The Ottawa Valley is the valley of the Ottawa, along the boundary between Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec. More than half wilderness, the is home to over 900 lakes and four major river systems. Canada’s capital city, Ottawa, itself is at the confluence of three rivers, the Ottawa, Gatineau and Rideau.
Samuel de Champlain traveling the area between 1613 and 1615 is considered the first documented European to visit. When he first arrived there the Huron, Algonquin, Iroquois, and Outaouais tribes were living in the Valley.
French and English are both commonly spoken throughout the Valley on both sides of the river. Orescott and Russell Counties have the highest concentration of francophones in Canada, living west of Quebec. The variant of French spoken here is based on Quebec French, but distinctly different from that of the Outaouais region. While regional English accents are rare in Canada, because of its isolation (before the arrival of the railways) and also through the mixture of the dominant French, Irish and Scottish populations, the valley at one time developed a distinctive dialect referred to as the Ottawa Valley Twang. Many traces of it can still be heard today, especially in the valley’s more isolated western portions
There is also a significant musical heritage in the Valley that traces its roots in the music traditions of Irish and French immigrants. Those musical traditions and customs are said to have continued and developed in the lumber camps that are an important part of the Ottawa River lumber industry. Later traditions continued in the Valley’s festivals and hotels. Of these, Lennox Gavan’s Hotel in Quyon, Quebec and Fred Meilleur’s Chapeau Hotel on L’Ile aux Allumettes (now burned down), Quebec were particularly influential.
Today, many performers keep the musical traditions alive, including April Verch, described as an ambassador of Ottawa Valley bluegrass. She recently visited Boston where she shared her music and culture with PRI’s “The World”.
As for Verch, she says that while the music hasn’t changed much over the years, it’s a little harder to find. “When my parents were my age, they went to the dancehall for a square dance,” she says. Nowadays “you can still find [the music,] but you have to know where to look.”
Versch admits she’s a little sad she didn’t grow up when this type of lifestyle and music were appreciated by a larger part of the population. “It’s not unknown, but it’s not major market music,” says Verch, once, a child prodigy, who today still calls the Valley home. “I do feel like being able to take it around the world and share it with people is a huge responsibility and an honor.”
Photo Credit: Ottawa Valley Travel