The History of Petrie Island

Petrie Island is located in Ottawa's east end. It is actually a group of islands but generally they are referred to as Petrie Island.

The islands were formed from clay and sand deposited following the end of the last ice age. The area's first inhabitants were probably Middle Archaic Indians in about 6,000 B.C. and then later by the Iroquois and Algonquin Indians from about 1,000 B.C.

In colonial times, it was the route to the west used by natives and Europeans. The first recorded Europeans to travel past Petrie Island on their way to the west were Etienne Brule and Samuel Champlain. The Jesuits and the fur traders were the first Europeans to use the route on a regular basis and the Iroquois used it for raiding parties against the Hurons. The first settlers moved into the area in 1800's and farmed as well as lumbered the area.

The island was named after its first documented owner, Archibald Petrie, an early inhabitant of Cumberland Township. In 1955, Donat Grandmaître purchased Petrie Island, intending to operate a sand extraction business, and at the same time to have a vacation spot for his family.

Sand extraction at Petrie Island

Donat purchased a used Bailey bridge in 1962 and used it to create a permanent access to Petrie Island for transporting sand and gravel from the area. The bridge to the island was replaced by the current causeway in the early 1970's.

The Grandmaître family built several family cottages on the island. The first was on the north side of the island, facing the main Ottawa River channel. A second cottage was located about 100 meters to the east of the first cottage, just west of the traffic circle in the parking lot. The photos below are dated 1962.

The family also had access to the beach which was largely natural. It was also built up from sand that was extracted from the island. Pierre and Yves Grandmaître have many fond memories of summers spent at Petrie Island in the 1960’s. Even though the family sold the island to the Regional Municipality of Ottawa-Carleton in 1983, the Grandmaitre family remained involved in the island. Until 2017, Yves owned and operated the Petrie Island Marina and Tackle Shop, renting boats and ice fishing huts to local sporting enthusiasts. In September 2017, the Marina was sold to Eric Theriault, who is also the owner of the Rockcliffe Boathouse Restaurant and Marina.

The island itself is now owned by the City of Ottawa and incorporates the Grandmaître Ecological Reserve, the William Holland Trail, the Al Tweddle Picnic Area, the Friends of Petrie Island Interpretive Centre, and Stuemer Park. Stuemer Park was named after an Ottawa family who sailed from Petrie Island around the world, returning to Petrie to complete their voyage.

The Petrie Island Park area is classified as Significant Wetlands by the province of Ontario, which defines it as an Area of Natural and Scientific Interest. One of the last relatively natural environments on the Ontario side of the Ottawa River below the nation’s capital, the archipelago features a Carolinian deciduous swamp forest, possibly the only one in Eastern Canada north of Toronto. Seasonal flooding, extensive sand deposits, abundant water plants and thin but fertile soils have helped maintain a variety of life not found in many other places and its habitats are extremely rich. There are several species of turtles, some rare, and well over 130 species of birds have been identified at Petrie. There are also provincially rare plants, including stands of hackberry trees. There is a network of trails through a nature preserve, and a small interpretive center, both maintained by volunteers.

Ice Fishing at Petrie Island and the Formation of PIIFA
Richard Vien

People have been fishing at Petrie Island for generations, but it probably goes back as far as the Iroquois and Algonquin Indians.

Back in the day, the convenience of Petrie Island made it perfect for the residents of Orleans, who could spend a day of ice fishing in the area. Some had shelters or shacks while others fished right from their cars. We often hear stories from people on the ice that it was their father or grandfather who first introduced them to ice fishing at Petrie Island.

In the 1990's, as many as 20 ice fishing shacks could be seen on the ice. With the growing popularity of the sport, vandalism and theft became a problem and some even had their huts stolen. Early in 2004, a few hut owners discussed ideas on how to combat the increase of vandalism, thefts and break-ins of that season. A few beers were shared, and many ideas were tossed around. In the end, the group decided to start an association of ice fisherman. The main task of the association would be to bring hut owners together, so everyone could get to know each other and become a more tight-knit group for better security. It was that day, PIIFA - The Petrie Island Ice Fishermen's Association was formed. Now more than 150 ice huts and ice shacks can be seen on the ice in Baitshop Bay at Petrie Island.

*** Compiled with information and photos provided from The Grandmaitre Family archives.

A Photo History of Petrie Island