When the explorer Samuel de Champlain first encountered what is now the Ottawa River, he named it the Rivière des Algoumequins, or River of the Algonquins, after the people he found living there. French missionaries and traders later called it la grande Rivière, a literal translation of Kitci’sipi, which means ‘big river’ in the Anishnabe language. Properly speaking, the term applied only to the stretch of the river below Mattawa. The upper part of the Ottawa, which flows westward from a source northwest of Maniwaki, Quebec, and then southward through Lake Temiskaming, was known to the Anishnabec by many different names.
The name Ottawa (mispronounced in French as Outaouais), is taken from the Anishnabe word Odawa, meaning ‘trader’. By the later seventeenth century, this had become an alternate name for the big river, thanks to the hundreds of trade canoes that came down every year to Montréal and Trois Rivières. These canoe parties consisted not only of Odawa people, who had their villages on Manitoulin Island and northern Lake Huron, but of many other Anishnabec from the upper great lakes and northern interior.
The Algonquin Canoe Company offers a network of kayaking routes and campsites for modern day explorers on the Ottawa River.