The Ottawa River as a landing place
Charles Symmes, a fascinating visionary
Symmes Inn was built on a strategically important geographic site. The gently sloping banks of Lac Deschênes formed a natural landing place that was soon used by Indigenous peoples and, later on by settlers. Thanks to the visionary Charles Symmes, the area developed and grew, gradually leading to the birth of a new municipality: Aylmer.
The Ottawa River: A Busy Waterway
Tessouat, a powerful chief on the Kichi Sibi
For thousands of years, Indigenous peoples—particularly the Anishinabeg, whom the French called the Algonquins—travelled up and down the Ottawa River and its tributaries. Under their chief Tessouat, said “Le Borgne” (The One-Eyed Man), they long played a crucial role in the Ottawa Valley, acting as political and commercial middlemen, with other Indigenous tribes and the early European explorers. Those who wanted to cross their territory had to obtain permission or pay toll the right of way. Later, the river and region got their name from the Ottawa or Outaouais people who took over the fur trade from the Kichesipirini.
The Ottawa River’s Industrial Past
John Egan, a multi-talented lumber baron
In the 19th century, the timber industry flourished in the Outaouais, leading to strong population growth. For decades, white pine was imported to Europe in the form of square timber used for shipbuilding. While larger mills were concentrated in areas with significant water power, in Aylmer, where the waters are calm, the sawmill industry was driven by steam. John Egan, an important businessman known as the “Napoleon of the Outaouais,” founded, with his associates, the Aylmer Union Steam Mill Company, employing more than 3,500 men in roughly one hundred logging camps, saw mills and grist mills. In 1847, John Egan was appointed the first mayor of Aylmer.
Steamboats on the Ottawa River
Robert H. Klock, stagecoach operator
For decades, steamboats birthed in front of Symmes Inn, bringing economic prosperity to Aylmer. Inns and service companies flourished with the constant flow of travellers continuing further west along the Ottawa River to places like Quyon and Fitzroy Harbour. Robert H. Klock and his brother James, successful businessmen of the Ottawa Valley, ran a stagecoach line with a route between Ottawa and Aylmer, allowing many travellers to embark on the steamboats plying the Ottawa River.
The Ottawa River: A Leisure attraction
Marjorie Davison, turning a hobby into a profession
With such attractions as its famous amusement park—Queen’s Park (1896), the upscale Hotel Victoria (1897) and the Victoria Yacht Club (1906), Aylmer became a favorite destination for visitors and vacationers from throughout the north-eastern part of the continent seeking relaxation and pleasure. After the great fire of 1921, Aylmer-born Marjorie Davison became fascinated with fires, which she documented with her camera. This talented photographer was one of the first women in Canada to join the national press corps in the 1940s. It was also during this time period that leisure activities regained momentum in Aylmer, earning the town the enviable title of “The Leisure Capital within the Capital”.