A Fine Meal or a Fair Maid
Bonne, as an adjective can mean good, fair, pretty, attractive and even further complimentary things. As a noun or naming word, bonne can mean a servant girl, a maid, or a maiden, or a pretty attendant. Chère as an adjective means dear or fond or loving or darling. When the two words are put together, there are new meanings: dear one, fair maid, darling sweetheart, fine dining experience, a place of good food.There is even the suspicion that the French pronunciations of chère and chats sound a bit alike and perhaps the early explorers were referring to cute little cats, another name for raccoons which were so plentiful along the river. The same idea connects to calling the large part of the Ottawa River, north of Renfrew, at Castleford Lac des Chats – lake of the cats, which we now refer to as Chats Lake. There is a suggestion the rocks scraping on the bottom of canoes sounded like cats’ nails. Perhaps some explorers did not like the sound and made the chats or cats association. I think this explanation is too far fetched, although I have read about it twice.
The usual meanings associated with Bonnechere are a fine meal or a fair maid. To the isolated, early explorers and loggers who travelled the Bonnechere River, a pretty young woman and a good meal would be appreciated and long remembered. Therefore, if you are romantic, to you Bonnechere may mean my darling sweetheart, “ma bonne chère”. This should be spoken slowly and softly.
If you like food and appreciate a good Ottawa Valley “snack”, you might prefer that Bonnechere means good food, a mighty fine meal, or a tasty snack. This should be said briskly while patting the tummy, as in “not a bad snack at all, eh” – no burp allowed, just proud contentment
It may not be what is said but how it is said that conveys the meaning. The way you say an expression changes the meaning. Watching fireworks or the birth of a child may be “Wonderful”, experiences that create admiration and awe. However, if you spill ketchup on your new Dockers, you may say “Wonderful” in a different way and probably are expressing disgust or at least ironic displeasure.
Isn’t it great that the name Bonnechere can say all these things to us. Bonnechere Valley, Bonnechere River and Bonnechere Museum all echo these traditional meanings and serve as reminders that along the Bonnechere we have had First Nation people, hunters and trappers, explorers, loggers, farmers, business people, doctors, nurses and teachers, railroad workers, teachers and clergy, pioneer men and women, hydro electric workers, recreation lodge owners and campsite operators.
As it flows 135 kilometers from Algonquin Park to the Ottawa River, through at least three lakes and over five cascades of rocks for which the loggers had to build five chutes to help get the big timbers down to the Ottawa River and then to Quebec City for shipping to England, the Bonnechere has earned a reputation world wide as a wild, cascading waterway in spring, and a flat water, recreational river the rest of the year.
Gather some friends and visit the Bonnechere display in Bonnechere Museum located at the traffic light in Eganville; see the maps and fossils and other river artifacts which show that our roots and lives are still linked to the Bonnechere. May you have many memorable experiences that lead you to say about each that it was “bonne chère”.
~ Preston O’Grady