History of the project

Between the 1970’s and 2010, the Quebec government has proceeded with the successive acquisition of numerous wetlands along the Ottawa River, between Gatineau and Thurso. These land purchases, made for both conservation and wildlife enhancement purposes, were made possible through a financial partnership between the ministry responsible for wildlife and organizations such as Ducks Unlimited and the Fondation de la faune du Québec. Among the major areas targeted, the McLaurin Bay, Clement Bay and Lochaber Bay complexes were among the main sites recognized for their ecological value and deserving of additional protection.

One of the goals of the acquisitions was to increase waterfowl populations. With this in mind, Ducks Unlimited developed several marshes in the late 1970s to increase their potential for ducks (diking, nesting islands, etc.). This was the case for the marshes of Grenouillettes (1977, 57 hectares), Massettes (1977, 101 hectares) and Laîches (1980, 105 hectares). The dikes holding back these three marshes were restored in 2015 (Massettes) and in 2021 (Laîches and Grenouillettes).

In the wake of these acquisitions and developments, a project for the creation of a wildlife refuge was initiated in the 1990s and has become more specific over the years. Seven public roads and parking lots giving access to several wetlands were developed in 2002. The acquisition of two large blocks of land totalling 875 hectares on Lochaber Bay in 2011 and 2013 has consolidated the core of public lands along the Ottawa River and has re-launched the wildlife refuge project.

The territory covered by the wildlife refuge project now includes nearly 2,800 hectares of wetlands (28 km2) along the Ottawa River, making it the largest wildlife refuge in Quebec. It will also be the only one in Quebec where habitat conservation coexists with recreational and educational development of the area, including wildlife harvesting activities.

The justification for the status of wildlife refuge is explained by the exceptional quality of the habitats and the priceless wildlife wealth contained in this sector at the provincial level, but also by its proximity to the urban centres of the Outaouais region, with the development pressures that accompany them. The granting of wildlife refuge status to this territory will provide an additional regulatory tool to ensure the long-term conservation of habitats and the supervision of recreational activities that respect this exceptional environment.


During the last ice age, approximately 10,000 years ago, the retreat of the glaciers and the presence of the Champlain Sea shaped the study area, forming the Ottawa River alluvial plain, a sub-unit of the St. Lawrence Lowlands. Because of the low relief of the area, the flow of water is slowed down by the low gradient and the loose deposits. These factors are mainly responsible for the formation of several swamps along the banks of the Ottawa River.

On the territory, the water level is under the influence of the Carillon hydroelectric power station, built in 1963 and located downstream from the wildlife refuge. Its presence minimizes the effect of overflow from the alluvial plain upstream during spring floods or during heavy rainfall. The establishment of this control structure has contributed to the shaping of the relief and natural landscape of the area and has modified the balance within the existing communities. This balance has also been modified by the diking of certain marshes (Des Laîches, Les Grenouillettes, Les Massettes), which has made them perched marshes.

The Ottawa River basin is fed by three major tributaries within the refuge’s area of influence: the Blanche (Gatineau), Lièvre and Blanche (Lochaber-West) rivers, from west to east. Two small streams, the Petite rivière Blanche and the ruisseau Pagé, also cross the territory. Two watershed agencies are interested in these watercourses, the ABV des 7 (from McLaurin Bay to Des Laîches Marsh) and the COBALI (from Grenouillettes Marsh to Massettes Marsh).


Wetlands and forest environments characterize the wildlife refuge area, although there are agricultural lands and urbanized areas in the territory. The forest stands are small and highly fragmented and belong to the hickory-lime maple forest. The latter presents a rich deciduous vegetation typical of the humid continental climate of the south of the province. The main species found are essentially deciduous (maple, birch, ash, oak, beech, walnut, willow, elm, cherry, poplar, etc.).

The presence of the silver maple grove enhances the importance of the vegetation, considering that these stands are becoming increasingly rare in Quebec. In addition, we also find the cork elm, a species in precarious situation in Quebec, as well as certain resinous groups (cedar, white spruce, pine, fir, hemlock).

In the study area, wetlands represent the most characteristic habitat. The main plant associations found in these environments are emergent plant beds (cattail, arrowhead, hydrocharide, brasenia, water lily, nymphaea, zizania, pontea, ribbonwort) as well as submerged plant beds (milfoil, elodea, vallisnera, pondweed) Some wetlands, such as the Massettes marsh, are colonized by shrubs such as cephalanthus and alder.



The Ottawa River has a very diverse and abundant fish fauna. The banks are dotted with marshes and shallow bays necessary for fish reproduction and feeding, and where aquatic vegetation predominates. These varied habitats and the communication of the Ottawa River reach with the Great Lakes are possibly responsible for this biodiversity. On the entire territory adjacent to this waterway, between Rapides-des-Joachims and the Carillon dam, there are 75 species of fish. More than half of these species have been counted in the wildlife refuge sector. These include muskellunge, sunfish, black crappie, brown bullhead, yellow perch, walleye, sauger, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, northern pike and lake sturgeon. These are also the primary fish species coveted by recreational anglers and commercial operations.

The floodplains essential for spawning, nursery and feeding of many fish species are almost non-existent since the operation of the Carillon dam regulates the spring freshet. In spite of this, there are about thirty important spawning grounds for ichthyological fauna. Four species likely to be designated as threatened or vulnerable in Quebec are also found in the study area: lake sturgeon, American eel, long-eared sunfish and yellow bullhead.

Amphibians and Reptiles

The wetlands of the Ottawa River are home to some of the most diverse and abundant herpetofauna in southern Quebec. Of the 35 species of amphibians and reptiles found in Quebec, 15 species have been recorded along the banks of the Ottawa River in or near the wildlife refuge. In addition, the wetlands within the refuge are likely to be home to other species of amphibians and reptiles given the difficulty of observing and capturing these animals. Note the presence of the common watersnake, the spiny softshell turtle and the common musk turtle, species that are at risk in Quebec. It is interesting to note that the sector of the wildlife refuge provided the first mention of the common musk turtle in Quebec.

© Serge Rivard


Avifauna is one of the reasons for the existence of the wildlife refuge project because it contains a great diversity of taxa and an impressive wealth of species associated with wetlands. In total, 234 species are found in the area, divided into two distinct groups according to their nature: 103 breeding species and 131 migratory or visiting species. More than three quarters of all these species are found in the Gatineau-Thurso section.

The very dense aquatic vegetation in this sector provides quality nesting cover and a major protective refuge for brood rearing for Canada geese and migratory ducks. These species congregate during migration on certain water bodies designated as waterfowl concentration areas, which cover most of the wetlands in the proposed wildlife refuge.

Of all the wetland birds found in the study area, the Least Bittern is of most interest to wildlife watchers. During the summer months, the Ottawa River basin also serves as a staging and feeding area for several species such as osprey and bald eagle. Although rare in eastern Quebec, the black tern, willow flycatcher, Virginia rail and pied-billed grebe are particularly abundant in the area.

© Serge Rivard


The banks of the Ottawa River are home to 33 species of mammals. These are mostly terrestrial species such as the common vole, porcupine, eastern cottontail and raccoon. Other aquatic and semi-aquatic species inhabit the marshy areas and still waters of the river such as mink, beaver, otter and muskrat. Muskrats are particularly abundant in the study area, where there are several thousand muskrat lodges.

© Serge Rivard