It has been a long time coming: the river that flows through Canada’s capital and is safeguarded by Ottawa Riverkeeper has been formally designated a Canadian Heritage River.
The designation was announced jointly by the Federal Minister of Environment and the Ontario Minister of Natural Resources, who praised the Ottawa River’s “outstanding cultural and heritage values.”
Ottawa Riverkeeper is thrilled. “No river reverberates so strongly with the spirit of the Canadian people,” said Riverkeeper Meredith Brown. “The Ottawa River brings together the peoples of Ontario, Quebec, and First Nations. It has been the lifeblood for those who have lived in the river’s watershed for thousands of years, and it continues to shape our communities and our country.”
The road to Heritage status began more than 10 years ago, under the leadership of Len Hopkins, former member of Parliament and William Commanda, former Chief of the Kitigàn-zìbì Anishinàbeg First Nation and member of the Order of Canada. Hopkins and Commanda travelled the watershed for several years collecting stories, uniting people around the Ottawa River, and advocating for a Heritage River nomination. Sadly, a stall at the political level meant Hopkins and Commanda passed away before they could see that nomination become a designation.
In the last two years, Ottawa Riverkeeper took the lead to rally for Heritage Designation. In May 2015 Ottawa Riverkeeper brought together more than 200 people from diverse sectors within the watershed, including municipal governments, First Nations, businesses, provincial and federal agencies and not-for-profit organizations for an Ottawa River Summit held in Gatineau, Quebec. Signatories agreed to work together to acknowledge and celebrate the cultural, heritage, and natural values within the Ottawa River Watershed. In July 2016, the federal government finally recognized and named the Ottawa River as one of Canada’s most important Heritage Rivers.
“Our shared river is rich in history and has played a critical role in shaping our culturally unique communities, and that is something we can all agree on,” said Brown. “This designation will enhance our collective sense of river pride and inspire people to respect and protect the river that flows through their communities and through their veins.”