Revitalizing Indigenous portage routes

ABOVE: One of the hosts of Jane's Walk Ottawa-Gatineau’s Chief Pinesi Portage Trail walking tour, John Savage, stands in what was traditionally known as Portage Bay. (Photo: Jane's Walk Ottawa-Gatineau, Pinesi Portage Trail)

By Laura Fraser and Daryna Skybina

Ottawa parks and trails are now places for many families and individuals to gather, appreciate the outdoors, and create lasting memories. Though new memories are made every day, it is important for us to know the history of the land and water Canadians occupy.

Just a short walk from Rockcliffe Park’s parking lot there is an off-the-trail path leading to what Dr. Jean-Luc Pilon calls “Portage Bay''. The path is now flagged with orange tape to help show interested locals the start of the Indigenous southern portage route that has been identified through Pilon’s excavation of artifacts in its waters.

The land of modern-day Ottawa is justifiably called Canada’s capital city. It has been a popular gathering place for settlers yet has a much longer history for the Indigenous Peoples of North America/Turtle Island. Its rivers since time immemorial have connected travellers across Canada and even down to the Gulf of Mexico. This made Ottawa an important stop and gathering place amongst many portage routes.

Kichi Sibi Trails is an organization looking to revitalize portage routes and help tell their history in Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec. You can learn more about Kichi Sibi Trails here.

We are immersed in lost Indigenous history, and only a fraction of these portage routes remain known. Through providing virtual walking trails, the Kichi Sibi Trails team is marking down lost history and helping Canadians and Indigenous Peoples remember the importance of Ottawa’s many rivers and their banks. They’re starting their revitalization effort with what they are calling “Chief Pinesi’s Portage at Rockcliffe”, because this was one part of the Grand Chief of the Algonquins’ hunting grounds.

You can find more information about Kichi Sibi Trails through Jane’s Walk here.

All you need to do is watch the video and download the map to start your own virtual learning experience.

So, get on your walking shoes, put “Rockcliffe Park and the Rockeries'' in your map app, and head down the road 200m west to the entrance to the path to the Ottawa River. From there you can start your trip back in time and into nature to experience this integral part of Indigenous tradition.

Laura Fraser is part of Kichi Sibi Trails, a part of the Greenspace Alliance of Canada’s Capital. The purpose of the group is to revitalize Indigenous Portage Trails in Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec.