view of river

Mattawa River Provincial Park: a heritage river

Today’s post comes from Assistant Discovery Leader Mat St-Jules of Samuel de Champlain Provincial Park.

As your paddle meets the water, look up to the towering cliffs. Pass marshes teeming with activity. Touch trees that set roots hundreds of years ago.

With such incomparable beauty, it’s hard to imagine that Mattawa River Provincial Park is located within a few hours of our province’s largest cities.

Turn back time

It’s easy to see that this river has been witness to many stories and acts as the backdrop to the hard work that built this country.

For millennia, the Mattawa River has played a very important role in the lives of the people here. To recognize this, its 76 km stretch was designated a Canadian Heritage River in 1988.

view of river

The story of the Mattawa reaches back 10,000 years when an ancient valley became a river, carrying away the enormous flow from the glacial lakes.

These were created by water spilling off the continent sized glacier that was melting away.

A river of connections

The Anishnaabek People that call this river home first arrived as the glaciers left.

They lived a semi-nomadic life, coming together in the spring and summer to celebrate and collect the plentiful food, then scattering again in the fall. They searched for animals to hunt or trap through the winter.


The Mattawa provided a way to travel using birchbark canoes of their own design, constructed from materials abundant in the surrounding forest.

This connected them to a vast trade network that shared farmed goods, hides, and more with other Indigenous groups across the continent.

European explorers

Europeans first travelled the river when Étienne Brulé used it to reach the Great Lakes.

He lived there a year with the Wendat People to become a translator, as requested by Samuel de Champlain to aid in their travels.

Champlain was looking for a path to the Pacific Ocean. In hindsight and with better maps, we can now see that route he was looking for was much tougher than he had imagined.

river on rainy day

Instead, these explorations jump-started the fur trade, driving Coureurs des bois and later, voyageurs deeper and farther into the west to collect beaver pelts.

These voyageurs were employees of fur trading companies like the North West Company or the well-known Hudson Bay Company. Think of them as the long-haul truckers of their day.

They travelled the Mattawa (the closest equivalent to a highway) for centuries.

Even today, the Trans-Canada Highway closely follows the voyageurs’ path along the river.

Retracing history

These days, the Mattawa is no longer a key link in our national transportation system, and its importance has changed.

Now it offers us a place to get away from it all. Paddle the length of the river in as little as a day or stretch your journey out over a few days for a calmer pace.

Mattawa River provides us with great fishing opportunities. The many lakes along the river hold everything from Lake Trout to Large-mouth Bass.

view of river

Above all else, the Mattawa River gives us a glimpse into what life was like so many years ago.

Follow the river down just as thousands of people before us, gaze at the same sights, and imagine the roar of the voyageur’s song echoing off the cliffs.

Why not add your own song when paddling down this stunning river?