A View of the Valley
Petawawa Township

by Robbie Gorr

It is a place of pine trees, sand and blackflies. While the sand and blackflies are known only to the residents of the area, it is the great forests of white and red pine which are renowned throughout the land. In fact, this area was opened primarily as a result of the plentiful supply of timber and the fast water of the river which bisected the land and provided easy access to lumber markets. Both the river and the land bear the same name - Petawawa.

The river itself was named "Pittoiwais" in 1839 by the provincial surveyor Hawkins. The river is called "Petawawa" in 1847 by another provincial surveyor named Macdonell although Smith's Canada Atlas of 1851 called it "Petawawee" (which is still a local pronunciation among old-timers). The land around the river, however, was not called Petawawa until 1857 when the township was incorporated. The name is undoubtedly of Indian origin. One source claims it to be a corruption of the Algonkin word 'pitwewe' which means "where on hears a noise like this". Other sources claim that Petawawa translates as "a noise that is heard far away". Yet another translation is "approaching sound". Local legend claims that Petawawa was the name of an old Indian woman who lived on the banks of the river and is said to have died at the advanced age of 115 years in 1873. There may be some truth behind this legend since there had been an Indian settlement on the north bank of the river where it empties into the Ottawa. The records of the Catholic Dioceses of Pembroke also record the birth of a son in 1866 to "Jean Pittoanowa, an Indian, and Mary Patwa, his wife" of this area.

Many historians credit trader Gabriel de Bellefeuille as being among the earliest settlers in Petawawa but a schedule of squatters on the banks of the Petawawa attached to Macdonell's field notes show that eight other settlers were in residence in 1847 almost nine years before Bellefeuille arrived. These included the widow Elizabeth Jardine with a family of seven, James McGregor with a family of seven, Patrick Alward and his wife, Michael Provost, his wife and daughter, Alexander Montgomery and a family of ten, James Brindle and his wife (and a border named Olmstead), a Mr. Crosby with his wife and two daughters living in a hut, and a Mr. Skidel. Mcdonell also reported that some lumbermen including Alexander McDonell were in Operation on some tributaries of the Petawawa.

In the years following its surveyance Petawawa Township became home to many settlers including the French families near Black Bay and many German immigrants on the plains. As Well, Petawawa became temporary home to those working in the lumber camps, on the railroad, for the highways or at the army base. Today Petawawa refers to three municipalities - the township, the village and the Canadian Forces Base. But it is the first Petawawa which in this year celebrates on hundred twenty-five years of incorporat ion as a township and honours the memory of its early history.


Robbie Gorr, 'A View of the Valley: Petawawa Township', Timberline (UOVGG), vol.1 no.3 August 1990


Back to:Renfrew County GenWeb: History Page