Virtual Walk: Chief Pinesi's Portage between the Ottawa and Rideau Rivers

This virtual walk through Rockcliffe Park and the nearby neighbourhood follows the route of a traditional Indigenous portage between the Ottawa River (also known as Kichi Sibi) and the Rideau River.  The walk is hosted by Peter Stockdale, John Savage, and Max Finkelstein, who are collaborating on the Kichi Sibi Trails initiative.  Kichi Sibi Trails revitalizes Indigenous trails and portages in Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec and raises awareness of the deep history of Indigenous peoples, lands, and waters in Algonquin Anishinaabe territory. 

In the early 1800s, Constant Pinesi served as Grand Chief of all the Algonquin Anishinaabe people.  The Rideau-Rockcliffe area was known to be one of the Chief's hunting grounds.   A significant trail in the area was the portage between the south shore of the Ottawa River below Rideau Falls and the east bank of the Rideau River above the falls.  From time immemorial, Indigenous peoples often travelled by water, portaging over land to connect between waterways or to bypass rapids, falls, and other non-navigable sections of a waterway.  Moving between the Ottawa River and the Rideau River required a portage to get around Rideau Falls and the associated rapids.

The water levels have changed since the days when the portage was in general use, which has affected the shorelines of both rivers and the navigability of certain stretches of the Rideau above the Falls.

This video describes the importance of this area as a crossroads and as an archaeological research site to help understand the history and the cultures of the peoples who lived here or visited here.  There is extensive archaeological evidence of the use of the area as a place for gathering and trading.

The map (see image in photo gallery) shows the approximate route of the portage, subject to certain limitations of the present-day usage.

The Kichi Sibi Trails Group is proposing a partnership among Indigenous peoples, Settler government(s), and historians to research, map, and promote signage and access to traditional Indigenous trails in Ottawa-Gatineau and Eastern Ontario.  Local First Nations (Kitigan Zibi, Pikwakanagan) have responded positively to initial discussions, and have agreed to write letters of support.  The project is seeking funding through the Federal Government's Healthy Communities Initiative.

Watch the video.

Do the walk. 

If you would like to walk this trail yourself, you can park in Rockcliffe Park near the Rockeries.  Then walk down the road to the west about 100 meters where you will find the trail down to the Ottawa River bank where the walk begins.  Peter has tied short pieces of orange surveyor's tape at points along the trail for walkers to follow (at least, the markers will be there until the NCC cleans them up.)

About the narrators:

Peter Stockdale is a research consultant and photographer with decades of experience working on Indigenous issues, peace, and equity.  Chancing upon what may be the oldest house in Ottawa (built in 1828, on what is now Fuller Ave. in the Civic Hospital area) during one of his innumerable COVID walks, he learned from a member of the original family living there that Sherwood Dr. follows the route of an Indigenous trail.   From this, Peter became aware of the many Indigenous trails crossing Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec.  Peter and his colleagues have now jointly established Kichi Sibi Trails (see the Kichi Sibi Trails Facebook Group for more information on the group's activities). 

John Savage is a resident of Pointe-Gatineau and a past Jane's Walk leader.  He has served as vice president of his neighbourhood association, and has shared his skills as an organizer, lobbyist, and activist to protect and promote both the community and the natural environment for all to enjoy.  As a Métis (Algonquin, Chippewa, French, & British) whose ancestors traversed this area, he has a familial connection to the area possibly stretching back 7,000 years.  John is a co-founder of Kichi Sibi Trails.

Max Finkelstein is a wildlife biologist, travel writer, and master canoeist.  He leads programs and workshops on expedition skills, history of travel by canoe, and related topics for adults and youth.

About the producers:

Ken Walker is a retired software developer.  His long-time passions include cycling advocacy, sports, cooking, crafting, and tinkering with tech.  His work on this video grew out of his interest in exploring video and audio recording technologies.  You can find him on Twitter at @bikeviewca.

Kelly McGurrin has been a member of the Jane's Walk Ottawa-Gatineau organizing committee since 2018, following her retirement from IT work with the public service.  Keen on Jane Jacobs's principles of livable communities and learning about Ottawa's rich history, she and her husband Ken Walker took on the role of audio/video techs for the main shoot for this video.

About the soundtrack:

Learn more about the music in the video and the importance of water to the Algonquin people:  The Algonquin Water Song (video & phonetic lyrics, as well as background on the singers and the song). 

“We sing this song like a lullaby. The song means the water is the life's blood of our mother the earth. Water is the life's blood of our own bodies”  —Algonquin Grandmother Nancy Andry

Websites on related topics:     

Kichi Sibi Trails Facebook Group.

Exploring the Ottawa River (Kichi Sibi or the Great River): article by Katharine Fletcher

A bit of history on Algonquin Grand Chief Constant Pinesi:  Manor Park Chronicle article by Bob Serré

NCC Archaeology:

Archaeological history of the lower Ottawa Valley:  summary by Dr. Jean-Luc Pilon, Curator of Ontario Archaeology, Canadian Museum of Civilization (now the Canadian Museum of History):

Description of John Savage's walk for Jane's Walk, May 2018:  Waterfront Reconciliation

Ottawa Rockcliffe Ski Jump (Suicide Hill):  Video by Jean Ouellette  

Further information on Indigenous History:  Indigenous Canada offers free online courses through the Faculty of Native Studies at the University of Alberta.