Gatineau River is for all, but we all need to do our part
The beautiful Te-nagàdino-zìbi, now known as the Gatineau River, had flowed wild and free through the Algonquin/Anishinàbeg territory for centuries. It was only in the 1820s that the river became dominated by the logging industry and clogged with logs. The Gatineau River was one of the last Canadian rivers to give up logging in 1992. In the 1920s, large corporations were given a monopoly to all river rights, including the construction of three hydroelectric dams. This flooded many villages and farms, displacing people and wildlife, but made the lower Gatineau grow wide and calm. “Deadheads” (logs so waterlogged they float vertically) floated for many years after logging ended, but as they became sparser, the motorboat traffic steadily increased.
During the summer of COVID-19, the Gatineau River has become an extraordinarily popular location to marvel at the breathtaking scenery, take a cool dip, float carefree with the current, catch a diversity of fish and explore via paddling or motorboating. The river is still one of the cleanest in Quebec and is for everyone to share and enjoy in different ways. However, if we are not all careful, we will put the river’s health in danger, as well as our own safety.
Given that the river and its access remains largely unregulated and uncontrolled, how long before there are drownings or injuries due to collisions? When will the Gatineau River and its biodiversity no longer be able to sustain the garbage, invasive species, chemicals from motors, fertilizer and pesticides, and the shoreline erosion due to development and the pounding of motorboat waves?
Everyone must do their part to keep it clean and safe. Here are a few guidelines when enjoying the river:
Leave no trace – Plan on bringing your garbage home with you
Respect wildlife – Watch quietly from afar; don’t feed; leave plants and rocks as is
Respect the community – This includes other river lovers, local residents and property
Be seen! – When on the river make sure you can be seen by motorboats
Floaters and paddlers:
Safety first – Bring life jackets and safety equipment
Follow speed limits – The speed limit is 10km/h in the narrows, and 30 metres from the shore is the law
Be considerate – Reduce speed when passing a floater, swimmer or paddler
Stay to the right when passing another oncoming vessel
Wash your boat when travelling from one watercourse to another
Limit use of two-stroke engines (four-stroke and electrical engines are much less polluting)
Rita Jain is president of Friends of the Gatineau River, which advocates for the river with various levels of government and raises awareness with residents, tourists, municipalities and MRC Police.