Skip to main content

CHAUDIÈRE FALLS, HULL / OTTAWA

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version

No topographical feature so dominated the landscape and the economy of this area as did the Chaudière Falls. Their presence on the river determined the locations of the cities of Ottawa, Hull and Aylmer, and made necessary the building of the Aylmer Road that bypassed them. The falls fueled the industrial explosion of the mid-1800s by providing the water power for the vast complex of lumber and grist mills that grew up at their foot. They generated the electricity that drove the railroads and factories in the area after 1885.

First bridge over the Chaudière Falls. Engraving by William H. Bartlett. (Source - Canadian Scenery Illustrated, by N. P. Willis, 1842)Early in the last century, before they were dammed, bridged and built upon, the Chaudière Falls were called “the second Niagara.” At the Chaudière, the Ottawa River flowed over the precipitous limestone shelf through five main channels, but it was the largest and most dramatic of these channels, best seen from the Chaudière Bridge, that gave the Chaudière its name. The Algonquin Indians called it “Asticou” (translated as “Chaudière” in French or “Big Kettle” in English) because the spray sent up by the seething water resembled the steam from a boiling cauldron. Flanking the main channel were four other sizeable channels, two on the Ottawa side and two on the Hull side. At the foot of the falls were Victoria, Chaudière, Albert and Amelia Islands, on which were built the many lumber mills that exploited the power of the falls in the second half of the 1800s.

Before the industrial potential of the falls could be tapped, the five channels of the Chaudière had to be bridged. The first channels to be spanned were the two on the Ottawa side, where bridges were constructed during the mid-1820s by Colonel By’s engineers. The two smaller channels on the Hull side were spanned by three stone arches built during the winter of 1827. The Union Suspension Bridge, the second bridge over the falls, was built in 1844. The challenging main channel, the last to be crossed, was spanned in 1828 by a wooden suspension bridge with a chain and cable scaffolding that N. P. Willis described in Canadian Scenery in 1836: “The broadest span is stretched by means of a hempen fabric, composed of three-inch cables, forming an inverted segment of a circle, the lowest point of which is only seven feet above the torrent. At no time can it be passed without a feeling of peril.” The first chain around which the bridge was designed had to be shot across the chasm from a loaded cannon because the falls’ turbulent water made transportation by boat impossible. Chaudière Falls and Suspension Bridge. Engraving from Picturesque Canada, 1882. (Source - Private collection)Although the bridge today is more commonly known as the “Chaudière Bridge,” its formal name was, and still is, the “Union Bridge.” This was the first bridge to cross the Ottawa River, and for a time it was the largest bridge in the country. It operated as a toll bridge until it collapsed in 1836. Since then, three other bridges have spanned this yawning gap: an elegant wire suspension bridge built in 1843, a truss bridge erected in 1889, and the present truss bridge constructed in 1919.

**This publication is available for $25.00, plus shipping and handling, from the Aylmer Heritage Association, P. O. Box 476, Gatineau, Quebec J9H 5E7. Tel: (819) 684-6809. E-mail: heritage.aylmer@ca.inter.net