Bonnechere Museum | Eganville Ontario

Cultural History

Birling. Time connections along the Bonnechere
Birling. Time connections along the Bonnechere

What forces influenced life along the Bonnechere? There are several answers:

  • The Algonquin Dome in Algonquin Park which influenced moisture and weather patterns
  • Aboriginal communities especially the Algonquin people,
  • Fur traders supplying the fashion houses of Europe,
  • Timber barons who opened up this area to Europeans as they sought out the giant pineries to supply Englands’s housing, furniture and shipbuilding industries after Napoleon cut off England’s Baltic supply of wood, forcing her to look to the Ottawa Valley for timbers and lumber.
  • Farmers who fled the wars of Europe, accepted land grants and found a market for their summer products in the hundreds of lumber shanties, and earned off-farm income as woodsmen during the winter harvest of the forests along the seven rivers that flow from present day Algonquin Park.
  • Tourists who flock to the many lakes, streams, woodlands and mountains of this rural part of Canada.

Our history from the 1700’s to now is closely linked to wood, especially red and white pine. The first growth pineries provided masts and lumber for England’s shipbuilding as well as later housing and industrial markets both in Canada and in the United States. A short history of the Ottawa and Bonnechere Valleys might be expressed in these few words:

  1. Square Timber,
  2. Lumber,
  3. Pulp.

To this day, many workers in the Bonnechere Valley continue to earn a living from wood or wood related industries.

Bonnechere River Facts
The Algonquin Dome

The Algonquin Dome lies between Georgian Bay and the Ottawa Valley. Warm moist air rising through 1000 feet condenses in the form of rain or snow as it ascends the Dome, blown by the prevailing westerly winds off Georgian Bay / Lake Huron. This gives rise to the source waters that form 7 major waterways: the Madawaska, Muskoka, Magnetawan, Amable du Fond, Petawawa, Bonnechere and York Rivers, a situation unique in Ontario and probably in the world.

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The Opeongo Line
The Opeongo Line

One way to know an era and its people is to study the historical events that influenced them. Another is to look at what the people said about themselves and about one another; in short, their literature.

Roots become tangible through the life lived in small settlements and along the roads that served them. One such road is The Opeongo Line, surveyed in 1852, at first called the Ottawa and Opeongo Road.

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The Highway 60 Corridor

Choose a route less traveled. Soak up the feeling of stepping into a rural past set apart from cell phone or computer chip. Create your own self-directed tour of the Bonnechere and Madawaska River Valleys where timber makers cut and squared logs and sent them down the slides and rapids to the Ottawa and St. Lawrence. Whether you approach from the headwaters in Algonquin Park or from Chats Lake on the Ottawa River, you will be steeped in the lore of pristine white water and flat water where descendants of the pioneer loggers have built settlements and small businesses.

Renfrew, located at the second log chute boasts the O’Brien Theatre, home of an operational Theatre Organ, along with the McDougal Mill Museum. To the pioneers, the rivers were the first roads. Today, if you start at the east from Highway 17, you can travel parallel to the Bonnechere along the Highway 60 corridor, passing from Renfrew through the settlements of the founding Scots, Irish and Polish to Douglas, the leprechaun capital, a centre for crafts, a general store, and bed and breakfast accommodation.

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This is the most frequently asked question: ‘How do I get started?’

Begin with yourself and your family.

Use the enclosed page to help you keep track as you talk to relatives and friends.

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John Egan
John Egan - Bonnechere Museum Exhibit
The John Egan exhibit at Bonnechere Museum is one of the only places to see artifacts from his life.

John Egan was born on November 11, 1811, in the town of Lissavahaun, Galway County, Ireland.
Egan immigrated to Canada in 1830, settling in Clarendon Township where he became a clerk for Thomas Durrell, selling supplies for the shanties.

In 1838, after years of experience in the square timber trade, purchasing supplies and gaining many friends in the timber industry, he decided to go into business for himself. He formed John Egan and Company and bought the farm of James Wadsworth on the Bonnechere River which was later to become the village of Eganville.

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The Bonnechere Road
Excerpts from Spirits of the Little Bonnechere by Roderick McKay.

Activity on what became known as the Bonnechere Road was heavy at times, and the distances travelled were great. The Bonnechere Road originated at Castleford, at the first chute on the Bonnechere River, a short distance upstream from the Ottawa River. The road then stretched past Renfrew, at the second chute of the Bonnechere River, to Douglas on the third chute, crossed to the south side of the river at the fourth chute and made way to Eganville at the fifth chute.

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The Charles Thomas Story
Golden Lake
Maps of the Golden Lake area show that the point at the end of the McMillan Road bears the name “Thomas Point”

Charles Thomas was an important figure along the Bonnechere River. His life spanned 80 years, partly spent in the north and partly at Golden Lake. After he left the Hudson Bay Company, he started his own stopping place which he called Charlie’s Hope. Maps of the Golden Lake area show that the point at the end of the McMillan Road bears the name “Thomas Point”

He was born Sept. 9, 1793 and died Mar. 14, 1873. To several of his children, he left farms or properties along the Bonnechere River. Many of his descendants still live in the area, especially in North Algona Wilberforce Township.

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"Bonnechere" What Does It Mean?
The name Bonnechere is made up of two French words: bonne and chère.

Bonne, as an adjective can mean good, fair, pretty, attractive and even further complimentary things. As a noun or naming word, bonne can mean a servant girl, a maid, or a maiden, or a pretty attendant.

Chère as an adjective means dear or fond or loving or darling.

When the two words are put together, there are new meanings: dear one, fair maid, darling sweetheart, fine dining experience, a place of good food.

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Museum Related News Articles

Bonnechere Museum Articles and News of Local Interest

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Aug 13. Introduction
If you visit White Water Country, but wonder what life was like before rafting, where would you find out? You could tour the...
Aug 27. Frequently Asked Questions
Many people are showing enthusiasm for our museum and are asking a wide range of questions. The following is a FAQ; that...
Sep 17. History
Following the disastrous 1911 fire, the federal Department of Public Works constructed a beautiful stone public building for...
Oct 1. Renovations
The main display area is open. The next task is running electrical wiring. While this proceeds, installing some gyproc,...
Nov 5. Update
Robert Burns might not have had Renfrew County, Ontario in mind when he wrote these lines. However, his feelings of freedom,...
Oct 22. Expressions
Tamarack'er down on the red pine floor! Many of us remember the dance hall called Sunnydale Acres on Lake Dore, or...
Dec 17. Wishlist
Fornenst "I got to go home with the lad who brung me." Liza Boland of Killaloe remembers hearing this local...
Jan 14. Artifacts
It is better to give than to receive. The phrase has different meanings depending on whether you are still thinking about...
Feb 18, Fences and roads
Horse High, Bull Strong and Skunk Tight One of the first duties of a rural council was to appoint at least two people to...
Mar 11, Photos
Is Himself in? There are so many expressions we treasure!  Since my father was clerk of the township and had his...
Say a little prayer for Father Dowdall This was a favourite line spoken by Jim Foy in the concerts that the Parish of St....