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Lac des Chats is more than a 'wide spot' on the Ottawa River. Champlain and other explorers remarked on the abundance of catfish along the waterway, so the lake became known as Lac des Chats, or Lake of the Cats. The lake was located above Chats Falls, and for many years the falls drew visitors to view their spectacular cascade down approximately 35 feet to the lower river.
Only about 40 miles by road from the Canadian capital of Ottawa, the Town of Arnprior used to have regular excursion boats taking tourists to see the falls and cruise the lake. The building of a dam for hydroelectric generation at the falls in 1932 ended the cruises. This was a time of growth in the Ottawa River Valley, so electric power was necessary for business growth. The river was dammed in several places, including Chats Falls. Although the river is no longer navigable all of the way by boat, boat transfer arrangements still allow boaters to access Lac des Chats from downriver areas. And the Ottawa River remains a favored boating waterway.
Lac des Chats is defined as the area between the Chats Falls Dam on the east end and Chenaux Dam at Portage-du-Fort on the west. This 38-mile stretch forms a boating, fishing and residential lake that delights residents and visitors year round. The border between Ontario and Quebec bisects the length of the lake, and homes and cottages dot the shorelines. Although some areas are up to 157 feet deep, the lake averages only 16 feet deep. Small islands, sandbars and rocky shoals dot portions of both shorelines. The last few miles on the west end are difficult to navigate due to multiple small islands, so most boaters stick to cruising the main lake itself.
Although sailing is a favored activity here, power boating is more popular than on much of the Ottawa River. The Town of Arnprior on the Ontario side extends on both sides of the Madawaska River mouth. Arnprior maintains a municipal marina and boat ramps to provide access for visiting boaters. The Chats Lake Community Boat Club, although a membership organization, often extends launch courtesy to members of other yacht clubs, so getting on the water is seldom a problem.
Although not one of the well-known tourism destinations, Lac des Chats is the preferred location for fishermen seeking the famed channel catfish. Other prey of anglers include northern pike, muskellunge, smallmouth bass and largemouth bass. There are muskie spawning areas along the north shoreline, and several trophy-size muskies have been caught near Arnprior. A few sturgeon and American eels can still be found here, but are on the decline due to the dams cutting off their free access downstream. Efforts are underway to increase their numbers with limited success. Canoeing and kayaking are popular around the perimeter of the lake and on the Madawaska River.
The western boundary of large Gatineau Park comes within ten miles of Lac des Chats and offers camping in both winter and summer, hiking, mountain biking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. A number of walking and hiking trails cross the area on both sides of the lake, and the lakeside roads are often busy with cyclists. As the largest population center on the lake, Arnprior makes every effort to provide amenities and opportunities to visitors to enjoy their stay. Some of the regular events include the Valley Festival Concert Series, Sunday Concerts in the Park, a winter carnival, Arnprior White Pine Festival, and the Arnprior Fair. Arnprior invites visitors to enjoy their beach and city parks and offers plentiful lodgings at their many hotels, inns and bed-and-breakfasts.
Lac des Chats' proximity to the twin cities of Ottawa and Gatineau makes this lake a favorite bedroom community for those doing business with branches of the Canadian government. Some homes on the lake are offered for summer or longer-term rental, and securing a property along the shoreline for the summer is possible. Several campgrounds and RV parks in the area welcome visitors along the Madawaska River and near Lac des Chats, although not on the lake itself. Lac des Chats, or Chats Lake as it is often called, offers the best of city amenities and lakeside enjoyment. For those looking to put down roots, there is usually some real estate available, even along the shoreline itself. More modest cottages often offer lake access. There are golf courses, city services, museums and entertainment opportunities available locally.
In keeping with many large, deep lakes, Lac des Chats has a folklore history of a 'lake monster'. Stories from the late 1880s relate tales of an unknown lake creature over ten feet long terrorizing boats on the lake. According to some books, a 'monster of enormous size and proportion' attacked the vessel Levi Young in 1882, but a crew member beat it dead with an oar. On shore, the 'monster' was found to be an eleven-foot king snake. So, although visitors won't spot a lake monster, Lac des Chts offers large number of channel catfish and a pleasant and friendly community where lakeside enjoyment is a way of life. If you have occasion to travel toward Ottawa, plan on spending some time on Chats Lake. Bring the fishing tackle and the swim wear.
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