Ottawa by the river
For those globetrotting intellectuals, here is a crowd-pulling fact…Ottawa has the highest per capita concentration of residents with PhDs in Canada. And if that wasn’t enough, there’s a lot more the city has to offer.
Canada’s capital city, Ottawa is a mix of tidy late-Victorian brick houses employed as shops and restaurants, Gothic spires and towers of Parliament Hill, and modern-day architecture with the magnificent Gatineau Hills serving as a backdrop. The city is bordered by the Ottawa River to the north, and the historic Rideau River and Rideau Canal that meanders through the city north to south.
The Ottawa River forms the border between Ontario and Quebec, and right across it lies Gatineau, which although lies in a separate province, together with Ottawa constitutes the National Capital Region.
When you enter the city, it is hard to believe that it wasn’t a likely candidate for capital city. It was chosen in 1858 as the capital only because of the rising hostility between the then major cities Ontario and Québec. But the residents take pride in their city, and the government made efforts to change the small village into a national capital, by rescuing historic sites and creating public and recreation parks among others.
Their efforts paid off and in 2007, the Rideau Canal, which stretches for 202 km, Fort Henry and four Martello towers in the Kingston area were designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The climate in Ottawa is generally humid but temperatures during the year can be quite extreme ranging from a record high of 37.8 °C to a record low of -38.9 °C. On the plus side, this extreme range in temperature allows the city to indulge in a variety of annual activities.
Some of the very first inhabitants of the Ottawa region were the Algonquin Indians who called the Ottawa River the Kichesippi, or the Great River, and called themselves the Kichesippirini, the people of the Great River. The river got its current name through French fur traders who named it after the Outaouais tribe who had also occupied the region briefly.
1650 – Nicholas Gatineau, a clerk in an organization of fur traders gives his family name to the river flowing into the Ottawa River, two miles from the present city of Hull (now Gatineau).
1763 – The Treaty of Paris is signed by Great Britain, France and Spain to mark the end of the Seven Years War. France cedes Canada to Britain.
1791 – The Constitutional Act is passed by the British Parliament, establishing the individually administered regions of Upper and Lower Canada.
1800 – With the end of New France, the Ottawa area came under British rule and settlers from the United States begin to stake claims to the land. Among them was Philemon Wright who forms a settlement on the north bank of the Ottawa River. He figured that transporting timber by river from the Ottawa Valley to Montreal was possible, and so the region soon has a booming timber trade. The White Pine, found throughout the valley, is one of the chief exports.
1812 – The United States declares war against Great Britain and launches an attack on Canada.
1821 – Nicholas Sparks, one of Philemon Wright’s farmhands, purchases 200 acres of land on the south shore of the Ottawa River for 95 pounds. Today the original Sparks property, which includes the site of the parliament buildings and the downtown business district, is assessed at over one hundred million dollars.
1823 – Sir George Ramsay purchases an extensive tract of land near the Ottawa River for constructing the Rideau Canal to establish a link by waterway between Montreal and Kingston (then Canada's capital) via Ottawa.
1826 - Lieutenant Colonel By and Sir George Ramsay choose the location for the entrance to the Rideau Canal and consequently found a community where the City of Ottawa exists today. Colonel By is recognized as the first builder and planner of what was to become the country’s capital.
1827 – The name Bytown is first used to identify the community growing up around the Rideau Canal construction.
1832 – The first Board of Health in Bytown is formed to combat an epidemic of Asiatic cholera.
1836 – Bytown's first newspaper, the Bytown Independent and Farmer's Advocate, appears.
1843 – The Arch Riot takes place on August 20. Animosity between the Orangemen and Papists of Bytown erupts in fighting and stone throwing.
1849 – The Stony Monday Riot takes place on September 17. Tories and Reformists clash over the planned visit of Lord Elgin. Two days later, the two political factions face off but, the conflict is diffused in time by the military.
1855 - Bytown is formally incorporated as a city and adopts the name of Ottawa. Wright's Town followed suit in 1875 and became known as Hull.
1857 – Queen Victoria chose the City of Ottawa as the seat of the new government.
1867 – The British North America Act is ratified and Ottawa becomes the permanent capital of the Dominion of Canada.
1879 – The Great Dominion Exhibition is held in Ottawa. Later the exhibition grounds become Landsdowne Park, named after the Governor General from 1883 to 1888.
1891 - The first electric streetcar service is started.
1895 – Ottawa's first paved street exists as of this date.
1900 – A fire starts in Hull and, carried by the wind, soon destroys a large segment of the city, making thousands homeless.
1916 - A small fire breaks out in the Parliamentary Reading Room but fed by stacks of newspapers and varnished woodwork, it soon becomes a raging blaze and reduced the library to a charred shell.
1958 - The Government established a greenbelt around Ottawa to avoid uncontrolled urban sprawl, and provide parks and public open space.
Out and about:
The MacDonald-Cartier International is Ottawa's main airport with regular flights from most major Canadian and many American cities. The city is connected by several bus routes with regular service to Montreal, Toronto and other cities in North America. Passenger train service, run by Via Rail, is also an option while coming in to the city. And if you prefer the water, then you could always sail up the Rideau Canal, now recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage site.
The city's public transit includes an efficient bus service and the O-Train light rail system. The network also includes the Transitway, a bus rapid transit system. However, if you have the time and the energy, Ottawa is great city to explore on foot with pedestrian friendly streets and a high density of attractions on the walking trails. Guided walking tours are available. Ottawa is also very accessible to cyclists with over 170 km of bicycle paths.
Sights around town: Billings Estate Museum: The imposing structure gives you a glance into the social life during the 1800s, when Braddish Billings, head of one of Ottawa's founding families, oversaw its construction. It was turned into a museum in 1970. Come here for a nice picnic and stroll the 8-acre grounds. A great way to spend a lazy summer afternoon with your family.
Bytown Museum: the museum is housed in the city’s oldest stone building built in 1827, which served as the Commissariat for food and material during construction of the Rideau Canal. The museum displays possessions of Lieutenant Colonel By and other artifacts that reflect the social history of the pioneer era along with a number of changing exhibits.
The Byward Market: Located east of the Rideau Canal, this is one of the most popular shopping districts in the city. In the summer, stalls selling fresh produce and flowers line the streets, and even in peak winters, some tough vendors brave the cold to see maple syrup and other produce.
Canada Aviation Museum: it has a collection of 115 aircrafts and is one of the best in the world. It traces aviation history from the start of the 20th century through the two world wars to the present. The main attraction here is the Silver Dart, a biplane built by a consortium headed by Alexander Graham Bell.
Canadian Museum of Civilization: The exhibits within this impressive building take you through the history of Canada beginning with Aboriginal migration across the Bering Strait through European settlement by the Vikings around 1000 BC, and the British and French in the 1500s. The museum houses the Children's Museum, one of the largest in the world, and the Postal Museum. It also contains the world's first combined IMAX/OMNIMAX theatre.
Science and Technology Museum: The several displays such as massive locomotives and electricity demonstrations are a great hit with kids and adults alike.
Canadian Museum of Nature: the exhibit halls trace the history of life on earth from its beginnings 4,200 million years ago. The dinosaur hall with fossils, skulls, and the intact skeleton of a mastodon is the star exhibit. It houses five million specimens, including dinosaurs, exotic animals and precious gems. The museum is also home to the Viola MacMillan Mineral Gallery and even has an authentic reconstructed gold mine.
Canadian War Museum: The museum has changed venues through the years since its inception in 1880. On display are examples of uniforms, military equipment, and antique and modern weaponry. The Museum also holds the second largest publicly owned art collection in the country, with almost 11,000 works.
Laurier House: It is a comfortable 1878 brick home of two Canadian prime ministers, and is now a National Historic Site filled with mementos of Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Canada's seventh prime minister and William Lyon Mackenzie King, who held the same post for 22 years.
National Gallery of Canada: This beautiful rose-granite crystal palace gleams from a promontory overlooking the Ottawa River and commands glorious views of Parliament Hill. The museum displays about 800 examples of Canadian art, European masters, and contemporary artists.
Parliament Hill: Overlooking the Ottawa River, the building a fine example of the Gothic revival style. The centre block includes inside views of the House of Commons, the Senate, and the newly renovated Library of Parliament. The National Capital Commission has also developed a 30 minute Sound & Light Show about Canada projected on the centre block of the Parliament Buildings.
During the summer, Parliament Hill hosts the daily Changing of the Guard ceremony, a military tradition dating back to the 19th century. In December and January, Parliament Hill, Confederation Boulevard and the downtown area are ablaze with a dazzling display of lights in time for Christmas.
Sparks Street: It is a common tourist thoroughfare for sightseeing and shopping but it also has some of the best views from the observation deck of the Peace Tower. On the lawn facing the Centre Block is the Centennial Flame, lit in 1967 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Canadian Confederation.
Canada Agriculture Museum: It is actually a working animal farm where you get to visit animal barns, see various demonstrations and exhibitions, and ride on a horse-drawn wagon.
The Rideau Canal: The longest outdoor skating rink in the world during the winters and a great place for boating in the summer. It is the oldest continuously operated canal in North America and it celebrated its 175th anniversary in 2007. The 202 km long canal was originally supposed to be a military project to protect from invading Americans. It is also the best place to try out the beaver tail, a deep-fried pastry topped with cinnamon, sugar, icing and sugar.
Ottawa is host to over 60 festivals and events per year and some of the more popular ones are:
The Ottawa Jazz Festival
The Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival, one of the largest in the world
Bluesfest, the largest blues festival in Canada featuring rock, pop and world music
The Fringe Festival, a theatre festival
Winterlude, a winter carnival featuring ice carving and snow sculptures
The Tulip Festival, a spring spectacular of flowering bulbs also featuring concerts by Canadian music groups
Canada Day, on July 1st
Carnival of Cultures, explores the city’s multicultural heritage
The Ottawa Busker Festival, brings performances into the streets