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In 1611, Nicolas Vignau, a white scout, landed at what is now Portage du Fort with a party of Algonquins. On their way to tribal headquarters at Allumettes Island, they had to portage overland for the first of a series of five difficult cataracts.

In 1694, the famous military engineer Louis d'Ailleboust, Sieur de Coulonge, established a fur trading post hear the mouth of the Coulonge River. The stretch of cataracts that led to Fort Coulonge became known as "le portage du fort" and this is how the settlement at the foot of the rapids got its name.

As Canada's greatest artery of east-west fur trade for more than two centuries, the Ottawa River carried most of the pioneers of civilization to the Upper Great Lakes. The portage trail from Harbor Square to Bentley's landing is one of the oldest footpaths of history because the Indigenous peoples had inhabited this valley for thousands of years.

Many stopping places were built at the foot of the portage to serve the river travellers, the shantymen, lumbermen and settlers. Pontiac County's timber trade was growing as a result of the construction of timber slides around the falls of the major rivers. After 1830, Portage du Fort became a thoroughfare of all craft connected with the lumber industry.
Portage du Fort was surveyed and laid out as a village in 1844. In 1847 the post office was set up, with mail being carried from Aylmer once a week.

With the coming of steamboats around 1836, Portage du Fort entered its era of prosperity. It was the commercial centre of the county for over 50 years.

The first stone churches in the village are still being used, the Roman Catholic church being built in 1850, and the Anglican in 1856. These churches are made of stone and they belong to the era of tremendous stoneworks in the village. The three stone quarries of the area generated a large export business. In fact, the cornerstone of Ottawa's first Parliament Building was shipped from one of these quarries.

Other memorials to the era of stone buildings include the town hall and Temperance Hall on Church Street, and the residences of George Usborne, Patrick Foley Fox and Dr George N Purvis (later a school) on Mill Street. Many other stone buildings were destroyed by the great fire of May, 1914.

At the foot of Main Street at Harbor Square stands the Lady Head Monument, built to commemorate the visit of the wife of Sir Edmund Head, Governor of the Province of Canada.

Portage du Fort was home to the area's first newspaper, the Pontiac Pioneer and Portage du Fort Advertiser, which was published by G E White from 1855 to 1865.