Petra Burka was born in Amsterdam, Netherlands on November 17, 1946, the daughter of renowned figure skater Ellen Burka and a Czech-born artist Jan Burka. The family moved to Canada in 1951. Her parents divorced in the mid-1950s. Raised as Christians, Petra and her sister, Astra, were in their late teens when their mother told them about her background as a Holocaust survivor.
Petra Burka began skating lessons at the age of 10 or 11. Her mother, also her coach, was advised by Osborne Colson of her talent.
At the 1962 Canadian Championships, Burka became the first woman to land a triple Salchow and came away with the silver medal. She finished 4th in her World Championship debut in Prague in the same year. The father of one of Ellen Burka's students, Stafford Smythe, arranged for Petra – who was in need of extra ice time – to train at Maple Leaf Gardens at 7 a.m. every day before the hockey players arrived at 9:30.
Burka won the first of her three consecutive senior national titles in 1964 and represented Canada at the 1964 Olympics in Innsbruck, winning the bronze medal. Unaware that she was expected to skate an exhibition, she was brought back to the rink in a police car just before she was called onto the ice. Burka became the first Canadian skater to perform in the Soviet Union when she appeared in a two-week tour in Moscow and Kiev.
Her other achievements were winning Canada's Outstanding Athlete of the Year in 1964 and twice winning Canada's Outstanding Female Athlete of the Year in 1964 and 1965. In 1965 she was also inducted to the Canada's Sports Hall of Fame.