The Log Driver’s Song
by Mac Beattie
There’s a valley I know
Where the tall timbers grow
Where the Ottawa River flows swiftly along
In the Spring if you go
Where the headwaters flow
You will hear this old log drivers’ song
Keep the logs on the go
Keep them rolling and twisting
And send the spray high
Through the rapids below
Where the Ottawa River flows by
A brief discourse…
It’s a land of rolling woodlands and pristine waters. It’s a good land – land for farming, making maple syrup, sporting and playing. It’s a land steeped in the history and traditions of the immigrants who settled here and who maintain the traditions and morals of days gone by. People still go to church on Sunday, neighbours help out neighbours at the drop of a hat and the local community centre is where everyone gathers for weddings, funerals and carnivals. People work hard all week long, and on weekends they square dance, stepdance, play fiddle, piano, guitar and accordion. The four seasons display nature’s grandeur better here than anywhere else in the world. People who live here know what they’ve got and they appreciate it, but they don’t boast or carry on, that’s not their way – perhaps that’s why it’s been a well-kept secret. But come to visit and you’ll feel more welcome here than anywhere else in the world, and you’ll never forget, the “Ottawa Valley.”
The Ottawa Valley is located in the Provinces of Ontario and Quebec in Canada. The region stretches from Ottawa (Canada’s capital city), westward along the shores of the historic Ottawa River, to the northern tip of Algonquin Park. More than half of the Valley is wilderness: six million acres of waterways, woodlands and dramatic landforms including massive canyons, hills and valleys that began forming over six million years ago. The province of Ontario is divided into “counties” and the Ottawa Valley is one and the same as “Renfrew County”, the largest county in the province.
The Ottawa River is a well-defined river that is the heart of this valley. It originates deep within a canyon-like valley at Temiskaming in northern Ontario and levels out along the shores of Deep River to Ottawa, and then flows to its mouth at the St. Lawerence. At Arnprior, the Madawaska River and Ottawa River meet to resemble one long waterfall crashing through rock-wall gorges, with a drop of 224m from source to mouth. At Castleford the Bonnechere River (from an elevation of over 300 m above sea level) descends to its confluence with the mighty Ottawa River.
Archaeological discoveries indicate that man has traveled these rivers for more than 5,000 years. It was the Native Indians who first settled the land around the Ottawa River, followed by the voyageurs of the fur trade, then the lumbermen with their timber. Although the river was the most practical travel route throughout the Valley, the waterfalls and white-water presented a constant challenge. Necessity being the mother of invention, the Algonquin natives developed the lightweight and durable birch bark canoe to help cope with these waters, and later, in the industrial age, Pembroke native John Cockburn, designed the Cockburn Pointer Boat – a revolutionary craft used to establish the Arctic Dew Line and to enhance the river ways and ports all across Canada.
By the mid 1800s as settlements and sawmills developed, do did a series of colonization roads in central Ontario. Land grants attracted many new settlers and immigrants to the area. They worked the land and the pine forests, and still today constant reminders of these early pioneers exist in the stone and rail fences, weathered farmhouses and century old tombstones.
In the late 1800s, lumberman J.R. Booth instigated the building of two railroads to help link communities through the Valley. The Arnprior and Parry Sound Railway stretched from Ottawa, through Algonquin Park, to Georgrian Bay. The Kingston and Pembroke Railway served to transport natural resources from the dense forests to Lake Ontario.
Visitors to the Ottawa Valley today will sense the spirit of the first settlers as they travel a route that displays great hardwood forests, wooden water towers, restored train stations and round houses, turn-of-the-century lumbermen’s hotels, and log barns still filled each summer with grain from the farm. The beautiful and varied landscape in the Valley stimulates recreational activities that vary and adapt with the changes in season – it is a nature lover’s paradise. Tourists will also notice a unique accent among many Ottawa Valley natives – a result of immigrants from many countries (France, Scotland, Ireland, Poland, Germany) settling in the Valley together. The combination of these settlers was also the driving force behind the music of the Ottawa Valley. Many of the immigrants to the Valley brought with them a passion for fiddle music. While the men worked in logging camps on the Ottawa River all winter long, they found that the fiddle, available and portable, was the perfect means of entertainment and relaxation after a hard day’s work. Those without an instrument would use their feet to accompany the music, and the unique form of dance, now known as Ottawa Valley stepdancing, developed. Music and stepdancing was not only predominant in the lives of these settlers, it was at the heart of their cultural and social lives, and so it is today.
April feels strongly about her Ottawa Valley heritage. In each of her performances and on each of her recordings, she pays tribute to her roots by including a set of tunes or songs that reflect the Ottawa Valley. Her favourite Ottawa Valley songwriter is the late Mac Beattie (http://backtothesugarcamp.com/macbeattie.html), a native of the Valley whose songs embrace the very essence of life there. He wrote the song below, which April recorded a version of on Take Me Back (2006).
This Ottawa Valley of Mine
by Mac Beattie
Come gather around me and pay good attention
A story I’ll tell you in rhyme
Of a beautiful land that I’m honoured to mention
This Ottawa valley of mine
From the Lake of Two Mountains to Mattawa town
Smith falls to the Gatineau line
It’s a land of great size and a sports paradise
This Ottawa Valley of mine
Now the people who live here they don’t quarrel or quibble
They work hard but like a good time
It’s the land of stepdancing
The good old-time fiddle
This Ottawa Valley of mine
From the hills of deep river
To Buckingham’s Mills
From Shawville to Perth on the Tay
For music and mirth
There’s no place here on earth
Like the Ottawa Valley they say
We have Mayor Charlotte Whitten
Our capital city
And the parliament buildings so fine
And perhaps I might mention
The famed Blue Laurentians
This Ottawa Valley of mine
So visit us here
Any time of the year
And I’m sure you will have a good time
And perhaps you’ll decide
That you’d like to abide
In this Ottawa valley of mine
For more information about the Ottawa Valley visit ottawavalley.org.