Canada’s capital city, Ottawa, is not only the federal seat of government and the banking seat of power in the country, but it has also replaced Vancouver as the world’s most liveable city according to Mercer’s. The #1 most liveable city in the world, based on economy, education, cleanliness, crime, employment, housing costs and a host of other criteria, is chock full of landmarks and is also a tourist destination, drawing more than 1.2 million tourists from around the world every year.
Ottawa is also Canada’s fourth largest city, with a population of nearly 1.5 million. Founded in 1826 as a logging camp on the Ottawa River, its mid-way location between Montreal and Toronto (then called York) soon saw a bustling community called Bytown grow where the logging outpost had once stood. By 1855 the city was incorporated as Ottawa. The name “Ottawa” comes from the Algonquin natives, which means “to trade”, giving a foretaste of what this city would become.
In 1857 Queen Victoria was asked to choose a common capital for the provinces of Canada, which were soon to confederate into a federal nation. She chose Ottawa, because its location in a deep valley and its distance from the border kept it safe from American attack (the United States had attacked Canada twice in the previous 80 years, so military aggression was a very real threat in the 19th Century). The city of Ottawa, Canada’s capital, was born.
Today Ottawa is a temperate city, with winter temperatures dipping below -30 C and summers rising above +30 C. Autumns are beautiful and spring is a time of new birth, celebrated with the Tulip Festival. Other festivals keep Ottawans happy throughout the year, with Winterlude, the celebration of winter, taking place in January while the summer is full of festivals like Bluesfest, Folk Fest, Pride and Canada Day.
The world’s most liveable city offers something for everybody!
Sparks Street was Canada’s first pedestrian street. Lined with boutique shops, cafes and bars, it is a popular tourist destination.
The Ottawa Senators NHL team has a fanatic fan base.
The Rideau Canal was built in 1832 to get logs from the Ottawa River to the St Laurence channel. It is no longer used for commercial shipping, but is a beautiful part of the city.
Ottawa is a shopper’s paradise, with 7 large malls, 13 markets, more than 11,000 shops and several large shopping plazas. Pictured here is the St Laurent Centre.
In 1940 Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands and her two young daughters fled to Canada to escape the Nazi invasion of her country. In 1944 and 1945 Canadian soldiers fought and died to liberate the Netherlands. To honour that generosity and sacrifice, the Dutch sent Canada thousands of tulip bulbs in 1947. Those bulbs now bloom every spring and turn Ottawa into one of the most colourful cities in North America as everyone celebrates the Ottawa Tulip Festival.
Despite the sometimes pretty winters and the tourist postcards, most winters are a trying ordeal for Ottawans, with temperatures often dipping below -30 centigrade. Slush, ice, salt and blowing snow makes the average Ottawan dread the coming of winter.
Highway 417, also called the “Queensway”(Queen Elizabeth II was the first person to drive along it during it’s official opening in 1967) runs east-west through the center of Ottawa, providing, in theory, an effective mass transit option. The reality in this growing city, however, is major stop and go traffic jams every day at rush hour.
The Byward Market is one of the nicest areas of Ottawa. Filled with restaurants, pubs, nightclubs, stores, sidewalk vendors and buskers, the Byward Market is a popular draw for both tourists and residents alike.
Algonquin College is Ottawa’s premier community college. It is also home to one of the best journalism programs in Canada, and has produced some of the best personalities in Canadian media.
Carleton University is one of two Universities in the city. The sprawling Carleton campus is reknown for its political sciences, law and public policy programs, both undergraduate and graduate. Many Carleton graduates can be found in the civil service, with NGO’s and in the United Nations.
With growth comes sprawl; Ottawa’s suburbs to the east and south of the city are growing at unprecedented rates. Housing remains affordable for young families and professionals, with the average price between $260,000 and $400,000.
Often called the ugliest building in Ottawa, the Department of National Defence HQ is the nerve center of a Canadian military that operates on three coasts, across a continent, and overseas.
Hogs Back Falls Park in the center of Ottawa is just one of the many beautiful parks in the city, from forested hiking paths to manicured picnic gardens.
Despite ridiculously cold temperatures, Ottawans get out to celebrate winter in the annual Winterlude Festival, which takes place from January to February every year. Shows, organized events, snowball fights and free buses to downtown make this a cold, but fun, festival.
Parliament is the most recognizable landmark in Ottawa to all Canadians, but its not just a house built for stodgy politicians. The Peace Tower dominates Parliament Hill, and becomes a part of Ottawa’s cultural celebrations for every festival. On Canada Day there’s even free concerts from Canadian celebrities like Alanis Morissette, Ashley McIsaac, Sam Roberts and Avril Lavigne!
The University of Ottawa is one of Canada’s oldest and more respected institutions of higher education. It’s also the world largest bilingual University. Ottawa U offers every program in French and English, both undergraduate and graduate degrees, and is famous for its engineering and technology graduates.
Ottawa has several mini ethnic centers scattered about, from Chinatown to Little Africa. Little Italy, on Preston Street, is one of the more tourist-friendly ones.
In the 1970s city council and the National Capital Commission began discussing transit options, including constructing a subway system. They scrapped that idea and opted instead for the massive OC Transpo bus network. Entire “transit ways”, roads and tunnels for buses only, were built throughout the city, allowing buses to roar along at high speed from connectors to bus stops. This cheaper and more efficient mass transit system has earned praise from cities around the world, if not citizens who are faced with increasing fare hikes every year.
In January of 1998 a massive ice storm hit the region from Kingston to Montreal and south into New York state. Ottawa was hard hit as freezing rain froze on contact and created ice that was too heavy for most structures to support. Downed hydro towers, trees, bridges and even some buildings made the city incredibly dangerous. This downtown neighbourhood experienced some destruction.
One of the trendy areas of Ottawa is The Glebe. Boutique shops, health food stores and cafes line the streets. The Glebe is a mecca for tourists and residents alike, but housing in the vintage Victoria homes of this area comes with hefty price tag.
Downtown Ottawa is made up of a grid of one-way streets anchored by Bank Street and Elgin Street. Pictured here is the north end of Elgin Street.
The Rideau Canal in winter becomes the world’s longest skating rink, at over 4 km in length, and features coffee, hot chocolate and pastry kiosks along the edges, as well as several skate rental shacks. Sometimes politicians and business people can be seen skating to work!