Sat. Mar 2nd, 2024
view of river

Today’s post comes from Assistant Discovery Leader Mat St-Jules of Samuel de Champlain Provincial Park.

When your paddle hits the water, look up at the towering cliffs. Pass swamps full of activity. Touch trees that took root hundreds of years ago.

With such unparalleled beauty, it is difficult to imagine that Mattawa River Provincial Park is located just a few hours from our province’s largest cities.

Turn back time

It is easy to see that this river has witnessed many stories and acts as a backdrop to the hard work that built this country.

For millennia, the Mattawa River has played a huge role in the lives of the people here. To recognize this, its 76 km stretch was designated a Canadian Heritage River in 1988.

river view

The history of the Mattawa dates back 10,000 years, when an ancient valley became a river, carrying away the enormous flow of glacial lakes.

These were created by water spilling from the continent-sized glacier that was melting.

A river of connections

The Anishnaabek people who call this river home first arrived when the glaciers left.

They lived a semi-nomadic life, gathering in the spring and summer to celebrate and gather the abundant food, and then dispersing again in the fall. They looked for animals to hunt or trap during the winter.


The Mattawa provided a way to travel using birch bark canoes of their own design, built from materials abundant in the surrounding forest.

This connected them to a vast trading network that shared agricultural products, furs, and more with other indigenous groups across the continent.

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European explorers

Europeans first traveled the river when Étienne Brulé used it to reach the Great Lakes.

He lived there for a year with the Wendat people to become a translator, at the request of Samuel de Champlain to help them on their travels.

Champlain was looking for a way to the Pacific Ocean. In hindsight and with better maps, we can now see that the route he sought was much harder than he had imagined.

river on rainy day

Instead, these explorations fueled the fur trade, driving wooden runner and later, travelers who went further and further west to collect beaver pelts.

These travelers were employees of fur trading companies such as the North West Company or the well-known Hudson Bay Company. Think of them as the long-haul truckers of their day.

They ran along the Mattawa (the closest equivalent to a road) for centuries.

Even today, the Trans-Canada Highway closely follows the path of travelers along the river.

Going through history

Today, Mattawa is no longer a key link in our national transportation system and its importance has changed.

Now it offers us a place to disconnect from everything. Paddle the length of the river in just one day or extend your trip over a few days to enjoy a slower pace.

The Mattawa River provides us with great fishing opportunities. The numerous lakes along the river contain everything from lake trout to largemouth bass.

river view

Above all, the Mattawa River gives us a glimpse of what life was like all those years ago.

Follow the river downstream as thousands of people did before us, take in the same views and imagine the roar of the traveler’s song echoing off the cliffs.

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Why not add your own song while you paddle down this stunning river?