Bonnechere Museum | Eganville Ontario

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.

The Five R’s

  • River: spring freshets, chutes
  • Route: interior – wagon and sleigh trail
  • Railway: distance, speed
  • Road: transports, freedom of automobile
  • River: electrical energy, recreation

A Short History of the Bonnechere Valley

- square timer, lumber and pulp -


The most significant of the government development roads was the Ottawa and Opeongo Road which followed a westward course in its climb from the Ottawa River to the Madawaska Highlands. North/south settlement routes, bisecting the region, included the Hastings, Peterson and Addington Roads.

The Bonnechere Watershed

The Bonnechere River, stretching 145km (90mi), from near McAskill Lake in Algonquin Park to the Ottawa River at Castleford, has a long history as well, but does not enjoy quite the same stature in our nation’s heritage. It is among the smallest of the major tributaries, of the Ottawa even though it drains 2400 square kilometres (935 square miles) – an area larger than Prince Edward Island. Over the centuries, the Bonnechere (often pronounced locally as the bone-chur) has been a conduit for transportation, a powerhouse of energy, and a source of food and recreation for residents and travellers. The productive soils and enticing landscape of the Bonnechere Valley watershed (the area of land which feeds the river) were among the first logged, settled and farmed in Renfrew County.

Grist Mills at each Chute of the Bonnechere

There was a grist mill (several successive) at each chute. The following were the names of first mill owners at each of the 5 chutes.

  1. James Bell at Castleford. 30 foot
  2. John Lorne McDougall at Renfrew. 82 foot
  3. Elias Moore at Douglas. 21 foot
  4. Robert Merrick at the present Bonnechere Caves. approx 35 foot
  5. John Egan at Eganville. approx 40 foot

Bonnechere River Timeline

1688 R. de Bonnechere appears on a map by Jean Batiste Louis Franquelin, French cartographer, who came to New France in 1672 and was appointed Hydrographer at Quebec in 1685 (Thomson, 1966) (Kennedy)

1820 Lumbering activities extend up the Bonnechere.

1825 Gregoire Belanger erected the first shanty on the site known as the Dawney House or Dionne home west of the present village of Eganville on the site of the later C.P.R freight shed.

1826 Alexander McDonell took his first raft of pine timber down the Bonnechere. He is said to have been among the first lumbermen to see the headwaters of the Bonnechere and Madawaska, Joan Finnegan (1981) said he was known as: ‘the King of the four rivers’ because of his association with the Madawaska, the Bonnechere, the Indian and the Mississippi. (McKay).

1826 James Wadsworth bought the land from Gregoire Belanger and cleared an area later known as ‘The Farm’, a depot for lumbering rather than farming. Wadsworth, in his retirement, said he established ‘Fairfield Farm’; the name is used in the diary of Charles Thomas, referring to Eganville.

1826 Owen Quinn acquired the rights to land at the Second Chute, and then sold the land to Lieutenant Christopher James Bell the following spring.

1829 Lieutenant Christopher James Bell built a sawmill and later a grist mill at the First Chute, a thirty foot high falls close to a mile from the mouth of the Bonnechere where it enters the Ottawa at Lac des Chats.

1831, 1834 Maps of Alexander Shirreff show the ‘Riv Bonne chere’. Also shown are Round Lake named L. Ronde, and Golden Lake named Norway Lake. The headwaters are labelled ‘Pine Lands’. (McKay)

1834 J. Arrowsmith’s map shows the series of small lakes on the Little Bonnechere River, as that section above Round Lake is called.

1835 Wadsworth had completed slides at the first and second chutes and others on the Little Bonnechere. (McKay: Russell, 1853).

1836 John Egan purchased Fairfield Farm from James Wadsworth.

1838 There were a few timber surveys along the Little Bonnechere.

1840 Robert Merrick built a grist mill at the Fourth Chute and dammed the river to divert water through the caves in order to direct it to his mill wheel.

1843 John Egan sold The Farm to Robert Mills, his business manager, who built a sawmill at the fifth chute. Egan bought back the property two years later and the sawmill built by Robert Mills.

1847 Surveyor James McNaughton began an official mapping of the course of the Bonnechere River, although he had visited and surveyed sections in 1840 and 1843. He finished the lower river on August 6, 1847 and began the upper which he finished on November 9. His maps took several more months to prepare. (McKay)

1849 John Egan built a grist mill on the south side of the river.

1853 The Hon. Francis Hincks bought the land at the Second Chute owned by Bell, had it surveyed for a townsite, now Renfrew – incorporated in 1858, and sold the millsite to John Lorne McDougall to build a mill, now Renfrew Museum, established in 1969. The Bonnechere here dropped a total of 82 feet over a series of ledges.

1853 John Egan surveyed a village site which became Eganville.

1853 William E. Logan, later Sir William Logan founder of the Geological Survey of Canada and after whom Mount Logan, Yukon, is named, appointed as his assistant, Alexander Murray, who studied the geology of the Petawawa and Bonnechere rivers. (Kennedy) 1853 Geologist Alexander Murray speaking of the square timber harvest: ‘ . . . there are still vast quantities brought down the tributaries annually, and made to descend to the Ottawa by the course of the Bonne-chere. On our way up the stream we repeatedly found it almost entirely blocked up with square timber, sometimes for miles together.’ (McKay 43)

1853 Construction began on the Ottawa and Opeongo colonization road, often called the Opeongo Line.

1853 Judge John G. Malloch of Perth bought land near the Third Chute which had a 21 foot wall of water. Malloch had the land surveyed for a village, which he named Douglas after Douglas in Lancashire, Scotland. Douglas became better known for its March 17 Irish celebrations.

1857 Geologist Alexander Murray traveled the Bonnechere and commented on the remarkable caves. In 1961, Ford said the caves were formed from Ordovician limestone since the last glacial age about 11,000 years ago. (Kennedy)

1857 John Egan died of cholera at age 47.

1860 circa D. McGregor had a carding mill at the Fourth Chute.

1868 James Bonfield and Robert Turner purchased the Egan Bonnechere timber limits. Bonfield soon became the sole owner.

1911 The last raft of square timber descended the Bonnechere. (See McKay 49): Golden Lake Lumber Company (M.J. O’Brien and J.A. O’Brien of Renfrew, and, George D. McRae of Eganville)

From The Woods Industries of Canada

A few figures will show what quantities of provisions a firm has to supply in the course of a year in the getting out of 150,000 logs. This service requires during the winter season, in the woods, 430 men getting out the logs, 300 men piling and forwarding and 300 teamsters with the same number of teams. (McKay p.49)

The average provisions required for each gang of men is as follows:

  • 825 barrels of pork
  • 900 barrels of flour
  • 925 bushels of beans
  • 37000 bushels of oats
  • 300 tons of hay
  • 1000 grindstones
  • 75 doz. axes
  • 1,500 boom chains (7 ft. each)
  • 3,750 gallons of syrup
  • 7,500 lb of tea
  • 1,875 lb of soap
  • 6,000 lb of tobacco
  • 60 crosscut saws
  • 225 sleighs
  • 900 pairs of blankets
  • 45 boats

Learn more about the cultural history of the Bonnechere River and The Opeongo Line.