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What Canadian Heritage River watershed is larger than England?

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Over a period of fifteen years, there are many who made exceptional contributions during the course of a complex and multi-faceted project that resulted in the Ottawa River receiving official designation as part of the Canadian Heritage Rivers System – Canada's national river conservation program promoting, protecting and enhancing Canada's river heritage and ensuring that their leading rivers are managed in a sustainable manner.

Becoming a Canadian Heritage River is a lengthy and complicated process with each step demanding extensive public involvement and local community support. Since 2002, a multitude of discussions, meetings and conferences were held, and several proposals had been put forward by local supporters to the provinces of Ontario and Québec as well as the Government of Canada for consideration. However, it was not until 2016 that there was a renewed interest and an opportunity to reunite key stakeholders as the Federal Government wanted to move forward with this initiative. It is worth noting that Parks Canada is the Federal agency responsible for the approval of Canadian heritage river designation. Working very closely with stakeholders at the community, city, county, provincial and federal levels, the Ottawa River – also known as Canada's "original trans-Canada highway" – received official heritage designation on 28 July 2016. Fourteen months later, supporters celebrated this important recognition at an official ceremony held along the river at Petawawa Point Park, Ontario on October 4, 2017. As shown in the photograph, a trilingual commemorative plaque – in Algonquin, English and French – was unveiled at this event highlighting the significance of the Ottawa River, which reads as follows:

"The Ottawa River flows over 1,271 kilometres through the heartland of Algonquin traditional territory. The Algonquin call it Kitchisippi – the Great River – and for millennia it has been central to the lives of the Algonquin People, serving as a major transportation route for trade, gatherings and celebrations. In more recent history, European explorers used it for passage to the West and to other fur trade routes during the 'coureurs des bois' and voyageurs era. In celebration of its outstanding cultural heritage, economic, natural and spiritual values, a 590 km-long portion of the Ottawa River in Ontario has been designated a Canadian Heritage River."

To put the size of the Ottawa River watershed in perspective, the 'Ottawa Riverkeeper' – a non-profit organization that seeks to protect the Ottawa River – best describes it as one of the great rivers of North America with far-reaching significance. In size, in eastern Canada, it is second only to the Saint Lawrence River. From its source in the Laurentian Mountains of central Québec to its confluence with the Saint Lawrence River at Montréal, the Ottawa River forms the boundary between the provinces of Québec and Ontario. Encompassing approximately 146,000 square kilometres, its watershed extends about two-thirds into Québec and one-third into Ontario. It is also the twelfth largest in Canada and is slightly larger than the size of England (approximately 132,938 square kilometres).

On this day, 28 July 2021, we celebrate the 5th anniversary of the designation of the Ottawa River as a Canadian Heritage River and mark nearly four years since the unveiling of a commemorative plaque erected at Petawawa Point, Ontario.

André M. Levesque

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