For Anishinaabeg who still gather at this sacred meeting place from points east, west, north and south, the Chaudière waterfall’s whirlpool is the bowl of a great peace pipe, and its mists are smoke rising to the Creator. World-renowned Anishinaabe architect, Douglas Cardinal, describes the importance of the Falls in this video.
When Samuel de Champlain stopped at the sacred site in 1613, he recorded this in his journal:
“The water falls…..with such impetuosity on a rock that with the passage of time, it has hallowed out a wide, deep basin…..the water whirls about to such an extent, and in the middle boils so vigorously, that Indians call it Asticou, that is to say, a kettle. This waterfall makes such a noise in this basin that one can hear it from more than two leagues away. [This means the roar of the Falls was audible 11 km away, as far to the west as Deschênes Rapids near Aylmer, Quebec.]
“After having carried their canoes to the foot of the falls, they assembled at one place where one of them with a wooden plate takes up a collection, and each one of them places in this plate a piece of tobacco… the plate is placed in the middle of the group, and all dance about it, singing in their fashion; then one of the chiefs makes a speech, pointing out that for a long time they have been accustomed to making this offering, and that by this means they are protected from their enemies…the speaker takes the plate and throws the tobacco into the middle of la chaudière [kettle] and they make a great cry all together.”
With the advent of lumbering on the Kitchi Sibi (Great River), Algonquin people were displaced. There was no room for canoes as giant log booms snaked their way downstream. A lumber slide was built by companies that wanted to move their goods past the mammoth waterfall in Canada’s capital city.
In the 19th century, the Chaudiere Falls became a major tourist attraction, second only to Niagara Falls as a place of wonder. Its vertical drop is 15 metres (49 feet), and its width is 60 metres (200 feet). Artists galore painted and drew their impressions of its grandeur. An image of the Falls was sent to England’s Queen to help convince her that Bytown (now Ottawa) should become the new nation’s capital city.
Grandfather William Commanda’s vision for Asinabka (his name for the sacred site) calls for freeing Chaudière Falls from the dam that holds it back. The river, as the life blood of Mother Earth, became blocked when the dam was constructed. The drawing below shows an undammed waterfall as a crucial component of the plan for Asinabka.
In support of Asinabka, Lindsay Lambert, a local researcher and historian, quotes the following passage in a recent letter he sent to the National Capital Commission (NCC). It comes from Jacques Greber’s 1945 foundational plan for the city of Ottawa:
The most effective improvement will be the central park at the Chaudière Falls.
The time will come when the heavy and obnoxious industries, now occupying the islands, peninsula, and the rocks, from which the falls originally receded, will finally move to more appropriate sites, for their normal development, and more economical operation.
The Master Plan is a long-range programme based upon which the Capital will grow; urban planning deserves resolute perseverance, and the Falls will always remain the main feature of Ottawa’s natural setting.
Today’s NCC, created as a result of Greber’s plan for the capital, has abandoned the waterfall. By agreeing to turn the islands over to the private sector during the time John Baird was the minister responsible for the NCC, the NCC is ignoring a place of natural beauty with deep significance to Indigenous people and many others. Shouldn’t that place of significance be the centerpiece of the 50-year plan for the capital the NCC is now crafting?
Chaudière Falls is integral to the sacred site that sits in Ottawa’s centre. It must be acknowledged and respected as such.
Dismantle the dam; free the Falls.
In the 21st century, across North America, dams much larger than the ring dam at Chaudière Falls are being decommissioned to benefit river ecosystems. This is described in the award-winning documentary “Dam Nation.”
The dam was built in 1908 to power the lumbering and manufacturing industries that dominated this part of Ottawa. That industrial age ended in 2007 when Domtar closed its paper mill at the site.
In the fall of 2015, Energy Ottawa (a subsidiary of Hydro Ottawa, owned by the City of Ottawa) began desecrating the sacred site (Chaudière Island, beside the Falls) to construct a below-ground generating station that will feed into the provincial grid and provide power to 20,000 households. There was no public consultation about this, and an article from October 2016 points to Hydro Ottawa’s questionable relationship with Windmill Development Group in this massive expansion project. It was revealed at a conference in Utah that Windmill and Dream Corp. wish to take over as much of Chaudière’s energy as they can.
Canada’s longstanding vision for the site must include freeing Chaudière Falls.