When Samuel de Champlain travelled up the Ottawa River in the year 1613, he came upon the peaceful and obliging Weskarini; the Algonquin people of “La Petite-Nation” . Exploring the tributary, Petite Nation River, the early settlers of New France found beautiful forests and lakes with an abundance of wildlife, fish, berries, medicinal herbs and fertile land for agriculture.
The Weskarini survived on hunting, fishing and foraging and later became involved in the fur trade with New France. Unfortunately, their allies could not protect them against the Iroquois whom had taken up with the British enemies. Upon returning from a trip to the east in 1653, the Weskarini were attacked and decimated by the Iroquois.
Walking along the river, one can only imagine what life was like in La Petite-Nation 400 years ago. Just 1 hour north-east of Ottawa, La Petite-Nation is perfect for both day tripping or a relaxing vacation. Driving in on the 317 from Thurso after crossing on the Rockland Ferry, our first stop is the Ripon Farmers Market .
The coop was formed in 2011 and offers the opportunity for over 20 local farmers and producers to showcase local produce, organic beef, wild game, heritage pork, cheeses, breads, and more. Created to develop economic viability for passionate farmers, the Cooperative Place Du Marche De La Petite Nation is a fine example of successful agro-tourism with over 4,500 visitors each season. The lively market which also features a bistro, musical entertainment and special events, is open every Friday evening and Saturdays from May to October.
Have you ever tried Birch Syrup or Sirop de Merisier? Unlike maple syrup, which requires 40 litres of sap to produce one litre of syrup, birch requires between 100 and 150 litres of sap. Drizzled over ice cream, used as a glaze for salmon, scallops, or pork, in barbecue sauces, marinades, salad dressings and even cocktails, this rich caramel, molasses, honey like syrup is a foodies delight! The First Nations people utilized the syrup for its healing properties. Birch Syrup is anti-oxidant and rich in Manganese, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Calcium, Copper, Iron and other trace minerals. The freshly picked blackberries and bunches of wild flowers add to the charm.
Fresh herbs, eggs, organic produce, locally produced Maple Syrup, strawberry wine …. the list goes on! The farmers and producers are super friendly and just love to talk about their products. Even though I enjoy practicing my French when in Quebec, it is definitely a plus that everyone also speaks English. Prices are very advantageous and the atmosphere is always bright and festive!
Supplies in hand we head out to our next destination (can you tell my Mother just loves the market!). Rolling hills, babbling brooks and yes, low and behold, an organic winery. But of course! We definitely need a good wine to pair with all our fresh food stuffs. Just north of Ripon we discover Domaine des Météores, which is owned and operated by André Cellard and Chantal Ippersiel.
Abandoning their professional careers and city living, this adventurous couple are living the dream. With over 12,500 vines to tend, it’s a lot of hard work with unpredictable outcomes. While Chantal gives us a tasting and tour of the winery, she admits that making an organic wine is a bit crazy. Nonetheless they are committed to the process. Their wines are listed as one of Canada’s five “not to miss wines,” according to France’s Revue du Vin and have also won several International Awards. My choice …. Le Fil D’Ariane, a crisp, dry rose with notes of red berries abundant in the region. It’s perfect for sipping on the dock on a hot summer afternoon.
During the 70’s La Petite-Nation became popular with many artists and craftsman looking to live off the land and draw inspiration from the beautiful natural environment. Just next door to the organic winery is the quaint country studio Solart Céramique, by artist and sculptor Michelle Lemire. I literally fell in love with Michelle’s work!
Inspired by fertility, dreams and memories, Michelle tells us how the clay speaks through her … creating the movement that ultimately becomes a sophisticated expression of art in its pure form. Stunning sculptures inlaid with bronze, decorative bowls with gorgeous details and innovative glazing techniques. Michelle has a following of discerning clients, many who drive from Ottawa to purchase her pieces. I couldn’t resist choosing a pair of silver drop earrings with an inlay of deep blue ceramic.
Talking about blue … it’s finally time for a dip in the crystal clear spring fed Lac Viceroy, one of my favourite places on earth! We’ve been cottaging on this lake now for three years. During that time we’ve hiked in Parc des Montagnes Noires, had a relaxing massage at The Birla Center, experienced a real rodeo at the Festival Western de Saint-Andre-Avellin, had an amazing wood oven pizza at Café du Bistrot Saint-Andre-Avellin and barbecued the juiciest, tastiest, hormone and antibiotic free steaks from local cattle farmer Eric Nantel.
I leave you with this beautiful view from our cottage deck. Take my advice and visit this spectacular region of the Outaouais. Great food, wine, nature, history, adventure and more awaits you! Take a look at what La Petite-Nation has to offer then head out on the road less travelled. Visit La Petite-Nation La Lievre for more information on what to do, where to go and what to see.
Sorry … just couldn’t resist one more look ….