Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Chats Falls: a crossroads of history, utility, passion and fun

Glen Hartle
Quyon Sept. 24, 2023
In June of last year, the Friends of Chats Falls announced a compelling archeological project, Archéo-Pontiac (THE EQUITY, June 14, 2022), and these last few weeks have seen a great deal of progress and excitement as they made good on their promise. Over the course of two weekends, September 16-17 and 23-24, enthusiasts of all ages enjoyed the rare experience of joining an archaeological dig at the earliest of stages – breaking ground. And all right here in the Pontiac.
The location of interest is well known and yet not. The Kit-chi’sippi or Great River or Grande Rivière du Nord or, perhaps most commonly, the Ottawa River, has long been known to have been a well-used waterway through the course of thousands of years of history. From the Algonquin peoples to trading companies and lumber barons, right through to communities, hydroelectric companies and cottage dwellers, the list of those who have made use of the mighty Ottawa is extensive. And with each use, a footprint. It is these footprints – or the possibility thereof – which has created all the buzz.
What is known is that where once stood a 35-foot waterfall popular to locals and tourists, Chats Falls, there now stands a hydroelectric dam built in the late 1920s and early 1930s – the Chats Falls Dam and Generating Station. And what is also known, is that the presence of the falls represented a significant travel hurdle where river voyagers would have had to portage around the falls or otherwise find a way up or down the river.
A homestead was constructed near the falls, around 1786, in what is now known as Indian Point. This, in turn, evolved into trading points for the XO Company, the North West Company and, finally, the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1821. With each occupant? Footprints. Lots of footprints.
Spearheaded by the Friends of Chats Falls, with support from the MRC des Collines-de-l’Outaouais through Quebec’s Cultural Development funding program, and the Municipality of Pontiac, the project hired consultant firm Artefactuel to carry out an archaeological survey and to plan / host a public dig with the community should there be found sufficient archeological value.
The extensive 69-page report found 13 areas of interest, of which four were recommended for public digs with the community. Chats Falls was one of them. Make ready the shovels.
Leading the digs were archaeologists Luce Lafrenière-Archambault and Gina Vincelli, from Artefactuel, and they were joined by somewhat local and well-known archaeologist Jean-Luc Pilon – known for his work with the Canadian Museum of History as well as his focus on the Ancient History of the Ottawa Valley. The Friends of Chats Falls president, Deb Powell, was on hand acting as receptionist, guide and all-around-cheerleader stating “This has been such a success. We greatly appreciate the support from the MRC and especially that of the Municipality of Pontiac for having helped prepare the dig site including their having loaned us tent-shelters and a portable toilet.”
The dig site itself was a bustle of activity and could best be described as a series of very busy stations. There was the welcome station, complete with brochures, maps, guidelines and already-found-artefacts, whetting the appetite of would-be participants.
There were several dig stations where exposed rocks could be seen protruding from shallow pits corresponding to hours and hours of activity by volunteer archaeologists over the course of two weekends. There was a sifting station where all matter taken from the pits was put through a fine mesh in order to set apart possible artifacts from the soil that has hid them for so long. There was the “new-dig” station where stakes and flags identified areas ready for newfound excavation. There was an artifact cleansing station where careful removal of soil and such could take place before the artifacts were placed into the appropriately labeled bin corresponding to the exact location within the dig site where they were found. And, finally, there was a refreshment and rest station where one could share fellowship, comfort and discoveries.
From every corner of the dig site there was chatter and laughter. It was particularly popular with children for, doesn’t every kid want to dig for treasure? And our shared history is one of the most treasured things we have. Dig away and let’s meet at the refreshment tent. Passion begets passion.
For more information on the Friends of Chats Falls or the results of their archeological digs, find them on Facebook.


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