From Indigenous sacred site to industrial wasteland: Colonialism & class struggle in the Chaudière District
Like other parts of North America, the Ottawa-Gatineau region was once acknowledged to be Indigenous land by colonial settlers. Through a unilateral and fraudulent ‘legal’ process, colonial officials dispossessed the Algonquin of the territory that includes present-day Ottawa.
Focused on the islands and shore near the Chaudière Falls (the area called ‘Akikodjiwan’ by the Algonquin), this tour traces the 200 year history during which an Indigenous sacred site was transformed into an industrial zone, with huge factories dependent upon labour from nearby working class neighborhoods in Hull and Lebreton Flats.
Taking a route few people use, the Chaudière District tour starts at the National Library/Public Archives building (395 Wellington Street) and winds its way through Victoria and Chaudière Islands and LaBreton Flats. During 8 or 9 stops, we tell the stories of Indigenous peoples, shantymen and raftsmen, sawmill workers, women match workers (les Allumettières), pulp and paper workers, the community activists who opposed the government destruction of their neighborhoods and the anti-colonial activists currently fighting against the government handover of an Indigenous sacred site to condo developers. At each stop we talk about the implications of past events for current efforts to oppose colonialism and capitalism.
The 3 hour tour covers the following:
- The pre-settler status of the Chaudière District as an Algonquin sacred site
- Early settlement in the Chaudière District
- The fur trade and timber trade on the Ottawa River
- Development of the sawn lumber industry and large factories in the Chaudière
- The Chaudière’s industrial working class and its communities in Hull and Labreton Flats
- The 1891 sawmill workers strike
- The 1924 strike by women matchworkers
- The 1974 anti-wage controls strike by pulp & paper workers
- The federal destruction of the working class neighborhoods in Labreton Flats and downtown Hull
- Government and corporate debates about the fate of the decommissioned Chaudière industrial site
- Ongoing opposition to the ‘condo-ization’ of the Chaudière by Algonquin and anti-colonial settler activists
To learn more about some of the topics covered during this tour, consult the following sources:
- David Lee: Lumber Kings & Shantymen: Logging and Lumbering in the Ottawa Valley, Lorimer, 2006
- Michael Martin, Working Class Culture and the Development of Hull Quebec, 1800-1929, available online at: https://web.ncf.ca/fn871/Media/Docs/Book1/Book1_Working ClassCulture.pdf
- Edward McKenna, “Unorganized Labour Versus Management: the Strike at the Chaudière Lumber Mills, 1891”, Histoire sociale/Social History, November, 1972
- Greg Kealey and Bryan Palmer: Dreaming of What Might Be: The Knights of Labour in Ontario, 1880-1900, Toronto: New Hogtown Press, 1987
- Chad Gaffield: History of the Outaouais, Institut québécois de recherché sur la culture, 1997
For information about ongoing efforts to halt condo development at the Chaudière site, consult the websites of key organizations:
- Free the Falls: freethefalls.ca
- Stop Windmill: stopwindmill.ca
Book Chaudière Tour
- All tours are $35 (cash) payable at the end of the tour.
- Tours must be booked at least 24 hours in advance. (You will receive confirmation of your booking.)
- Tours proceed rain or shine and start from Library and Archives Canada, at 395 Wellington Street (west of Parliament Hill). Google Maps.