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Discover the mysteries and the stories of the Units and Regiments of Garrison Petawawa. From the steps of European explorers and settlers to the military might of Canada’s Armed Forces, the area we know as Petawawa has witnessed the breath of history. Walk with us as we tell you our story...
Explore the history of the elite First Special Service Force, the First Canadian Parachute Battalion and the Canadian Airbone Regiment. What were their missions on D-Day, WWII Italy and Cypress? How to air drop a jeep from a plane? Visit us and find out!
When my parents came from Germany they came into bush county. A grant of land was their inheritance from the Government of Canada. The first thing they had to do was build a log shack and clear some of the land. I have often heard my grandparents say if they had known ... what lay ahead of them they would never of come and if they had the price they would have returned.
William Gust, 1894 – 1975
Petawawa News Review
By 10,000 B.C., the great ice glaciers had retreated far enough north to allow drainage of the upper lakes through low land into the Ottawa Valley. Great volumes of sand were carried down and, at the same time, water from the Atlantic Ocean flowed into the valley, creating the Champlain Sea.
The Big River people or Kichespirini, the most powerful of the Algonquin bands, was located along the Ottawa River from Allumette Island to the area north of Petawawa. The Algonquins relied heavily on the earth to provide food, and traded with Europeans and other aboriginal groups, such as the Huron. By the mid 1600’s, diseases had wiped out at least half of the population. Raiding parties of Iroquois and conflict with the Mohawk and Oneida forced the Algonquins to disperse, but by the mid 1700’s they began to return to their traditional lands. In 1870, Golden Lake was granted reserve status.
Samuel de Champlain explored the Pembroke/Petawawa section of the Ottawa Valley during his attempt to locate an interior trade route to China in 1615. In 1686, Chevalier de Troyes, a French army officer, headed to James Bay, intent on capturing the English posts of the Hudson’s Bay Company. As the raiding party reached Petawawa, de Troyes went ashore to trade with the natives. His expedition carried on and he was forced to camp the night on Lamure Bay, now known as Black Bear Beach.
In the early 1800’s, the British Government needed to find an alternate trade route to the Great Lakes. A survey expedition was undertaken in 1826 by Lieutenant Henry Briscoe of the Royal Engineers, who traveled from Penetanguishene to the Petawawa. He reported that the river was “...nearly one entire rapid - Its banks are very high and rock: in many places 60 and 1000 feet perpendicular...”. The idea to use the Petawawa River as a trade route was abandoned. More surveys followed, but it wasn’t until the MacDonnell survey of 1847 that reference was made to settlers in the area.
By the 1830’s, sawn lumber had become a necessity and the Petawawa and Ottawa Rivers were filled with booms, chutes, slides and dams. Mills were located at the mouth of Petawawa. Steam tugs and trains were needed to move the logs to the markets and mills of Southern Ontario and Quebec. Lumber, primarily white pine and oak, had become the main commodity of the Upper Ottawa Valley. The loggers lived in company shanties during the winter, and when spring came, they would drive the logs down the flooded rivers to the mills. Each camp was self-sufficient, with cooks, blacksmiths and handymen.
The Ottawa River was used as the main transportation route until the mid 1850’s, when the Mattawa road was built, linking Pembroke with Rapides des Joachims. In 1876, the Central Railway Company, later known as the Canadian Pacific Railway, constructed a line between Ottawa and Pembroke to access the timber resources and connect many of the small settlements that had sprung up along the valley.
Notices advertising free land grants in Canada were distributed throughout Europe in the mid 1850’s. Within 10 years, hundreds of families had settled in the Upper Ottawa Valley. In 1871, Petawawa’s population was 370; by 1891, it had almost tripled to 991. Most of the growth was attributed to the influx of immigrants who settled in the area as a result of the Homestead Act of 1880, which granted free land to immigrants willing to clear the land within a specified time period.
Petawawa came into its existence with its first elected council in 1865. The original town site, Petawawa Point, was a hub of social and industrial activity. Until the mid twentieth century, paddle steamers, like the S.S. Oiseau, could be seen gracefully winding their way up and down the river. The Point was home to the MacLean Hotel and Dew Drop Inn, a favourite stopover for loggers and lumbermen, a lumber mill, homes and a town square. In the mid 1920’s, with the formation of the military camp, new highway and railway, the town site began to shift to Kings Road/Highway 17, now known as Petawawa Boulevard, and local businesses, like Giesebrechts’ and Selkirk’s quickly emerged.