins' wife, Lois, and son, Doug. In the photo are (left to right) Larry Graham, chairman of the Ottawa River Heritage Designation Committee, Lois Hopkins, Doug Hopkins (back), Renfrew County Warden Jennifer Murphy and Petawawa Mayor Bob Sweet.

Sean Chase/Daily Observer With the unveiling of this monument at Petawawa Point, the Ottawa River joins the Canadian Heritage Rivers System Wednesday. The designation was a dream of former Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke MP Len Hopkins. On hand for this special occasion was Hopkins' wife, Lois, and son, Doug. In the photo are (left to right) Larry Graham, chairman of the Ottawa River Heritage Designation Committee, Lois Hopkins, Doug Hopkins (back), Renfrew County Warden Jennifer Murphy and Petawawa Mayor Bob Sweet.

 

PETAWAWA – In a truly historical moment a thousand years in the making, the Ottawa River was finally recognized Wednesday as a national heritage site.

With the stroke of a pen in front of a boulder perched overlooking the waterfront of Petawawa Point, The Ottawa joined the the Canadian Heritage Rivers System, a federal-provincial-territorial program that gives national recognition to Canada’s outstanding rivers, as the 39th member river.

It was the closing chapter of a story that began 15 years ago when former Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke MP Len Hopkins formed a committee to make the Ottawa River a national historic landmark. Passing away in 2007, Hopkins never saw his dream come to fruition but he had set the designation on a course to becoming a reality by completing the 300-page background study which became the foundation of the river's nomination to Parks Canada.

“Len Hopkins had a great passion for this river and its history,” Larry Graham, chairman of the Ottawa River Heritage Designation Committee, told a special ceremony that made the designation official. “He often called the Ottawa, the original Trans-Canada, an historical transportation route for millennia.”

Hopkins' wife, Lois, and son, Doug, looked on with pride as a commemorative plaque was unveiled. Although the designation was approved by the federal Liberal government last summer, Graham praised former Tory environment minister John Baird for his “brave non-partisanship” in 2007 when he signed off on the nomination. Graham, who assumed the chairman's role when Hopkins became ill, also took time to remember their honourary chairman, Elder William Commanda, the late spiritual leader of the Algonquin First Nation. In his remarks, Chief Kirby Whiteduck, of the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan, reminded the audience that their First Nation's presence on the Ottawa, or the Kitchissippi as it is called by the Algonquins, stretches back more than 1,000 years.

“They controlled the traffic on the river and that included Samuel de Champlain,” said Whiteduck. “The water is the lifeblood of Mother Earth and this will give us a better ability to protect the river and maintain its sustainability.”

The 590-kilometre designation extends from the head of Lake Timiskaming to East Hawkesbury but applies only to the Ontario side. No new laws or regulations are created when rivers get heritage designations. After a river is designated, however, annual reports must be prepared describing changes, improvements and threats to the values for which the river was recognized. In addition, an in-depth review of the river’s values must be done every 10 years.

“It's a wonderful day for Canada,” declared Petawawa Mayor Bob Sweet. “It is a great achievement.”

Established in 1984, the system gives national recognition to Canada's outstanding rivers and encourages their long-term management to conserve their natural, cultural and recreational values for the benefit and enjoyment of Canadians. Pointing to its pine-clad islands and white sand beaches Renfrew County Warden Jennifer Murphy said the Ottawa is truly a river deserving of this status.

“It has often been said that the Ottawa River is not a barrier but, in fact, a bridge,” said Murphy. “It will continue to bring us together and strengthen our bonds.”

Symbolic of the connection between the Ottawa River and the First Nations peoples, the Petawawa Point, which hundreds of years ago was a thriving Algonquin village, was selected as the location for the designation's plaque. The early development of Canada was made possible because of the Algonquins presence on the Ottawa River, said Algonquin negotiator Connie Mielke, noting they made their settlements here thousands of years before the French explorers and fur traders traversed this body of water.

“This powerful river flows and carries with it all of that ancestral knowledge and memories of all time,” said Mielke.

SChase@postmedia.com