The written history of the region starts in 1613, with Champlain’s trip to the land of the Algonquins, while searching for the North Sea. However, it is only in 1800, with the arrival of American loyalist Philemon Wright, that the Outaouais region’s development took off.
Amerindians in the Outaouais region
First inhabitants of the region, the Amerindian communities are still present on the territory. Two Algonquin Amerindian communities, the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg reservation, near Maniwaki and the community from Lac-Rapide, in the Réserve faunique La Vérendrye, are living proof of this statement. The close bond that the Algonquin Indians share with nature allows them to preserve and perpetuate their culture.
Chief Pontiac, a legendary figurehead, was born from an Odawa father and an Ojibway mother, in 1720 on the shore of Lake Nipissing. His great communication and strategy skills made him chief of the Ottawas and supreme chief of the Great Lakes Algonquin Confederation. French ally and faithful friend of Montcalm, Pontiac leads the Ottawas to battle and shines at the Monongahéla battle in 1755. He is murdered in 1769 in Cahokia (East St-Louis). Today, a town, as well as a township of the Outaouais region proudly bears his name.
The visiting explorers in the Outaouais
Many famous explorers like Samuel de Champlain and Étienne Brûlé set foot on Outaouais land over the course of their numerous trips.
Samuel de Champlain, French explorer and geographer, founded Quebec City in 1608. Along with four Frenchmen, Champlain sailed up the Ottawa River in 1613 and by doing so crossed the Gatineau River, the Rideau River and the Chaudière falls to end his journey in Allumette Island. In 1615, he repeats the journey from two years prior, this time accompanied by Étienne Brûlé, one servant and ten Indians. He then sails up the Ottawa River to Mattawa.
Étienne Brulé is known as Canada’s first ''Coureur des bois'', as well as being a fur trader, explorer and interpreter during Champlain’s time. After being adopted by the Hurons, he started working for the Kirke brothers in 1629, during the capitulation of Quebec City.
The wood industry and the first settlers
The growth of the region is due, mainly, to the logging industry. Philemon Wright arrived in 1800 from Woburn, Massachusetts, accompanied by his family and five other families. He founded the city of Wright’s Town and launched the wood industry. The Wrights built, among other things, saw mills, dams and hotels. E. B. Eddy continued the expansion of the town during the second half of the century by establishing processing plants for forest resources. In 1875, Wright’s Town became a city named Hull.
During the second half of the 19th century, the evolution of Ezra Butler Eddy and of John Rudolphus Booth is remarkable. In 1851, Eddy leaves Vermont for Hull in order to start a small match factory. In 1857, he also manufactures wood buckets and in 1866, builds a saw mill. Four years later, he buys Philemon Island and part of the Wright estate. Finally, he develops a huge pulp and paper business. Booth arrives from the Eastern Townships in 1852, hired as a carpenter to build the saw mills. In 1858, he starts his own business by renting a small saw mill on the south shore of the Chaudière falls. All through the second half of the 19th century, Booth and Eddy dominate the forest industry in the Outaouais valley, and are among the only ones to have successfully made the transition to the pulp and paper production.
George Bryson is a Scottish farmer and a wood merchant who is also the town mayor of Mansfield, county warden of Pontiac and a legislative counsel. Bryon and his team dominated the 19th century economic activity of the Pontiac region and shifted the economic development of the 20th century. The Bryson House, built in 1854, was renovated in 1982. Today, it belongs to the town of Mansfield and houses, among other things, the public library.
Public figures who have influenced the Outaouais’ history
Journalist, civil servant, author, conciliator and politician, William Lyon Mackenzie King was born on December 17, 1874 in Berlin (Kitchener, Ontario). He would go on to become the tenth Canadian Prime Minister in 1921. Throughout his career, Mackenzie King improved Canada’s state, from semi colonial system to an independent country. Upon his death on July 22, 1950, Mackenzie King left his country estate, in the Gatineau Park, as a legacy to the people of Canada so that it could become a federal park. You can now visit the Mackenzie King Estate and walk its magnificent gardens.
At almost sixty years of age, Louis-Joseph Papineauenjoyed aprolificpolitical career. As a Member of Parliament, he has largely contributed to the democratization of the province of Quebec, asserting the rights of French Canadians with England. His key role in the Rebellions of 1837 forces him to exile to the United States and to Europe for many years. Back in the country, Papineau devoted his time to the development of the lordship he acquired from his father in 1817. In 1846, he began the construction of a very elegant manor in Montebello... To find out more on the life of Louis-Joseph Papineau and his family, log on to Manoir Papineau National Historic Site of Canada.
In 1950, the government transformed a park game and fishing preserve and honoured the memory of famed explorer Pierre Gaultier de Varennes et de La Vérendrye upon the 200th anniversary of his death to lend it his name: the Réserve faunique La Vérendrye. Awarded the wilderness reserve status since 1979, this vast territory of over 13,615 km², is still a privileged gathering place for all outdoor enthusiasts. There you can find over 4,000 lakes and rivers and two gigantic reservoirs: Cabonga and Dozois. Additionally to hunting and fishing, the reserve offers camping grounds on rustic or full serviced sites, and also canoe-camping on over 2,000 km of various circuits. Two aboriginal villages, those of Grand-Lac-Victoria and Lac-Rapide, can be found within the limits of this scenic wildlife reserve.