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April 24, 2009

Mattawa’s Remarkable Explorer’s Point



There are few heritage sites in Canada with more history and a better view than Mattawa’s Explorers Point on the north side of the Mattawa River where the Mattawa River meets the Ottawa River.  Before looking at some of the Point’s past history, let’s look at it today.  The beautiful red pine log Mattawa Museum on Main Street is one of those rare northern museums built to be a museum.  Architect Jules Paivio designed it for Mattawa’s 100th birthday in 1984 and it was built by local craftsmen. 

The Museum 

The Museum’s displays have grown over the years and they will open a new display on Maurice Nadon former Commissioner of the RCMP, who grew up in Mattawa, on the Museum’s 25th anniversary on June 13, 2009.   Gilbert Parent the long standing MP and Speaker of the House in Ottawa who died recently will be memorialized in a display in September this year.Gilbert and his family have a longstanding connection with Mattawa 

The grounds near the museum feature the huge carved statue of Big Joe Mufferaw and two Ontario Heritage Foundation Plaques. An outdoor display recognizes the significance of the point on the Mattawa/Ottawa River system.  The Mattawa River is a heritage river and the Ottawa will soon be recognized making the point special. 

The huge stage added to the back of the Museum facing the Ottawa River has been the site of many events including the hugely successful Mattawa Voyageur Days which has been selling out lately.  Many events have taken place on the point including Aboriginal events recognizing the native presence in Mattawa. 

The point also features a fine Marina where Mattawa boats dock and where visitors can park while visiting or travelling the Ottawa River.  The expanse of the Ottawa River, the Railway Bridge to Quebec and the Laurentian Mountains with the 3 crosses across the river make for a stunning view.  The bridge across the Mattawa touches the Point property. 


When the last ice sheet receded 10,000 years ago and the land began to rise in  the area to the west of Mattawa as far as North Bay it caused the Mattawa River to flow toward Mattawa.  The river with its portages and other impediments has been a challenge to travellers for centuries.  The annual canoe races on the river have been a test for the best canoeists.  The river provided access to some of the forests that built the lumber trade in Mattawa’s early days.  The high ground of the point has made it a haven for activity and people over the years. 


Native people stopped on the point for centuries and early explorers were drawn there, including Champlain in 1615.  Leo Morel’s book The Meeting of the Waters lists several dozen famous travellers who stopped.  The North West Fur Co. established a site there as did the Hudson’s Bay Company later.  The Hudson’s Bay Company had a store, a couple of houses, including one for the Factor and several warehouses as shown in the photo  Mr. Laughlin  the Provincial Member of Parliament in the 1890s  had a beautiful house on the high ground overlooking the point. 

1. Explorers Point in its early days. The Hudsons Bay Store is  this side of the bridge on left and several of their buildings can be seen on the  Point. The Rosemount Hotel is bottom centre with Murray and & Laughrin General Store  to right. 2.Frontviews of the  Hudsons Bay Store, the Rosemount Hotel  and  the  Murray & Loughrin store. .. Submitted photos.

Mattawa’s two native Chiefs Amable du Fond and Antoine Kiwiwisens lived on the high ground beyond the point and Hudson’s Bay Factor Colin Rankin showed great respect for them.  In the  Rankins  Papers there is a reference that notes  that “Lady du Fond and servant . . . spent New Years Day with us. She left her Lord to take care of the wigwam in her absence.” Rankin has a street named for him nearby. He was Mattawas Mayor 7 times in the 1890s. 

The Hudson’s Bay store closed a hundred years ago and the point was used for storing logs etc. until more recent time.  As the town grew a large Catholic Church, School and Hospital were built on the rise overlooking the Point and a Hotel and many houses were built nearby as the town expanded. The Murray and Laughlin general store was across the road from the Hudson’s Bay Post. 

The Voyageurs 

Of the many travellers who visited Explorers Point none are better known than the Voyageur traders, in their huge birchbark  canoes, who stopped at the point to rest and replenish.  It is fitting that Museum staff and board members from throughout Northern Ontario (The Voyageur Heritage Network) are visiting Mattawa next Saturday for their annual meeting and workshops. 

As mentioned the Mattawa Voyageur Days (July 22-26) will also recognize the role of the Voyageur.  Plan a visit to the point and to other Mattawa sites during this 125th anniversary year. 

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