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"L'embâcle" 2017, by Denis Charrette

White cedar, steel, and granite

Cantley, the Gatineau River, and log driving


A former route used by the Anishinaabeg (the Algonquins), the Gatineau River was used for logging beginning in the 1830s. This inexpensive mode of transport allowed timber that was cut over the winter to be moved to major harbours and sawmills. Log drivers freed the logs that accumulated along the shoreline using pikes to prevent occasional log jams. For more than 150 years, logging defined the history and landscape of the river, as well as the municipality of Cantley.


Beginning in 1927, the Chelsea, Rapides-Farmer, and Paugan hydroelectric plants began operations. Dams increased the water level of the Gatineau River, which became a navigable waterway. Tugboats, such as Le Champagne, assured the continuous movement of the logs. The log drive inspired several songs and legends, including that of Jos Montferrand. In the last few years of the Gatineau drive, nearly 200 loggers, 80 drivers, and 20 tugboats were mobilized every spring to move the equivalent of 400,000 cords of wood.


"L’embâcle", 2017, by Denis Charette


This installation brings to mind the log jams on the Gatineau River and the difficult and dangerous work carried out by the drivers, as well as the abandonment of traditional Indigenous practices. The pile of logs represents an obstruction. The logs bear the seals of the various companies that logged on the river. The pike commemorates the drivers’ work, while one of the logs, carved in the shape of a canoe, symbolizes the Indigenous peoples who used the river for transport well before the arrival of Europeans. The log drive and the construction of log slides and booms altered the flow of the river, making it increasingly difficult for the Indigenous communities to use the waterway. The water also became more acidic, causing a decline in the wildlife populations upon which the Indigenous communities relied for food.

A sculptor and engraver of Algonquin descent, Denis Charette draws inspiration from Indigenous culture. A recipient of various grants from the Canada Council for the Arts, he has distinguished himself as a specialist in totem poles. He has produced several public art commissions in Ottawa and the Outaouais region, including the ByWard Market, Saint-André-Avellin, and Parc Oméga in Montebello.

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