The Deschênes Rapids - a small journey by bike


The main point of interest on the Voyageurs Pathway is the Deschênes Rapids. They are hard to miss since the path hugs the shore of the Ottawa River in the area next to the rapids. There are several places to stop and check things out, one of these offers a great view of the ruins of an old dam structure that was built in the late 1800s to harness hydroelectric power from the rapids. If the water is high and running fast (typically in spring), it is truly an impressive sight to see the force of the Ottawa River as it runs through these ruins. It is worth noting that there were plans to rebuild this dam across part of the river as recently as ten years ago (plans to do so fell apart in the face of local opposition).

The river is quite narrow at the rapids, and you can see the Britannia Yacht Club on the opposite shore. The club's yacht basins trace their origins to excavation work of an abandoned project to build a canal around the rapids. If it is a nice day with good wind, this part of the Ottawa River just west of the rapids (also known as Lac Deschênes) will be teeming with sailboats from the four clubs which are located on this body of water.

Shortly after leaving the rapids, the pathway comes to a fairly long wooden bridge which crosses over a basin which is wet and marshy during the spring, but usually dry in summer and fall.

 "Lungs of the river"

They are the only large rapids that remain intact along the entire length of the Ottawa River without the negative impact of a bridge crossing, a hydro dam and/ or industrial development. 

The Deschenes Rapids descend rapidly down from Lac Deschenes across a sandstone sill, producing a broad, boiling white water area that is open and flowing year round. Not coincidentally, the rapids retain the only substantial Ottawa River population of the nationally rare Riverweed – once found commonly in other now-compromised fast water sections of the water course. 

This oxygenating ‘lungs-of-the-river’ also provide habitat for large numbers of wintering waterfowl as well as rare raptors (including Gyrfalcons in some winters) which prey upon them. These last natural Ottawa River rapids have been threatened with destruction by inter-provincial bridge and/ or industrial development for almost 100 years, protected from destruction on several occasions only by the diligence and actions of various private groups of Ottawa River citizens.

 Wetlands

Wetlands sustain more life than any other ecosystem – as much as many tropical forests and more than good farmland. The high plant productivity of wetlands supports hundreds of different species and provides the critical breeding and rearing habitat for a wide diversity of wildlife. Scientists tell us that 90% of the plants and animals in a lake or river need wetlands or flood plain at some critical point in their life cycle.

Wetlands act as natural water purification systems removing sediment, nutrients, and pollutants from flowing water. They also reduce the effects of flooding and increase infiltration of water downwards into underground aquifers.

One major cause of wetland loss is conversion of land for agricultural use – this has accounted for 85% of the wetland loss since the early 1800s. Other activities that displace wetlands include residential development, building of roads, utility rights of way, and the creation of sites for large facilities. The regulation of water levels has also caused the shrinkage of wetlands, and a concomitant reduction in the diversity of plant communities and the number of plant species.