We are excited to announce that after a two-year hiatus due to COVID-19, the Mattawa River Canoe Race is returning for our 50th Anniversary and celebrating its 45th year on July 23, 2022.   

The 64 km route has 12 portages.  The record for the race was set in 1995 at 5hrs, 27mins and 53 seconds.  There are paddlers who have participated over 30 times and the most senior paddler was 78 years young.   These paddlers have come from across Canada to compete in this 64km marathon paddling event, racing from Trout Lake to the place where the Mattawa and Ottawa Rivers meet.  They are following in the historic wake of Indigenous people and European explorers who travelled this waterway, now recognized as a Canadian Heritage River System.

If you have ever had the rich experience of paddling the Mattawa River, you’ll know the feeling of wonder as you take in the awe-inspiring scenery. Many of the paddlers in the Mattawa River Canoe Race return year after year, in love with the scenery and this historic route.  You can’t help but feel the energy and presence of the people who honoured this waterway.

If we go back 1,000 years in time, when Indigenous families would paddle from Trout Lake to the Ottawa River, the water so essential to their sustenance and way of life.  When they reached Pine Lake they would stay for a moon to harvest medicines and dry fish. The women and children would make camp gathering basswood bark to cover the bent-branch frame still standing from last fall’s wigwam.

A fire is built, a kettle filled with water carried from the river in a skin bag, warming to make tea from balsam fir tips. Eels, bass, channel fish would be caught and cooked for dinner before grandfather told the story that his grandfather told him of Pine Lake’s legend.

In time, the family would leave the camp, and paddle further down the Mattawa River. Along the way mothers would stop to harvest masses of moss called “old man’s beard” to diaper their children.  They would wash the soiled bundle and hang it to dry on a branch, ready for the next mother canoeing along the river.

When the family reached the ochre cave - known today as “Hell’s Gate” or the home of the Wendigo - they would climb into the opening to harvest only what they needed – precious minerals used for medicine, some to be used as base for pictograph paint and some for the burial ceremony. 

In time, like the paddlers in the Mattawa River Canoe Race, they reach the point where the Mattawa and the Ottawa (Kichi Sibi) River meet – “Meeting of the Waters” is the meaning of Mattawa.

Rich in history, culture, tradition and beauty, the Mattawa River is an honoured setting for the Mattawa River Canoe Race.   We welcome the paddlers who come here for the Race. 

Anyone who would like to know more, can visit our website www.mattawarivercanoerace.ca where they can register and learn more about the history of the river.

Thank you to NBMCA Board Member Jane Lagassie for sharing this historical interpretation of Mattawa River history.