CFB Petawawa was founded in 1905 as the Petawawa Military Camp with the Royal Canadian Horse and Garrison Artillery being the first to train on the site. The base took its name from the Petawawa River, a tributary of the Ottawa River and an early French explorers' trail that passed through the area. In the early years of Camp Petawawa many exciting projects took place. One of the most well-known of these was the testing of the Silver Dart aircraft for military operations.
The original Silver Dart was designed and built by the Aerial Experiment Association formed under the guidance of Alexander Graham Bell. In 1909 Bell presented a plan for including aircraft in military operations to the Canadian Club which piqued the interest of the Canadian government even though they were sceptical of the application. Funding was not available for further development of the project, however, the government offered the use of Camp Petawawa, its men and equipment, for aeronautical trials.
CFB Petawawa's arena is named "The Silver Dart Arena" after this first military aircraft flight in Canada.
The association travelled to Petawawa to demonstrate the aircraft for military officials. However, the rocky and sandy terrain made a poor runway. The plane did manage to take flight and is now considered the first military aircraft flight in Canada.
From December 1914 to May 1916 Petawawa was an internment camp for 750 German and Austrian prisoners of World War I. During World War II three training facilities were constructed and established at the camp. At its peak the camp was training 20,000 Canadian soldiers in 1943. Soldiers from CFC Petawawa have been involved in many operations throughout the world including in Afghanistan and Bosnia.
Currently CFB Petawawa employs 4,328 Canadian Forces personnel as well as 936 Department of National Defence civilian employees. Approximately 6,000 people are directly connected to the base in the local communities surrounding the base.