Why history buffs are mapping an Algonquin portage route in downtown Ottawa
When Wendy Jocko, Chief of the Algonquin First Nation of Pikwakanagan, made the 90-minute trip to Ottawa recently, she tried to step into the shoes of her great-grandfather Pierre-Louis Constant Pinesi from over 200 years ago.
“I was trying to imagine how long it would take in a birch bark canoeâ¦ Would it take two or three weeks?” Would it take three months? wondered Jocko, who is a direct seventh generation descendant of the Algonquin leader.
“Canoeing was our mode of transportation back then. Unfortunately, these roads are now disrupted by roadblocks and construction work along the way.”
A group of history buffs are working to change that by revitalizing traditional Indigenous roads and trails and shining a light on their history.
âThis work is not common. There aren’t a lot of people restoring native trails, âsaid Peter Stockdale, founder of Kichi Sibi Trails, an Aboriginal road awareness group in eastern Ontario and western Quebec.
âI am interested in this portage because it leads us to understand what this concrete place is and to understand how it is linked to Algonquin history in this long forgotten capital. It’s a little way to create a gift for reconciliation, âhe said.
The group’s first project is to uncover Pinesi’s original portage, map and clear the route they believe it used to get around Rideau Falls.
According to Jocko, in the early 1800s, Pinesi was leading a band of about 264 families as the great chief of the Algonquins. Its hunting ground was centered at the confluence of the Rideau and Ottawa rivers, a common travel route for many paddlers traveling to the St. Lawrence and south to the Gulf of Mexico.
Pinesi’s original portage route begins on the shores of the Outaouais, approximately 200 meters west of what is now Rockcliffe Park and the Rockeries entrance to the Sir George-Ãtienne Cartier promenade.
The nearly four-kilometer-long trail stretches through Pine Hill Forest and later Stanley Park, reaching the Rideau next to St. Patrick’s Bridge. It winds through bush and trees, past Rideau Hall and into what are now cobblestone streets lined with houses in New Edinburgh.
“There are brass plaques commemorating the hundred-year-old houses. But they should have another plaque that says, ‘This house is on an 8,000-year-old portage trail,” said Max. Finkelstein.
To publicize the trail, the group asked artist Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg Simon BrascoupÃ© to design markers to mark the trail. Kitigan Zibi muralist Doreen Stevens will create a ceramic mural depicting her history in Stanley Park.
For Catherine Mageau-Walker, member of Kichi Sibi Trail, working on the revitalization project felt like weaving a tapestry.
âAll of these little pieces form a bigger picture,â she said, adding that she had learned a lot about Algonquin culture through this project, such as the different uses of portage routes.
“You have ritual porterage trails, then you have wartime ‘avoidance’ trails.”
Mageau-Walker, whose grandmother told him is of Algonquin descent, did not grow up in an Indigenous community.
She hopes this project will help people reconnect with the region’s Algonquin history. In particular, Mageau-Walker hopes that the course will be a place where teachers can take their students to dive into the past.
While the way is now clear, the full project will not be completed until June 2022, when Kichi Sibi Trails plans a ceremony involving members of the Algonquin Pikwakanagan First Nation.
For its current chef Jocko, this is an opportunity to recognize the contribution of his great-grandfather Pinesi.
“He was first and foremost a warrior,” Jocko said, explaining that he had fought in the War of 1812.
âSadly, he is not honored in death, as his burial site was paved by a parking lot near Oka.â
Marking his contribution is of personal importance to Jocko, who comes from a long line of veterans and herself served in the military from 1979 to 2002.
For her, this project is another way of connecting past and present communities in Ottawa and 90 minutes away in PikwÃ kanagÃ n.
âWe still make canoes out of birch bark and we still use these waterways,â Jocko said.
“I am standing here today, so the legacy of Constant Pinesi lives on.”