The thundering roar and the power of the Chaudière Falls, were revered and feared by the Aboriginalsof the Ottawa Valley and by most of those who portaged around it, gazing in amazement at the rushing waters tumbling down towards the “Devil’s Hole”. The Algonquins of the “Grand River1” gave these falls the name of “Asticou” which in their languagemeans “place where the waters boil”. On his 1613 trip up the Ottawa River, Champlain christened the falls “Chaudière”, the French equivalent of “Kettle”. There are in fact two Chaudière Falls, the “Grande Chaudière” (Great Kettle) and the “Petite Chaudière” (Small Kettle) better known as the “Trou du Diable” (The “Devil’s Hole”). The water of the Devil’s Hole, imprisoned in a limestone escarpment near the shore, turns and tumbles without end drawing in everything that falls in its reach into a kind of funnel, and sucking them up like a siphon. An underground passage drains the water, which gushes out downstream somewhere near the river bottom.
The first Europeans to see the falls were as impressed as the Aboriginals by the amazing character of the site. The historian Gabriel Sagardwas stunned by what he considered to be “the most admirable, the most dangerous and the most dreadful of all water-falls”2. Alexander Henry, the first Englishman go along the portage route after the 1760 surrender of Montreal also described the scene with enthusiasm. To him, the “Grande Chaudière” was a phenomenon, a large portion of the river falling perpendicularly, with a loud noise, and amid a cloud of spray and vapour. And from time to time, embellished by a bright and gorgeous rainbow3. Nicholas Garry, the explorer, was left agape upon casting his eyes upon the scene. In his diary, he described what he saw in the following words: “One of the rocks in the middle of the falls, carved out more than the others, has every appearance of a kettle of boiling water from which the fall takes its name, and into this vast abyss, gurgite vasto4 the waters fall. The surrounding country is rocky and mountainous and covered with black pine. One singular part of the fall is a basin into which the water constantly passes and there is no visible means of discharge or outlet. It has of course a subterraneous egress, which is nowhere to be found”5.
In the account of his travels, Champlain described the “Pétun” or Tobacco Ceremony6, which took place on the steep escarpment overhanging the fall. With great solemnity, the assembled Algonquins threw offerings of tobacco into the gaping Chaudière, praying for protection from the dangers of their journey and from attacks by their enemies (audio).
It is here, near the rocky ledge overhanging the “Great Kettle7”, that a courageous and determined Algonquin woman captive was brutally murdered by Iroquois warriors8. Prefering death to captivity in the villages of the Iroquois, she tried to flee her captors by throwing herself into the icey waterfall. She was fished out of the water by the Iroquois and murdered on the spot. They took her scalp and went on their way.
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1 The Ottawa River carried many different names over the last 400 years. It was known as the « Rivière des Français », « Rivière des Algoumequins », « Grande Rivière », etc. For a detailed review of these, refer to : Louis Taché and al, Le Nord de l’Outaouais, Ottawa, Le Droit, 1938, page 105.
2 Gabriel Sagard, Le grand voyage du pays des Hurons, Paris, Librairie Tross, 1865, pages 255-256.
3 Alexander Henry, Travels and Adventures in Canada and the Indian Territories, 1760-1776, New York, I. Riley, 1809, pages 19-20.
4 Translation: « gurgite vasto ». Like a « gaping throat ».
5 Nicholas Garry, « Diary », in Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada, 1900, page 96.
6 Voyages of Samuel de Champlain, (Translation by Charles Pomeroy Otis), Vol. 3, 1611-1618, Boston, The Prince Society, 1882, page 83.
7 The « Grande Chaudière ».
8 Les Relations des Jésuites, 1642, Editor : Reuben Gold Twaites, Cleveland, Burrows Brothers, 1898, vol. 22, pages 252 and 256.
PHOTO No 1
Source: C. W. Jefferys, Library and Archives Canada, call number 2897205
Caption: The offering of tobacco to the Asticou, on the edge of the Great Kettle, as imagined and drawn by C. W. Jefferys, circa 1930.
PHOTO No 2
Source: Munro Grant, Picturesque Canada; The Country as it Was and Is, Toronto, Belden Brothers, 1882, volume 1, page 176. Photographer unknown.
Caption: This photograph of the Chaudière, dating back to circa 1880, shows us the falls before they were totally tamed by the building of the impressive semi-circular Chaudière dam in the early twentieth century. Fishermen are still able to try their luck at teasing the fish in the basin that stands at the foot of the roaring godhead, the mighty “Asticou”!
PHOTO No 3
Source: Pierre Louis Lapointe Collection, Alfred Lacroix Séries. Photographer: Alfred Lacroix.
Caption: The Chaudière Falls around 1904. The descriptions given by Champlain and by the Chevalier de Troyes are still valid even after three hundred years.
PHOTO No 4
Source: Pierre Louis Lapointe Collection. Photographer unknown.
Caption: The Chaudière Falls chained to the steel and concrete collar of the great semi-circular dam and harnessed to serve the needs of industry, around 1930.
Source: Extract taken from Voyages of Samuel de Champlain, (Translation by Charles Pomeroy Otis), Vol. 3, 1611-1618, Boston, The Prince Society, 1882, page 83.
Caption: It was on his return trip down the Ottawa River in 1613 that Champlain wrote up a description of the “Pétun” or Tobacco Ceremony in his journal. The Algonquins who accompanied him on his trip back to Québec stopped off to offer tobacco to the “Asticou”. The ceremony ended with the throwing of tobacco offerings into the maw of the “Grande Chaudière”. In so doing they hoped to be given protection for the rest of their journey by the Spirit that reigns over this marvelous natural site.
THE TOBACCO CEREMONY
« Continuing our way, we came to the Chaudière Falls, where the Savages went through with the customary ceremony, which is as follows. After carrying their canoes to the foot of the Fall, they assemble in one spot, where one of them takes up a collection with a wooden plate, into which each one puts a bit of tobacco. The collection having been made, the plate is placed in the midst of the troupe, and all dance about it, singing after their style. Then one of the captains makes an harangue, setting forth that for a long time they have been accustomed to make this offering, by which means they are insured protection against their enemies, that otherwise misfortune would befall them, as they are convinced by the evil spirit; and they live on in this superstition, as in many others, as we have said in other places. This done, the maker of the harangue takes the plate, and throws the tobacco into the midst of the kettle, whereupon they all together raise a loud cry. These poor people are so superstitious, that they would not believe it possible for them to make a prosperous journey without observing this ceremony at this place, since their enemies await them at this portage, not venturing to go any farther on account of the difficulty of the journey, whence they say they surprise them there, as they have sometimes done.1»
1 Voyages of Samuel de Champlain, (Translation by Charles Pomeroy Otis), Vol. 3, 1611-1618, Boston, The Prince Society, 1882, page 83.