How did Ottawa and the Ottawa River receive its name?

How did Ottawa and the Ottawa River receive its name?
Posted on March 27, 2019 | Jason Arbour | Written on March 25, 2019
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Names are a combination of words by which a person, place, thing, or any object of thought is labeled.

The Name 'Ottawa' and its origins are of the Algonquian linguistic family, the word itself is reference to the powerful Outaouais nation. The Outaouais nation is an Anishnabeg people related to the Ojibwa and Pottawatomie nations, and yet distinct, their traditional territory was located south of Lake Superior and north of Lake Michigan or Illinois.

The Outaouais people were made most famous for their ability to peacefully exchange commodities between trading posts, as well as with unfavourable Iroquois bands. Thus, the Outaouais made great trading allies for the French. The French were most appreciative of the peaceful trade route through the lower Iroquoian portion of the river.

Just as the pine, birch, maple and oak trees grow side by side; just as the Musky, Pike, Sturgeon and Catfish swim side by side; the Algonquin and Iroquois also lived side by side. Evidence of the joining lands can be found on this early French Crown map, labelled 'Sauvage Nations and Places', see below (PDF).

This French map labeled the lower portion of the trade passage into Canada "Grande Riviere des Challe des Castor des Iroquois". Translated into English it means "Grand River of the Iroquois Beaver Lodges". The task of traveling and trading with the Huron and Algonquin settlements was difficult at times for French traders due to the Iroquoian presence on the lower Ottawa River. The absence of the Gatineau and Rideau rivers on this map indicates an inability by the map maker to access this part of the river, in order to map it accurately. 

The name Ottawa replaced the establishment of Bytown and Ottawa was incorporated as a city in 1855, 12 years before Confederation.

This is the origin of the name Ottawa and this is how our river and beautiful city received its name.

At the same time, this map indicates that it was Iroquorian people who were living in the Greater Ottawa-Gatineau region when the French settled in the New World. 


About The Author

Tsit-Kanaja Kaniengehaga's picture

My name is Jason (Rotisken'rakehte) Arbour, Appointed Chief and Legal Representative of Kana:tso Kaniengehaga First Nation. In 1903 my family/band was disbanded from our Indian resserve and place of origin at... More