On November 11, 2022, a beautiful bronze plaque was mounted on a large chunk of ancient rock near the Rideau River, in Ottawa’s New Edinburg Park. Beautiful and enduring, this monument is intended to honour and uphold the legacy of Algonquin Grand Chief Pierre Louis Constant Pinesi (1768-1834).
Noted for his eloquence and leadership, Grand Chief Constant Pinesi was a significant figure in the history of this region. Constant is his French family name and from it we can draw the connections to Constance Bay, Constance Lake, Constant Creek, all of which are named after him.
Grand Chief Constant Pinesi was also a significant figure in the history of Canada. His life bridged time before the land was colonized, to when new settlers, loggers, and the British military became established in the region. His lifetime spanned many major historical events, including the US Revolution, the 1791 creation of the provinces of Upper and Lower Canada, the War of 1812, and the increasing tide of settlers into Algonquin hunting grounds. He was the last chief to hunt and inhabit the area surrounding the confluence of the Ottawa and Rideau Rivers, before displacement by colonial inhabitation.
During his lifetime, the lives of Chief Constant Pinesi’s people (a large band of approximately 264 families) transformed from self-sufficient gathering, hunting, fishing, and trapping, to lives of increasing poverty as their lands, fish, and game were encroached upon by settlers, and the forests in which they lived were logged. Grand Chief Constant Pinesi repeatedly sought government recognition for his people’s rights to their ancestral lands. These rights were never recognized, despite his peoples’ significant military contributions to support Canada in the War of 1812.
In the historic hunting grounds of Grand Chief Constant Pinesi, this new monument seems a fitting presence. Its specific location is also significant. Upstream from the monument, the river was historically calm and deep enough to safely paddle a canoe. Downstream from the monument, the river is calm in present day because of the dam above Rideau Falls. However, before water levels were affected by the dam, the river turned into a torrent of rapids leading directly to the falls! The Algonquin considered this section of the river to be the home of the Mishipeshu – the Water Lynx who threatened to capsize travelers… As such, Chief Constant Pinesi’s monument marks the beginning of an ancient path that travelers would have walked to safely bypass the rapids and the waterfall when travelling between the Rideau and the Ottawa Rivers.
Today the monument also marks the beginning of the Chief Pinesi Portage – a modern representation of the ancient portage trail. The embedded QR Code links to a Wayfinding Map which shows the modern-day trail, including directional and interpretive trail markers that indicate the trail heads at both rivers, the location of our commissioned mural, and culturally significant plant species alongside. We hope that you will come to see this tribute to Chief Constant Pinesi and perhaps even explore the trail!
Many thanks to Paul Johanis, for his initiative and effort to create this tribute to Grand Chief Constant Pinesi and to acknowledge the presence of his peoples and the history of this region.
Credit to Jim Stone for furnishing insight into the life of Grand Chief Constant Pinesi.
Photo credits to Dr Peter Stockdale.