«By the light of a campfire, a craftsman
places a copper nugget on an anvil and strikes it repeatedly
with a hammerstone. Little by little, the nugget is flattened
until it becomes a thin sheet of metal. The craftsman picks
up the sheet, rolls it into a narrow tube and then cuts off
several sections that he shapes into hooks and needles.
With the remaining copper, he makes a conical point that
will be used for hunting.»
THE FIRST INHABITANTS
The first occupants of the Ottawa Valley were nomadic people who
lived by hunting and fishing during the Archaic period (6 500 to
3 000 years before the present). Around 6 000 years ago, these groups
were attracted to the environment created by region’s dense,
closed forests, where sugar maple and beech flourished. In the Ottawa
Valley, Archaic occupations are best exemplified by the Allumettes
Island and Morrison Island sites. Those who once lived on these sites
left a variety of flaked and ground tools that bear witness to a
remarkable capacity to adapt to the natural environment. Their toolbox
included drills, crescent knives, bone harpoons, net sinkers, atlatl
weights and projectile points for hunting, ground and polished gouges
and axes for working wood, and needles for sewing clothing, in addition
to knives and points of ground and polished slate.
As well as exploiting local resources, the people of the Archaic
period also seem to have made wide use of exotic materials, which
they obtained through the various trade networks that they were part
of. For example, their stone tools were quite often flaked out of
Onondaga chert, which comes from an area west of Lake Ontario. Some
objects were made of chert originating from the Hudson Bay Lowlands
or white quartzite from the Lake Mistassini area. Artifacts found
near the mouth of the Gatineau River suggest that exchange networks
extended as far as the northern tip of Labrador. The Archaic populations
living in the Ottawa Valley were also characterized by their use
of native copper coming from the Lake Superior area.
COPPER AND CRAFTSMANSHIP
Copper craftsmanship distinguished the groups that occupied the
Allumettes Island and Morrison Island sites, which are associated
with a sub-division of the Archaic period known as the Laurentian
Archaic tradition (6 500 to 4 000 years before the present). These
sites have revealed a wide array of objects fashioned out of native
copper imported from an area west of Lake Superior. These copper
objects include punches/awls and needles for working on wood bark
or leather, hooks and harpoons for fishing and points for hunting,
as well as knives, bracelets, beads and pendants.
NATIVE COPPER STEMMED
The techniques used by Laurentian Archaic people to make these copper
objects were not very complicated, but the results show considerable
ingenuity. First of all, a copper nugget was cold-hammered with a
hammerstone until it was flattened into a thin leaf. The metal sheet
could then be rolled into a small tube. Using these thin sheets and
tubes, craftsmen fashioned the copper into the desired tools or objects.
FUNERARY RITES AND SPIRITUALITY
The Allumettes Island and Morrison Island sites associated with
the Laurentian Archaic tradition (6 500 to 4 000 years before the
present) were used for both everyday activities and ritual practices.
Over 60 separate burials of men, women and children were discovered
on these islands. The bodies, in extended or flexed positions, lay
in small shallow graves. Offerings of objects made of stone, bone
or copper had sometimes been placed with the deceased to accompany
them in the “world of the dead.”
In the Ottawa Valley, as elsewhere in Quebec generally, the first
evidence of funerary rites dates to the Archaic period. Both the
burial of the dead and the grave offerings show that people in the
Archaic period had a shared spiritual awareness. The earliest burials
found on the Allumettes Island site have been dated to 5 300 years
before the present.
A MORE SEDENTARY LIFESTYLE
The beginning of the Woodland period (3 000 to 400 years before
the present) was marked by the appearance of the first baked clay
vessels. Woodland populations gradually developed new hunting weapons
and new techniques for cooking food. The Woodland period is divided
into three sub-periods.
The introduction of pottery and the use of Onondaga chert (coming
from the Great Lakes) characterize the Early Woodland period (3 000
to 2 400 years before the present). The Middle Woodland period (2
400 to 1 000 years before the present) is distinguished by increasingly
decorative pottery and ever smaller projectile points, indicating
that the bow and arrow had been introduced. In the Late Woodland
period (1 000 to 400 years before the present), groups developed
a mixed economy in which the products of hunting and fishing were
preserved by smoking and the surpluses obtained from gathering and
horticulture were kept in storage. Pottery was made by women, and
the knowledge and techniques required to make and decorate the increasingly
elaborate vessels was passed down from mother to daughter. Various
Late Woodlands Algonquian bands still lived in the Ottawa Valley
when Champlain visited the region in the 17th century.
THE SACRED PAINTINGS OF BIRD ROCK
A rock art site known as Bird Rock (Rocher à l’Oiseau)
stands on the banks of the Ottawa River. The paintings depict a winged
figure representing a bird, the arc of a circle, people in a canoe
and an archer. According to some interpretations, the bird motif
might be a reference to a legend in Algonquian mythology, according
to which a baby that fell from the cliff was saved from certain death
by an eagle.
Rock art sheds light on the way First Nations people represented
their universe and belief system. Rock paintings of human and animal
figures can be found on cliffs throughout the Canadian Shield on
numerous sites associated with the Algonquian tradition. Such sites
have been identified in Northern Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
The handful of rock art sites found in Quebec, including the paintings
done by the Ottawa Valley Algonquians, are thus part of a much broader
cultural phenomenon, which represented the universe in mythical terms.
Canadian Shield and St. Lawrence Lowlands
The Ottawa Valley belongs geologically to the Grenville Province
and the St. Lawrence Lowlands. The region is partially covered by
glacial, fluvio-glacial and marine deposits, associated with the
last ice age, known as the Wisconsin Period. About 20 000 ago, the
entire region lay under the Laurentide Inlandsis, an immense ice
sheet measuring over two kilometres in depth.
As the glacier moved, it produced numerous traces of erosion and
left deposits in the basins and valleys of the Laurentian Plateau.
Under the weight of the ice, the continent sank several metres and,
when the glacier began to melt, this territory was below sea level.
As a result of these conditions, an arm of the Atlantic Ocean penetrated
the continent as far as the Ottawa Valley, producing a body of water
known as the Champlain Sea. Between 12 000 and 9 500 years ago, the
region was covered by this sea, which reached a depth of about 200
metres. The water eventually retreated but it was only in the seventh
millennium that the newly emerged lowlands of the Ottawa Valley had
an environment that was conducive to colonization by plants, animals
Mean temperature in July: 18.3∞ C at Maniwaki
Mean temperature in January: -13.5∞ C at Maniwaki
Length of average growing season: 170 to 190 days
Deciduous and mixed forest
Sugar maple-hickory stands (with silver maple, American elm, ash,
oak, white pine and red pine) in low-lying land.
Laurentian maple stands, sugar maple-yellow birch stands and balsam
fir forests in the hills of the Laurentian Plateau. To the south,
these forests include silver maple, red maple, American elm, slippery
elm, American black ash, beech, red oak and butternut. To the north,
conifers such as balsam fir, spruce and jack pine become increasingly
The first archaeological discoveries in the Ottawa Valley were made
in the 19th century by Dr. Edward Van Courtland, who reported the
presence of graves with offerings. At the end of the 19th century,
work done for the expansion of Ottawa and Hull led to several chance
finds, which were documented by David Boyle of the Ontario Provincial
Museum. Between 1895 and 1915, T. W. Edwin Sowter, a civil servant
with the Topographical Surveys branch of the Department of the Interior
and an archaeology and palaeontology enthusiast, produced many publications
that shed light on the archaeological wealth of the Ottawa Valley.
The archaeologist William J. Wintemberg, a contemporary of T. W.
Edwin Sowter, established a solid basis for subsequent research on
the region’s prehistory. Wintemberg continued to be active
in this field until his sudden death in 1941.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Clyde C. Kennedy undertook excavations
on the Allumettes Island and Morrison Island sites. In the 1960s,
Barry Mitchell carried out digs on several Archaic and Woodland sites.
In the 1970s, Roger Marois, an archaeologist working at the National
Museum of Man, did research in the Baskatong area. The Ottawa Chapter
of the Ontario Archaeological Society was established in 1971 and
this gave a boost to archaeological research in the region. The Ottawa
Historical Society was founded in 1993 and contributed significantly
to the promotion of the research carried out in Lake Leamy Park until
2002. A field school in Lake Leamy Park was directed by archaeologist
Marcel Laliberté, in collaboration with the Université du
Quebec à Montreal, the National Capital Commission, the Canadian
Museum of Civilization and the Kitigan Zibi band. The most recent
research in the region was undertaken by Jean-Luc Pilon of the Canadian
Museum of Civilization on sites dating from the Archaic period (6
500 to 3 000 years before the present).
Center, Université de Montréal 2006. All rights reserved. Questions/comments?