Chaudière Falls, or Can You Say "Boiler" in French?
As temperatures slowly rise through the month of March, the land wakes from its deep winter slumber. Ice cracks, slides, tumbles and splashes into flowing waters. In the photograph above — from Digital Archive Ontario, our website with thousands of digitized historical images — two men gaze at the locks closing off the turbulent waters of Chaudière Falls. (For non-native French speakers, "Chaudière" can be hard to pronounce; hear it via Collins Dictionary.)
Due to the cauldron-like shape of the original falls, and the spray rising from the churning water, the Algonquin First Nation called Chaudière Falls “Asticou,” usually translated as “kettle” or “boiling water.” Thus, early French explorers called it “Chaudière,” which means “kettle” [or boiler...]
Algonquin Anishinaabe and other First Nations consider Chaudière Falls a sacred site, due to its significance as a meeting place, portage site, and trade route. Here, Indigenous travellers made offerings of tobacco to the river to try to ensure a safe journey.
Chaudière installed hydro-electric turbines in 1912, three decades after Niagara Falls installed turbines in 1882. Power from Chaudière Falls led to an industrial boom in the area. Today, Chaudière Falls is collared with power-generating turbines to utilize the plunging waters, as seen in this YouTube video.
Prior to the 20th century, the waterfall held its own natural beauty and strength. Depictions captured by artists in the 19th century give us a glimpse of its past.
Three Lithographs of Chaudière Falls
This graceful wooden truss bridge spanned the Ottawa River. The sturdy supports appear to be able to withstand a century of crossings. As it turned out, this particular structure collapsed after a few months. Two more wooden bridges followed suit. A note below this 1830 lithograph by John Borrows was added at a much later date and details these failures:
The original elevation, commenced in 1827, was carried away by a windstorm the following year. A new bridge, built in 1829, met the same fate. The third bridge, destroyed by fire in 1900, was in 1901 replaced by a steel structure.
As technology improved, steel and concrete replaced wood in bridge construction. With more stable bridges, perhaps fewer people experience Gephyrophobia, a fear of bridges. (See our post featuring vintage images of bridges across Ontario.)
The above lithograph from 1833 by Samuel Tazewell shows two young men relaxing in between fishing while taking in the beauty of the Falls over 185 years ago. Dictionary of Canadian Biography describes Samuel Oliver Tazewell as a multi-talented "watchmaker, jeweler, piano tuner, and lithographer."
The turbulent waters have inspired Tazwell to capture these magnificent depictions of waterways in Upper Canada. His works were delicately etched in cameo-like ovals.
Based on a sketch made by an officer in the Royal Staff Corps, this colourful lithograph from 1830 — showing Chaudière Falls perhaps 15 years earlier — captures a vibrant scene of the crashing white water. As fast-moving water funnels downstream, two men stand on a flat boulder near the crashing waves while another crouches from above on a sloping boulder. You can imagine the constant sound of coursing water may have made conversations difficult.
Check out more historical images of Chaudière Falls on Digital Archive Ontario.