The Mattawa River Canoe Race, Rich in History

The Mattawa River Canoe Race, Rich in History
Jane Lagassie

Introducing... the Mattawa River Canoe Race, rich in history!

The 64 km Mattawa River Canoe Race route challenges canoe, kayak, voyageur canoe and stand-up paddle board paddlers across open water, demanding rapids and 12 portages.  The record for the race was set in 1995 at 5hrs, 27mins and 53 seconds.  There are paddlers who have participated over 30 times and the most senior paddler was 78 years young.  

These paddlers have come from across Canada to compete in this 64 km marathon paddling event, racing from Trout Lake to the place where the Mattawa and Ottawa Rivers meet.  They are following in the historic wake of Indigenous people and European explorers who travelled this waterway, now recognized as a Canadian Heritage River System.

If you have ever had the rich experience of paddling the Mattawa River, you’ll know the feeling of wonder as you take in the awe-inspiring scenery. Many of the paddlers in the Mattawa River Canoe Race return year after year, in love with the scenery and this historic route.  You can’t help but feel the energy and presence of the people who honoured this waterway.

If we go back 1,000 years in time, when Indigenous families would paddle from Trout Lake to the Ottawa River, the water so essential to their sustenance and way of life.  When they reached Pine Lake they would stay for a moon to harvest medicines and dry fish. The women and children would make camp gathering basswood bark to cover the bent-branch frame still standing from last fall’s wigwam.

A fire is built, a kettle filled with water carried from the river in a skin bag, warming to make tea from balsam fir tips. Eels, bass, channel fish would be caught and cooked for dinner before grandfather told the story that his grandfather told him of Pine Lake’s legend.

In time, the family would leave the camp, and paddle further down the Mattawa River. Along the way mothers would stop to harvest masses of moss called “old man’s beard” to diaper their children.  They would wash the soiled bundle and hang it to dry on a branch, ready for the next mother canoeing along the river.

When the family reached the ochre cave - known today as “Hell’s Gate” or the home of the Wendigo - they would climb into the opening to harvest only what they needed – precious minerals used for medicine, some to be used as base for pictograph paint and some for the burial ceremony. 

In time, like the paddlers in the Mattawa River Canoe Race, they reach the point where the Mattawa and the Ottawa (Kichi Sibi) River meet – “Meeting of the Waters” is the meaning of Mattawa.

Rich in history, culture, tradition and beauty, the Mattawa River is an honoured setting for the Mattawa River Canoe Race.   We welcome the paddlers who come here for the Race. 

The 2024 Mattawa River Canoe Race hosted by the North Bay-Mattawa Conservation Authority and sanctioned by the  (NBMCA) Ontario Marathon Canoe and Kayak Racing Association (OMCKRA)  is set for June 8.  Anyone who would like to know more, register, volunteer or sponsor the race can visit or contact Race Coordinator Paula Loranger at 705-474-5420 or

A Column by former NBMCA Board Member Jane Lagassie

Thank you to former NBMCA Board Member Jane Lagassie for sharing this historical interpretation of Mattawa River history.

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