The Capital’s Chaudière Heritage District: Past and Future of a National Treasure

Mark Brandt Heritage Magazine | Vol XVI No. 3

NCC Artist Rendering of Aerial Perspective Looking West Towards the Chaudière Falls

When people think of Ottawa, they think of the Parliament Buildings, the Byward Market, or perhaps one of the older leafy neighbourhoods like the Glebe, New Edinburgh or Rockcliffe Park. They only rarely think of the Ottawa River, which is surprising since it is so large and cuts right through the heart of the capital. But they never think of Ottawa as having industrial places or an industrial history.

However, the Chaudière Heritage District is a national treasure that speaks directly to Ottawa’s—and Canada’s—industrial heritage. Despite its prominent location in the shadow of the Parliament Buildings—an archipelago in the middle of the historic Ottawa River—it is a “hidden gem” that is passed over quickly by fast-moving traffic on bridges old and new. Rooted in its watery landscape, its historic significance is vast and goes back to pre-contact times when the Algonquins and others plied these waters. Holding the great Chaudière (or “boiling kettle”) Falls in great esteem, they stopped at this portage for rest and to pay sacrifice to the gods of safe travel. This ritual, known as the Pétun ceremony, was noted by Samuel de Champlain in his journals during his first voyage through the Chaudière 400 years ago this year.

An urban cultural landscape in transition, the “Chaud,” as it is known locally, is ironically today a post-industrial brownfield on Confederation Boulevard (the capital’s Champs Elysées). But the Chaudière district is one of the city’s few industrial heritage sites and the one of real national significance.