Oiseau [wazo] Rock is a 46 m sheer rock face rising
out of the Ottawa River, across from the AECL Chalk
River Laboratories about 16 km upriver from Petawawa.
What makes this outcrop unique is that Oiseau Rock
possesses many of the attributes typical of sites
deemed sacred to Native peoples. A vertical wall
rises directly out of the water: sky, land and water
meet so that manitous – spirits - can travel
from this world to the next. Natives also believe
that spirits dwell in people, animals and the components
of land including rocks such as Oiseau.
Here, as at other sacred sites, Natives left behind
an enduring legacy in the form of pictographs –
picture writings – that give testimony to
their spiritual experience. These Algonkian pictographs
were drawn using red ochre, a mineral mined at sites
across the Canadian Shield including nearby Mattawa.
The following is one of several Algonkian legends
associated with Oiseau – which means ‘bird’
in French: A maiden was standing atop the cliff
when she accidentally lost hold of her baby. As
the child fell an eagle flew in and caught him –
returning him safely to his mother. From this experience
the baby grew through life with the strength and
spirit of the eagle.
In 1870 a survey to establish the Town Plot encompassed
The Point where the Petawawa River empties into
the Ottawa River. The growth of the logging industry
meant good things for the area, and the increased
need for transportation services saw the development
of a wharf at the Point to accommodate three large
steamships. Skipped by Captain Tessier, the prestigious
S.S. Oiseau carried passengers and freight, while
the rugged C.B. Powell and E.H. Bronson were used
solely for pulling log booms. Passengers and freight
were carried to and fro between Rapides des Joachims
All this activity spurred more in return. Jack W.
MacLean built the MacLean Hotel – better known
as the Dew Drop Inn – as a stopover for men
heading to the logging camps on the Mattawa River.
James Davis operated a sawmill at the end of River
Road where the Johnson cottage now stands. A popular
dance hall provided entertainment for the many loggers
and their sweethearts who enjoyed many a steamboat
soirée. Alas, the S.S. Oiseau sank in the
late 1920s signalling an end to the romantic era
of steamboat travel. The development of the Town
of Petawawa shifted inland to the King’s Road/Hwy
17 and the railroad, today’s Petawawa Boulevard.