The Petrie Islands group on the Ottawa River was formed by sand deposited at the close of the last ice age, about 12,000 years ago. The 2 km by 500 m area, from the foot of Champlain St. to Trim Rd in Orleans, has a total shoreline length, including all channels and bays, of about 12 km. The size of the islands was reduced when water levels were raised by the hydroelectric dam at Carillon.
The island was named after its original owner, Archibald Petrie, an early inhabitant of Cumberland Township. In 1955, Donat Grandmaître purchased the island and set up a sand and gravel extraction facility.
Much of the area has been publicly owned since 1983, purchased to preserve the natural habitat of the western portion of the islands. Sand dredging at the eastern end was phased out in 2003, and the ten-hectare sand fill and natural beach is now in use for public recreation.
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.
The area incorporates provincially significant wetlands and wooded areas that provide habitat for plants, animals and birds, especially during spring and fall migration.
All images © 2012 CKB