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 or Outaouais' is a reference to the powerful Odawa nation who are Anishinaabeg aka Algonquian. The Odawa are related to the Ojibwa and Pottawatomi nations, their traditional territory is located around Lake Superior and Lake Michigan, or Illinois.

The Odawa nation were most famous to the French for their ability to exchange commodities on the Grand River between trading posts and Iroquoian bands. Thus, the Odawa were great trading allies for the French and as a result, the French named the Grand River "Grande Riviere des Outaouais".

Just as the Pine Tree, Birch, Maple, and Oak grow side by side and just as the Musky, Pike, Sturgeon and Catfish swim side by side, the Algonquin and Iroquois also lived side by side. Evidence of the adjacent hunting grounds can be found on this early French map, labelled 'Sauvage Nations and Places', see below (PDF). 

This French map labeled the lower portion of the Grand River of Canada "Chasse des Castor des Yroquois". Translated into English, it means "Yroquois Beaver Hunters". The task of traveling and trading with the Huron and Algonquin settlements was difficult at times for the French due to wars with the Iroquois, who lived and hunted on the lower portion of the Ottawa River. The absence of the Gatineau and Rideau rivers on this map is interesting, perhaps the cartographer did not have sufficient access to accommodate this portion of the Grand River due to the hostilities. 
 
This is the origin of the name Ottawa and how our beautiful river received its names.

The city of Ottawa replaced Bytown and was incorporated in 1855, 12 years before Confederation.

Take Notice that this map supports Iroquoian people living in the greater Ottawa-Gatineau region upon European arrival. 

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