Oiseau Rock

Oiseau Rock is a sheer cliff of granite, about 150 m in height, situated on the Quebec shore of the Ottawa River at the bottom of the Deep River Reach. The cliff has been a sacred spot to the First Nations for thousands of years, as evidenced by pictographs, and tales of offerings left here. Tragically, many (most?) of the pictographs have been defaced by modern graffiti. The rock was much commented on by the European explorers. In the late 1800s, it was regularly visited by the steamboats plying the upper Ottawa. Currently, it is a favourite haunt of local boaters.

2005 September 21

Today, Phil, Richard, Rebecca and I paddled to Oiseau Rock. We started on the Quebec Shore, in the vicinity of Harrington Bay, and paddled upriver to Oiseau Point. A stiff down-river breeze precluded further progress upstream. We left the canoes at the beach at the point and climbed the trail to the top of Oiseau Rock.

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In 1686, Chevalier de Troyes led a military expedition up the Ottawa. Following mass on the fifth of May, they left Fort William

... to go to the portage at the end of la rivière creuse. ... one sees on the north shore ... a high mountain whose rock is straight and very precipitous, the middle a blank wall. Perhaps that is why the Indians make here their offerings, throwing arrows over, to the end of which they attach a little bit of tobacco. Our French are accustomed to baptise at this place those who have not previously passed it. This rock is named oiseau (bird) by the Indians and as some of our people did not want to lose the old custom of throwing themselves in the water, we camped below the portage.

"la rivière creuse" refers to the Deep River Reach, a section of the Ottawa River that runs, in essentially a straight line, for almost 40 km., from the top of Lac des Allumettes to Rapides des Joachims (da Swisha). The portage referred to is the one at Swisha. The baptisms were performed at Pointe au Baptême, a prominent sand spit on the south side of the river between Oiseau Rock and the current site of the Chalk River Laboratories of Atomic Energy of Canada. One assumes they were throwing themselves in the river off the sand spit, not off Oiseau Rock.

Oiseau Rock Ottawa River

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Oiseau Rock as seen from just offshore of Oiseau Point. Today's progress upstream was stopped at this point due to the wind and waves. We had already taken at least one wave over the bow of our canoe and my camera was wet.

Chalk River Laboratories Ottawa River

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Chalk River Laboratories as seen from just offshore of Oiseau Point. Pointe au Baptême can be seen -- the sand point-- on the south (left) shore. The high hills of the north shore of the river are very evident.

Alexander Sherrif travelled the Ottawa in 1829 to promote the idea of a ship canal to Lake Huron. He later wrote:

From a hill about five or six hundred feet in height, at the foot of the Deep River, is a prospect which I have no where seen surpassed. The portion of the Ottawa within view is, perhaps, the most remarkable and beautiful in its full course. To the right is the Deep River, extending upwards of twenty miles along the base of the heights, in the straightest possible course, and yet lined with the most uneven succession of rugged points. To the left, is the whole of the spacious winding of the upper Lac des Allumettes, with its numerous islands, and a part also of the lower lake, is visible beyond the great island. Several smaller lakes are seen on both sides of the river, and among the rest, one singularly situated half way up the hill from which the prospect is obtained.

view from Oiseau Rock Ottawa River

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View from the top of Oiseau rock looking upstream (north-west). Chalk River Laboratories is just visible behind the trees on the left (south shore). Continuing up the south shore, next is McQuestions Point. The sand on the south shore farther upstream is in the vicinity of Point Alexander (about 19 km upstream). (The town of Deep River is hidden in this view.) The river undergoes a very minor bend to the left in the vicinity of Presqu'isle (out of sight behind the headland on the right), which prevents a clear sight line, even from the center of the river, all the way to Swisha.

Lake Oiseau Rock Ottawa River

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This little lake is on the top of Oiseau Rock. In the background is (presumably) the further hill that Alexander Sherrif climbed for his "prospect". There does not seem to currently exist a trail or marked route to that vantage point. But it would be a worthwhile objective for further exploring.

Lake Oiseau Rock Ottawa River

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The little lake is a pleasant spot to have lunch and is even provided with a picnic table.

Some of the early descriptions were more fanciful. In 1854, Thomas Keefer, an engineer, delivered a lecture describing travelling up the Ottawa River.

(As quoted in Ottawa Waterway, Gateway to a Continent by Robert Legget:

At last the voyageurs came to Fort William, at the mouth of the 'Deep River', a remarkable reach of the Ottawa where rafts with a hundred fathoms of chain have been unable to find anchorage.

"About a mile in width, with high but sloping and well wooded banks on the south, and a bold naked chain of rocks rising 600 to 800 feet over the water on the north shore, it is so straight that a cannon ball, if projected with sufficient force, would follow the ice for the whole distance of five and twenty miles. One remarkable cliff, the Oiseau rock, rises a bare, perpendicular and apparently overhanging wall, nearly eight hundred feet in height, returning a magnificent echo to the canoe song of the passing voyageurs. Upon the outermost point of the highest peak stands a solitary dwarf pine which, diminished by the great height, appears by the moon's misty light not unlike the short but substantial figure of an Esquimaux maiden; and tradition or imagination has attached to the spot a story of the Squaw's leap; how an Indian women took advantage of the impetus afforded (by heavy bodies falling freely through a given space) the more speedily to rejoin the object of her affections on the happy hunting grounds of the bright Spirit Land."

view from Oiseau Rock Ottawa River

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Looking south: in the middle ground is Oiseau Point and the Ottawa River. In the distance is Allumette Lake. The trail to the top, quite steep in places, starts from the beach on the downstream side of the point.

view from Oiseau Rock Ottawa River

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Phil and Richard admiring the view.

More information about this location can be found at The Oiseau Rock.

The quotes from Alexander Sherrif and Chevalier de Troyes are taken from: The Upper Ottawa Valley, a glimpse of history, by Clyde Kennedy.

Sources

Clyde C. Kennedy (1970), The Upper Ottawa Valley, a glimpse of history, The Renfrew County Council.

Robert Legget (1975), Ottawa Waterway, Gateway to a Continent, University of Toronto Press.

Jean-Luc Pilon ed. (1999), La préhistoire de l'Outaouais / Ottawa Valley Prehistory, Outaouais no 6, Société d'histoire de l'Outaouais.

Charles H. Smith and Ian Dyck (2007), William E. Logan's 1845 Survey of the Upper Ottawa Valley, Canadian Museum of Civilization.