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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course Research: Quebec Non-Francophone Ancestors by Althea Douglas M.A., CG. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).
Townships Surveyed Along the Ottawa River
Detail Showing Townships surveyed along the Ottawa River from A Map of the Province of Upper Canada … Québec to Lake Huron … James Wyld, London (1835) Map Collection Archives of Canada (NMC 94069). This map, at 58% of original size is No. 119 in the ACML Facsimile Map Series.
The Ottawa River and North-West Québec
On the western side of the province, up the Ottawa Valley, the timber trade brought New England entrepreneurs and Irish labourers whose English-speaking descendants displayed some of their ancestors stubborn determination when they resisted the inspectors of l’Office de la langue française. Follow the Ottawa River far enough and you reach Lake Timiskaming (Ontario)/Lac Témiscamingue (Québec) and north of this, the mining regions of Rouyn, Noranda, Amos and Val-d’Or in the Abitibi District. This is mining and pulp and paper country, more polyglot than “English”.
Long before Europeans turned up on the scene, the Ottawa River was a main route for travel and trade. When white men arrived it served explorers and the fur traders. Look at a map of our “National Capital Region” and you will see two large rivers flow into the Ottawa, almost opposite each other. The Rideau River flows from the south through chains of small lakes that, with the help of a 19th century canal system, offer a route to Lake Ontario and Kingston. The Gatineau River flows from the north, again via a chain of small lakes, leading far into the Canadian Shield. This region of Québec, north of the Ottawa, is termed l’Outaouais, while west of it lies “The Pontiac”, an English-speaking area. On the Ontario side of the river people refer to “The Valley”, i.e. the Ottawa River Valley. The Upper Ottawa Valley Genealogical Group serves both Pontiac County in Québec and Renfrew County in Ontario.
Except for a handful of seigneuries around Lake of Two Mountains/ Deux-Montagnes, where the Ottawa joins the St. Lawrence, settlement was sparse until townships were surveyed. Then, in 1800, Philemon Wright, born in Woburn, Massachusetts on 3 September, 1760, became the first settler in the forested area that would become Ottawa-Hull.
Petitions, red tape, and cheating partners aside, he secured a grant of 13,701 acres, and with “others”, 18,333 acres, in Hull township, Lower Canada, where the Gatineau River flowed into the Ottawa, across from the falls at the mouth of the Rideau River! Quite a corner lot! and of huge proportions, where he determined to create a self-sufficient farming village - and he did! He built mills, roads, a tannery, the farms were productive, settlers and workers moved into the Outaouais both to farm and harvest the wealth of the forest. In 1807 Wright floated the first raft of squared timber down the Ottawa River and on to Québec. In 1819 his was the first steamboat, theUnion of the Ottawa, on the river.
Early Church Records
The legislation that allowed Roman Catholic parishes to tithe in Townships (1839-1849) also affected the settlement of the Outaouais. Philemon Wright brought in New England settlers. Then British and Irish immigrants came and petitioned for land. French Canadians moved in to work in the woods, but as in the Eastern Townships, not in family groups until Catholic parishes could be established. In the Outaouais, the earliest Anglican Mission records begin around 1823, the Catholic Mission records date from 1841. Note that the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa includes the deanery of Clarendon which covers almost all of the Outaouais.
The building of the Rideau Canal improved transportation on the Ontario side of the river, and several military settlements such as Perth were strategically located to guard the important route. Good land and easy access, meant that a number of French from Québec crossed the river to become Franco-Ontarians, though their roots were in Québec. Expect to find intermarriage between the various Roman Catholic language groups on both sides of the river, and some intermarriage between Catholics and Protestants.
Settlement tended to follow the timber trade, and as river valleys were cleared of their stands of tall pine, some land proved arable. Look for records in the churches at the mouths of the rivers, a priest or missionary might travel upstream in the summer or fall, before freeze-up; never in the spring during the log drives.
The usual poor roads were constructed along the rivers, but because water was the cheapest way to move timber as well as bulk farm produce, the railroads came late. By the 1880s the CPR (Canadian Pacific Railway) had bought and completed the Québec, Montréal, Ottawa and Occidental line that ran from Hull, along the north shore of the Ottawa River, to Lachute, Ste-Thérèse, and Montréal.
The in-migration of French-Canadians and out-migration of many “English” from Québec townships also holds true in the Outaouais. Hull and Gatineau have become essentially French cities, though Aylmer and Chelsea (suburbs of Hull) are more favoured by the “English”, and much of Pontiac County is still “English”. The Laurentian hills and lakes, north and east of Hull, now cleared of the first growth pine, have become cottage country, as is much of Pontiac county.
The Hull branch of the ANQ, in the basement of the Palais de Justice, is also the home of the Société de généalogie de l’Outaouais, who maintain a library there as well as a large card-file name index. The Société has purchased books, marriage indexes, microfilmed registers and other microforms that supplement those held by the ANQ, making this an excellent base for researching families of central, western and northern Québec as well as Eastern and northern Ontario. The ANQ will order films of records for any region they do not have, but the holdings cover most of the province west of Québec City.
The Library and Archives of Canada
The Library and the Archives of Canada [LAC] also have large genealogical collections and in an earlier era. The Archives collected material particularly related to the Pontiac-Ottawa-Hull area and holds numerous microfilms of early missionary church records, both Protestant and Roman Catholic. As well, there are two file-card indexes. The Fabien Collection, index-card file (MG 25, G 231), now on microfilm, covers two limited areas: the region on both sides of the Ottawa River (Québec and Ontario) on 25 reels of microfilm, and the counties surrounding the Island of Montréal on 45 reels. These notes, entries in registers, and newspaper cuttings are somewhat disorganized, but by sorting through, I have found leads to problems I had almost despaired of solving. The Archives issues a microfilm shelf list and films can be borrowed.
The other index, the Gravelle Collection, is a card-file at the NA, noting records of selected births, marriages and deaths in parishes along the Ottawa River. Between the Ottawa based genealogical societies, those up The Valley, and the Outaouais groups, a great many records, census and church as well as cemetery, have been transcribed and published. More are coming out every year, so check bibliographies and publication lists of the many societies.
And remember: When looking for records all along the Ottawa River valley, always check both sides of the river: Montebello (La Petite Nation) and l’Orignal, Hull and Ottawa, Quyon and Arnprior, etc. Both the Anglican and Roman Catholic cathedrals in Ottawa tend to have marriages from both sides of the river. The Catholic Cathedral marriage index is published, the Anglican archives have computerized their indexes. As with the Gaspé Peninsula, church archives may fall within a diocese or administrative group whose borders cross provincial borders.
Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course Research: Quebec Non-Francophone Ancestors offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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