14 Jul '17

The Ottawa Valley Brogue

In the early 19th century Europeans began to move into the Upper Ottawa Valley, drawn by the abundant timber and bustling fur trade. The French were the first European inhabitants to explore and eventually settle on the banks of the Ottawa River — establishing settlements as far northwest as Fort Coulonge. Following the War of 1812 the British sought to settle the lands surrounding the Ottawa River to ensure that Americans would not be tempted to venture north. The confluence of Ottawa-St. Lawrence was initially settled by the French and shortly afterwards by Scottish immigrants through land grants and sponsorship provided by the British Crown.

Immigration began in earnest in the Upper Ottawa in 1823 when both Scottish and Irish were settled into the area as a result of the initiatives taken by Peter Robinson and Archibald McNab. Irish immigration continued until the 1870-1880s. In 1858 the Kashub, a Slavic people from what is today Northern Poland, settled along the Opeongo Road establishing settlements in Barry's Bay, Killaloe and Wilmo. German Lutherans settled between Pembroke and Petawawa during the same period. As a result the Upper Ottawa became a relatively isolated area that maintained the cultures and traditions of their native lands. Irish immigrants outnumbered other groups but over time the mixture of the accents of the Valley's distinctive populations created a dialect that came to be called the Ottawa Valley Twang or brogue. What has resulted is a distinct linguistic enclave with predominantly Irish/Scottish foundations but influenced significantly by Germanic, Slavic and French contributions.

The brogue becomes more pronounced or thicker (pronounced tikker) as you move Northwest from the Saint Lawrence-Ottawa confluence towards Petawawa and Algonquin Park. The lilt is most distinct in an area defined by connecting Pembroke-Arnprior-Killaloe-Almonte and tapers off as one travels northwest.

Among the phonological features are the fronting of the vowel /ɑːr/ (start, barn, star) and the raising of /aɪ/ (ride, fine, pie) and /aʊ/ (mouth, loud, down, how) in any context. This is quite reminiscent of Irish and Scottish English. The twang changes slightly as one moves north. The Scottish phonology in Carleton Place and Perth shifts to the Irish influence noticeably in Renfrew County. In Lanark County the word ben is used to refer to what is commonly known as a living room, whereas in Renfrew the term parlour is used. Perhaps the best example of the Irish influence is the inclusion of 'for to' in the dialect. This is a syntactic feature where "for" is added to the "to" infinitive before verbs. An example: "I took the truck into town for to get a two-four and some supplies for the weekend", or, "let's stay in, for to go out will be too dear".

The Ottawa Valley Twang is arguably in decline. As the Ottawa Valley develops satellite communities easily accessible to metropolitan Ottawa, and with increasing internet usage and digital media consumption, standard Canadian English is being assimilated into the countryside and villages. Ottawa Valley Twang is the quintessential example of how dialects evolve and how they become diluted as the world of communication becomes increasingly connected.

Below is a table of common Ottawa Valley colloquialisms and expressions.

Expression Meaning
A fair piece A great distance
Aigs Eggs
Auld (Owled) Old
Bellyachin Complaining
Rip, tear or tot An extended session of imbibing
Boink Bank
Bucko A boy
Boosh Bush
Cam Calm
Care Car
Cook (cool) Cook (book)
Fair to middlin I'm not doing bad.
Gidday Hello or good day
Gum boots Rubber boots
Kittle Kettle
Look't here Pay attention!
Mickey A flask of liquor
Mucky-muck A person of authority
A pint A bottle of beer
Nary Not a bit
Quite Calm
Shake a shoe Dance
Skallywag Rascal
Skedadle Hurry up
Skeeters Mosquitoes
Snort or swig A shot of whiskey
Tak'em down a peg or two Humble him
Tirty tree Thirty-three (33)
Up the line Further up the Ottawa Valley
Winder Window
Warsh Wash




About The Author

An accomplished author, Jason brings a diverse skill set to MKTG. He originally started at the company as a research assistant and, after spending time overseas, returned to the team in 2008 as Manager of Special Projects. In his current role, Jason oversees MKTG’s special projects, with a particular focus on employee development, training, multimedia translation requests and other large-scale or special-skill opportunities.