Place: Île aux Allumettes
Theme: The Outaouais Algonquins
Year: 1632
Related Vignette(s):

1534-1760 - The Outaouais Algonquins
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The Outaouais’ first inhabitants

Map of the St. Lawrence and of the Ottawa Valley drawn by Champlain around 1613 and published in 1632. Note the inscriptions “Petite Nation des Algoumequins” and “Sauts” [Falls] near Île aux Allumettes.
Map of the St. Lawrence and of the Ottawa Valley drawn by Champlain around 1613 and published in 1632. Note the inscriptions “Petite Nation des Algoumequins” and “Sauts” [Falls] near Île aux Allumettes.
This plan of the St. Lawrence and Ottawa watersheds summarizes our knowledge of the lands occupied by the “Algoumequins” at the time of Champlain.
This plan of the St. Lawrence and Ottawa watersheds summarizes our knowledge of the lands occupied by the “Algoumequins” at the time of Champlain.
Samuel de Champlain’s monument at Nepean Point near the National Gallery, in Ottawa.
Samuel de Champlain’s monument at Nepean Point near the National Gallery, in Ottawa.
Samuel de Champlain’s monument at Nepean Point in Ottawa. Detail of the Amerindian standing at the foot of the monument.
Samuel de Champlain’s monument at Nepean Point in Ottawa. Detail of the Amerindian standing at the foot of the monument.

The landscape of the Outaouais is a result of a long geological history1. After the birth of the Laurentians about a billion years ago, the ocean then spilled over the region2. Then, about one million six hundred thousand years ago, during a period of global cooling, the Ottawa Valley and all of Southern Quebec were covered by a glacier many kilometres thick. The melting of this ice cap, more than twelve thousand years ago, gave birth to the Champlain Sea, which in turn, gradually receded over the millennia that followed3. At that time the Ottawa River would have been much larger than it is today and it would have been bordered by a landscape resembling the Canadian arctic, complete with large herds of roaming caribou. This was also when humans began to appear on the scene. Under the influence of a warming climate the arctic landscape upon which great caribou hunts were now taking place would see continual transformation over the next few centuries. It would gradually be replaced by the forest that is much more familiar to the inhabitants of the Outaouais of today. The empty tundra was filled, little by little, with trees. First were the conifers, next came the leafy trees such as the sugar maple. This new environment was exceedingly rich in fish, game, and in plants of all kinds. During summer, small bands of hunters took advantage of the mild weather to follow the river north, equipped with spears with stone spearheads. This great hunt would was the occasion to stock up on provisions before heading south before winter.

The first evidence of a human presence in the Ottawa Valley dates to around 6000 years ago4. The people were mostly nomadic. They were obliged to move regularly from lake to lake, and from river to river in order to live from the product of their hunting, fishing and gathering.5 They required more than 39 square kilometres of territory per person in order to survive. The constant threat of famine caused many of these groups little by little to become sedentary and begin practicing diverse forms of agriculture. Thus, the ancestors of the Anishinabeg (Algonquin) began to hunt, trap, fish and to live in the valley, pushing their summer camps ever northward and their winter camps more towards the interior.

Contemporary Anishinabeg accounts describe the summer encampments of their ancestors in the following manner:

“In summer, many families would get together to exchange goods, make marriages, and deal with common issues. They would behave like extended families, or even families with no connections between them. During the season of good weather, the people stayed in the same region and moved around locally. They used the opportunity to amass provisions ahead of the cold season. They used the time to dry meats, gather wild berries, cultivate certain plants, prepare medicinal plants, etc.”6

In the fall, each family gathered their provisions and moved to their winter hunting territory in the interior. As the Anishinabeg noted, “winter was a period of subsistence and survival.”7

This nomadic hunting and gathering in the forest was the principle lifestyle of the first inhabitants of the Outaouais Valley at the moment of contact with Europeans8.

Samuel de Champlain is the first to have given us a written account of the “Algoumequins” of the Ottawa Valley he met on his explorations of 1613 and 1615. In 1613, he travelled up to Île aux Allumettes where the Chief of the Great Nation of the Algonquins greeted him. It was Champlain who drew up the list of the Algonquin Nations of the Ottawa Valley and indicated the geographical area of each9 (image). The Kichesipirinis (the “Grande Nation”) controlled most of the Ottawa River watershed with their main encampment located on Morrison Island. The Ouechkarinis (the “Petite Nation”) inhabited the valleys of the rivers Lièvre, Petite-Nation and Rouge10. The Kinounghepirinis (the “People of the Pike”) inhabited the shores of Muskrat Lake, near Pembroke. The Mataouchkarinis, occupied a section of the Madawaska River valley, on the Ontario shore. The Kotakoutouemis, lived within the Coulonge and Dumoine watersheds and in the territories to the east of Rapides-des-Joachims.

Champlain reported that some of the groups of the Algonquin Nations practiced a form of slash and burn agriculture. This was the case for the Mataouchkarinis who lived at the mouth of the Madawaska River, who planted maize. The Kinounchepirinis of Muskrat Lake, under the watchful eye of their chief Nibachis, did the same. The Kichesipirinis of Morrison Island were proud of their gardens of peas and pumpkins. This account allows us to better understand the differences in the lifestyles of the Algonquins from that of the Iroquois.

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Learn more about Champlain’s 1613 visit to Morrison Island, near Pembroke, Ontario:
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References and definitions

1 Geological data is taken from Bruno Landry and Michel Mercier, Notions de géologie, 3e édition, Sherbrooke, Modulo, 1992, pages 522-543.

2 Ibid., pages 532-536. The flooding of the region is attributed to the « Iapetus » sea-water invasion which occurred about 500 million years ago.

3 Ibid., pages 541-542.

4 The archaeological discoveries on Morrison Island, near l’île aux Allumettes, in the Pontiac region, just as the excavations at Leamy Lake have recently confirmed this evaluation. Carbon-14 dating done on the artifacts at Leamy Lake have shown that the occupation of this site by Amerindian peoples goes back more than 4000 years. Stone tools, fragments of terracotta pottery and objects in native copper at this site testify equally to the commercial links of the First Nations people of the Great Lakes region with those of the St. Lawrence valley. For a successful synthesis of the results of these excavations, with the exception of that done on Leamy Lake Park, see: Gérald Pelletier, «Les premiers habitants de l’Outaouais : 6000 ans d’histoire», in Histoire de l’Outaouais, (éd.Chad Gaffield), Québec, IQRC, 1994, pages 41-65. Marcel Laliberté, «40 siècles de présence humaine», in Continuité, no 69, été 1996, page 21.

5 Roger J. M. Marois, Les Schèmes d’établissement à la fin de la préhistoire et au début de la période historique: Le sud du Québec, Musée national de l’Homme, Ottawa, 1974, (Coll. « Mercure », Commission archéologique du Canada, dossier no 17), pages 41, 86-87, 190, 71-72 and 88.

6 http://www.anishinabenation.ca/eng/alg_history_en.htm

7 http://www.anishinabenation.ca/eng/alg_history_en.htm

8 See Gérald Pelletier, «Les premiers habitants de l’Outaouais : 6 000 ans d’histoire», in Histoire de l’Outaouais, (éd.Chad Gaffield), Québec, IQRC, 1994, pages 41-65.  For a summary overview of the Lake Leamy Park, see Marcel Laliberté, «40 siècles de présence humaine», in Continuité, no 69, été 1996, pages 20-21.

9 Samuel de Champlain, Voyages  (Ed. C.-H. Laverdière), Montréal, Éditions du Jour, 1973, page 299. See also Louis Taché et al., Le Nord de l’Outaouais. Manuel-répertoire d’histoire et de géographie régionales, Ottawa, Le Droit, 1938, pages 112-117, as well as the report of Nelson-Martin Dawson entitled De la rivière des Algoumequins à la rivière des Outaouais. Histoire et destin des tribus algoumequines d’après les archives de l’époque coloniale, (2 volumes), Sherbrooke, Rapport final, juin 2002.

10 Nelson-Martin Dawson, Op. cit., volume 1, pages 169-171.

Secondary media sources and captions

PHOTO No 1
Source: Louis Taché and al., Le Nord de l’Outaouais, Ottawa, Le Droit, 1938, page 114.
Caption: Map of the St. Lawrence and of the Ottawa Valley drawn by Champlain around 1613 and published in 1632. Note the inscriptions “Petite Nation des Algoumequins” and “Sauts” [Falls] near Île aux Allumettes.

PHOTO No 2
Source: Nelson-Martin Dawson, De la rivière des Algoumequins à la rivière des Outaouais. Histoire et destin des tribus algoumequines d’après les archives de l’époque coloniale, (2 volumes), Sherbrooke, Rapport final, juin 2002, volume 1, page 17.
Caption: This plan of the St. Lawrence and Ottawa watersheds summarizes our knowledge of the lands occupied by the “Algoumequins” at the time of Champlain.

PHOTO No 3
Source: Pierre Louis Lapointe Collection, Alfred Lacroix Series. Photographer: Alfred Lacroix.
Caption: Samuel de Champlain’s monument at Nepean Point near the National Gallery, in Ottawa.

PHOTO No 4
Source: Pierre Louis Lapointe Collection, Alfred Lacroix Series. Photographer: Alfred Lacroix.
Caption: Samuel de Champlain’s monument at Nepean Point in Ottawa. Detail of the Amerindian standing at the foot of the monument.