The Valley’s Diverse Cultures
Through exploration of the Ottawa River and the fur trade, the French established the first European settlements in the Ottawa Valley. A few of these first fur trading posts eventually evolved into villages, such as Fort Coulonge. Three main cultural groups were drawn to the Ottawa Valley in the early 1800s - the Scots, French and the Irish through the timber trade. Other groups settled later in the Ottawa Valley, including: Belgians, Swiss, Italians, Germans, Poles and United Empire Loyalists. Most of these small groups remained relatively distinct, settling together, retaining their own language and often establishing their own churches.
For many years the Ottawa Valley was one of the most diverse rural regions in all of Canada. The Algonquin First Nation and populations from throughout Europe have shaped the current cultural mosaic of the region.
One of the most distinct groups to settle in the region was the Kashub settlers. The Kashubs, a Slavic people from Prussian occupied Pomerania in what today is northern Poland formed the largest and most distinct element of Polish immigration to Renfrew County, settling along the Opeongo Road and in the nearby townships starting in 1858. Their rich culture still exists today in Wilno, Barry's Bay, Round Lake, Combermere, Killaloe and area, but descendants can be found in all the towns and cities in the region. Wilno is recognized as Canada's First Polish Settlement and people from around the world travel there to learn more about Canada's unique Polish Kashub cultural heritage.
Although there were very distinct cultural groups among the settler population they shared common attributes. Family was the strongest unit, and parents often worked with their grown children on farms and in lumber shanties. The Ottawa Valley culture was primarily made up of labouring men, since many came as single settlers hoping to make enough money to marry and raise a family.
"The mixture of the accents of the Valley’s French, Irish and Scottish populations created a regional dialect that came to be called the Ottawa Valley Twang, still evident among the inhabitants of the Valley. The Ottawa Valley is considered to be a linguistic enclave within Ontario."
According to linguists there are at least ten distinct varieties of English in the Ottawa valley."