Ottawa (, ; Canadian French: ) is the capital city of Canada. It is located at the confluence of the Ottawa River and the Rideau River in the southern Ontario of the province of Ontario. Ottawa borders Gatineau, Quebec, and forms the core of the Ottawa–Gatineau census metropolitan area (CMA) and the National Capital Region (NCR). Ottawa had a city population of 1,017,449 and a metropolitan population of 1,488,307, making it the fourth-largest city and fourth-largest metropolitan area in Canada.
Ottawa is the political centre of Canada and headquarters to the federal government. The city houses numerous foreign embassies, key buildings, organizations, and institutions of Canada's government, including the Parliament of Canada, the Supreme Court, the Rideau Hall, and Office of the Prime Minister.
Founded in 1826 as Bytown, and incorporated as Ottawa in 1855, its original boundaries were expanded through numerous annexations and were ultimately replaced by a new city incorporation and amalgamation in 2001. The municipal government of Ottawa is established and governed by the City of Ottawa Act of the Government of Ontario, and has an elected city council across 24 wards and a mayor elected city-wide.
Ottawa has the most educated population among Canadian cities and is home to a number of colleges and universities, research and cultural institutions, including the University of Ottawa, Carleton University, Algonquin College, the National Arts Centre, the National Gallery of Canada; and numerous national museums, monuments, and historic sites. It is one of the most visited cities in Canada, with over 11 million visitors in 2018.
The Ottawa Valley became habitable around 10,000 years ago, following the natural draining of the Champlain Sea. Archaeological findings of arrowheads, tools and pottery indicate that Indigenous populations first settled in the area about 6,500 years ago. These findings suggest that these Algonquin people were engaged in foraging, hunting and fishing, but also trade and travel. Three major rivers meet within Ottawa, making it an important trade and travel area for thousands of years. This period ended with the arrival of settlers and colonization of North America by Europeans during and after the 15th century.
The first non-Indigenous settlement in the area was created by Philemon Wright, a . Wright founded a lumber town in the area on 7 March 1800 on the north side of the river, across from the present-day city of Ottawa in Hull. He, with five other families and twenty-five Laborer, also created an agricultural community, which was named Wrightsville. Wright pioneered the Ottawa Valley timber trade (soon to be the area's most significant economic activity) by transporting timber by river from the Ottawa Valley to Quebec City.
In 1826, news of the impending construction of the Rideau Canal by the British military led to land speculators founding a community on the south side of the Ottawa River. The following year, the town was named after British military engineer Colonel John By who was responsible for the entire Rideau Waterway construction project. The Rideau canal provided a secure route between Montreal and Kingston on Lake Ontario. It bypassed a vulnerable stretch of the St. Lawrence River bordering the state of New York that had left re-supply ships bound for southwestern Ontario easily exposed to enemy fire during the War of 1812.
Colonel By set up military barracks on the site of today's Parliament Hill. He also laid out the streets of the town and created two distinct neighbourhoods named "Upper Town" west of the canal and "Lower Town" east of the canal. Similar to its Upper Canada and Lower Canada namesakes, historically "Upper Town" was predominantly English-speaking and Protestant whereas "Lower Town" was predominantly French, Irish and Catholic.
Bytown's population grew to 1,000 as the Rideau Canal was being completed in 1832. Bytown' early pioneer period saw Irish labour unrest that attributed to the Shiners' War from 1835 to 1845 and political dissension that was evident in the 1849 Stony Monday Riot. In 1855, Bytown was renamed Ottawa and incorporated as a city. William Pittman Lett was installed as the first city clerk, serving from 1844 to 1891, guiding Ottawa through 36 years of development, leading the hiring of key municipal roles, founding civic organizations, and proposing a set of by-laws for the city.
The governor general of the province had designated Kingston as the capital in 1841. However, the major population centres of Toronto and Montreal, as well as the former capital of Lower Canada, Quebec City, all had legislators dissatisfied with Kingston. Anglophone merchants in Quebec were the main group supportive of the Kingston arrangement. In 1842, a vote rejected Kingston as the capital, and study of potential candidates included the then-named Bytown, but that option proved less popular than Toronto or Montreal.Knight, David B (1991). Choosing Canada's capital: conflict resolution in a parliamentary system. Carleton university Press. pp. 71. In 1843, a report of the Executive Council recommended Montreal as the capital as a more fortifiable location and commercial centre, however, the Governor General refused to execute a move without a parliamentary vote.Knight, David B (1991). Choosing Canada's capital: conflict resolution in a parliamentary system. Carleton university Press. pp. 74-86 In 1844, the Queen Victoria's acceptance of a parliamentary vote moved the capital to Montreal.Knight, David B (1991). Choosing Canada's capital: conflict resolution in a parliamentary system. Carleton university Press. pp. 88.
In 1849, after violence in Montreal a series of votes was held, with Kingston and Bytown both again considered as capitals. However, the successful proposal was for two cities to share capital status, and the legislature to alternate sitting in each: Quebec City and Toronto, in a policy known as perambulation.Knight, David B (1991). Choosing Canada's capital: conflict resolution in a parliamentary system. Carleton university Press. pp. 208 Logistical difficulties made this an unpopular arrangement,Knight, David B (1991). Choosing Canada's capital: conflict resolution in a parliamentary system. Carleton university Press. pp. 129 and although an 1856 vote passed for the lower house of parliament to relocate permanently to Quebec City, the upper house refused to approve funding.Knight, David B (1991). Choosing Canada's capital: conflict resolution in a parliamentary system. Carleton university Press. pp. 156-164
The funding impasse led to the ending of the legislature's role in determining the seat of government. The legislature requested the Queen make the determination of the seat of government. The Queen then acted on the advice of her governor general Edmund Head, who, after reviewing proposals from various cities, selected the recently renamed Ottawa. The Queen sent a letter to colonial authorities selecting Ottawa as the capital, effective December 31, 1857. George Brown, briefly a co-premier of the Province of Canada, attempted to reverse this decision, but was unsuccessful. The Queen's choice was ratified by the Parliament in 1859, with Quebec serving as interim capital from 1859 to 1865.Knight, David B (1991). Choosing Canada's capital: conflict resolution in a parliamentary system. Carleton university Press. pp. 1 The relocation process began in 1865, with the first session of Parliament held in the new buildings in 1866, and the buildings were generally well received by legislators.Knight, David B (1991). Choosing Canada's capital: conflict resolution in a parliamentary system. Carleton university Press. pp. 1, 334-335
Ottawa was chosen as the capital for two primary reasons. First, Ottawa's isolated location, surrounded by dense forest far from the Canada–US border and situated on a cliff face, would make it more defensible from attack.
Other minor considerations included that despite Ottawa's regional isolation, there was water transportation access from spring to fall, both to Montreal via the Ottawa River, and to Kingston via the Rideau Waterway. Additionally, by 1854 it also had a modern all-season railway (the Bytown and Prescott Railway) that carried passengers, lumber and supplies the 82 kilometres (50 miles) to Prescott on the Saint Lawrence River and beyond. Ottawa's small size was also thought to be less prone to politically motivated mob violence, as had happened in the previous Canadian capitals.
The original Parliament buildings, which included the entre, East and West Blocks, were constructed between 1859 and 1866 in the Gothic Revival style. At the time, this was the largest North American construction project ever attempted and Public Works Canada and its architects were not initially well prepared for the relatively shallow-lying bedrock, and had to redesign architectural drawings, leading to delays. The Library of Parliament and Parliament Hill landscaping were completed in 1876.
The Hull–Ottawa fire of 1900 destroyed two-thirds of Hull, including 40 percent of its residential buildings and most of the buildings of its largest employers along the waterfront. It began as a chimney fire in Hull on the north side of the river, but due to wind, spread rapidly throughout the widespread wooden buildings. In Ottawa, it destroyed about one-fifth of the buildings from the Lebreton Flats south to Booth Street and down to Dow's Lake.
The location of what is now Confederation Square was a former commercial district centrally located in a triangular area downtown surrounded by historically significant heritage buildings which include the Parliament buildings. It was redeveloped as a ceremonial centre in 1938 as part of the City Beautiful Movement and became the site of the National War Memorial in 1939 and designated a National Historic Site in 1984. A new Central Post Office (now the Privy Council of Canada) was constructed in 1939 beside the War Memorial because the original post office building on the proposed Confederation Square grounds had to be demolished.
In 1958, the National Capital Commission was established as a Crown Corporation through the National Capital Act. The commission's original mission was to implement the Greber Plan recommendations—which it conducted during the 1960s and 1970s. This marked the creation of a permanent political infrastructure for managing the capital region. Prior attempts to do so in the previous 50 years had been temporary in nature. These included plans from the 1899 Ottawa Improvement Commission (OIC), the Todd Plan in 1903, the Holt Report in 1915 and the Federal District Commission (FDC) which was established in 1927 with a 16-year mandate.
From 1931 to 1958, City Hall had been at the Transportation Building adjacent to Union Station (now part of the Rideau Centre). In 1958 a new City Hall opened on Green Island near Rideau Falls where urban renewal had recently transformed this industrial location into green space. In 2001, Ottawa City Hall returned downtown to a 1990 building on 110 Laurier Avenue West, the home of the now-defunct Regional Municipality of Ottawa-Carleton. This new location was close to Ottawa's first (1849–1877) and second (1877–1931) City Halls. This new city hall complex also contained an adjacent 19th-century restored heritage building formerly known as the Ottawa Normal School.
From the 1960s to the 1980s, there was a large increase in construction in the National Capital Region, which was followed by large growth in the high-tech industry during the 1990s and 2000s.
In 1991, provincial and federal governments responded to a land claim submitted by the Algonquins of Ontario, regarding the unceded status of the land Ottawa sits on. Negotiations have been ongoing, with an eventual goal to sign a treaty that would release Canada from claims for misuse of land under Algonquin Aboriginal title, as well as affirm various rights of the Algonquins and negotiate other conditions for this title transfer.
Ottawa's city limits had been increasing over the years, but it acquired the most territory on 1 January 2001, when it amalgamated all the municipalities of the Regional Municipality of Ottawa–Carleton into one single city. Regional Chair Bob Chiarelli was elected as the new city's first mayor in the 2000 municipal election, defeating Gloucester mayor Claudette Cain. The city's growth led to strains on the public transit system and road bridges. On 15 October 2001, a diesel-powered light rail transit (LRT) line was introduced on an experimental basis. Known today as the Trillium Line, it was dubbed the O-Train and connected downtown Ottawa to the southern suburbs via Carleton University. The decision to extend the O-Train, and to replace it with an electric light rail system, was a major issue in the 2006 municipal elections, where Chiarelli was defeated by businessman Larry O'Brien. After O'Brien's election, transit plans were changed to establish a series of light rail stations from the east side of the city into downtown, and for using a tunnel through the downtown core. Jim Watson, the last mayor of Ottawa prior to amalgamation, was re-elected in the 2010 election.
In October 2012, the City Council approved the final Lansdowne Park plan, an agreement with the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group that saw a new stadium, increased green space, and housing and retail added to the site. In December 2012, City Council voted unanimously to move forward with the Confederation Line, a light rail transit line, which was opened on 14 September 2019.
The main suburban areas extend a considerable distance to the east, west and south of the inner-city. These areas also include the former cities of Cumberland, Gloucester, Kanata and Nepean. The towns of Stittsville and Richmond within the former Goulbourn Township are to the southwest. Nepean as a suburb also includes Barrhaven. The communities of Manotick and Riverside South are on the other side of the Rideau River, and Greely, southeast of Riverside South.
A number of rural communities (villages and hamlets) are administratively part of the Ottawa municipality. Some of these communities are Burritts Rapids; Ashton; Fallowfield; Kars; Fitzroy Harbour; Munster; Carp; North Gower; Metcalfe; Constance Bay and Osgoode. Several are within the federally defined National Capital Region but outside the city of Ottawa municipal boundaries; these include communities of Almonte, Carleton Place, Embrun, Kemptville, Rockland, and Russell.
Ottawa is situated in a lowland on top of Paleozoic carbonate and shale, and is surrounded by more craggy Precambrian igneous and metamorphic formations. Ottawa has had fluvial deposition of until and sands, leading to the widespread formation of . There are limited distinct features arising from glacial deposits, but Ottawa was affected by the Late Winsconsian advance. Prior to the draining of the Champlain Sea, the area had high salinity. After the draining of the sea, the area had pine-dominated forests. Ottawa is located within the Western Quebec Seismic Zone, and while relatively inactive, the city does occasionally experience earthquakes.
The older part of the city (including what remains of Bytown) is known as Lower Town, and occupies an area between the canal and the rivers. Across the canal to the west lie both Centretown and Downtown Ottawa, which share a border along Gloucester street. These core neighbourhoods contain streets such as Elgin and Bank, which fill the role of commercial High Street in the region.
Centretown is next to downtown, which includes a substantial economic and architectural government presence across multiple branches of government. The legislature's work takes place in the parliamentary precinct, which includes buildings on Parliament Hill and others downtown, such as the Senate of Canada Building. Important buildings in the executive branch include the Office of the Prime Minister and Privy Council as well as many civil service buildings. The Supreme Court of Canada building can also be found in this area.
Across the Ottawa River, which forms the border between Ontario and Quebec, lies the city of Gatineau, itself the result of amalgamation of the former Quebec cities of Hull and Aylmer.
Snow and ice are dominant during the winter season. On average, almost every day of January, February and March, have more than 5 cm of snowpack (29, 28, and 22 days respectively), and on average, approximately 12 days a year see 5 cm or more of snowfall, with 4 of those having over 10 cm.
An average 17 days of the year experience temperatures below . Spring and fall are variable, prone to extremes in temperature and unpredictable swings in conditions. The month of May, for example, sees a day below freezing about every other year, but sees days above 30 °C at about the same rate.
Annual precipitation averages around 750mm per year. Precipitation is spread out through the year, with some variation. May through November are the months more likely to see precipitation and major precipitation events, with each month having an average of 3 days of over 1 cm of precipitation, with December through April seeing on average 1–2 days. May through November have on average over 8 cm of precipitation per month, with peaks of approximately 9 cm in June and September. December through April have lower than 8 cm, with February being the driest month at an average of 5 cm of precipitation.
Ottawa experiences about 2,080 hours of average sunshine annually (45% of possible). Winds in Ottawa tend to come from the Westerlies, though eastward winds caused by lake-effect Convection cell in afternoons are not unusual. Winds tend to be slightly more dominant during the winter.
As of 2021 the Ottawa - Gatineau census metropolitan area (CMA) had a population of living in of its total private dwellings, a change of from its 2016 population of . With a land area of , it had a population density of in 2021.
Ottawa's median age of 40.1 is both below the provincial and national averages as of 2016. Youths under 15 years constituted 16.7% of the total population in 2016, while those of retirement age (65 years and older) made up 15.4%.
The 2021 census reported that immigrants (individuals born outside Canada) comprise 259,215 persons or 25.9% of the total population of Ottawa. Of the total immigrant population, the top countries of origin were China (20,320 persons or 7.8%), India (16,200 persons or 6.2%), United Kingdom (14,760 persons or 5.7%), Lebanon (11,900 persons or 4.6%), Philippines (10,505 persons or 4.1%), United States of America (8,795 persons or 3.4%), Haiti (6,710 persons or 2.6%), Syria (6,370 persons or 2.5%), Vietnam (6,155 persons or 2.4%), and Iran (6,000 persons or 2.3%).
Around 65% of Ottawa residents describe themselves as Christian , with Catholicism accounting for 38.5% of the population and members of Protestantism churches 25%. Non-Christian religions are also very well established in Ottawa, the largest being Islam (6.7%), Hinduism (1.4%), Buddhism (1.3%), and Judaism (1.2%). Those with no religious affiliation represent 22.8%.
Ottawa's primary employers are the Public Service of Canada and the high-tech industry, although tourism and healthcare also represent increasingly sizeable economic activities. The federal government is the city's largest employer, employing over 116,000 individuals from the National Capital Region. The national headquarters for many federal departments are in Ottawa, particularly throughout Centretown and in the Terrasses de la Chaudière and Place du Portage complexes in Hull. The National Defence Headquarters in Ottawa is the main command centre for the Canadian Armed Forces and hosts the Department of National Defence. During the summer, the city hosts the Ceremonial Guard, which performs functions such as the Changing the Guard.
As the national capital of Canada, tourism is an important part of Ottawa's economy, particularly after the 150th anniversary of Canada which was centred in Ottawa. The lead-up to the festivities saw much investment in civic infrastructure, upgrades to tourist infrastructure and increases in national cultural attractions. The National Capital Region annually attracts an estimated 22 million tourists, who spend about 2.2 billion dollars and support 30,600 jobs directly.
In addition to the economic activities that come with being the national capital, Ottawa is an important technology centre; in 2015, its 1800 companies employed approximately 63,400 people. The concentration of companies in this industry earned the city the nickname of "Silicon Valley North". Most of these companies specialize in telecommunications, software development and environmental technology. Large technology companies such as Nortel, Corel, Mitel, Cognos, Halogen Software, Shopify and JDS Uniphase were founded in the city.
The health sector is another major employer, which employs over 18,000 people in the city. Business, finance, administration, and sales and service rank high among types of occupations. Approximately ten percent of Ottawa's GDP is derived from finance, insurance and real estate whereas employment in goods-producing industries is only half the national average. The City of Ottawa is the second largest employer with approximately 2,100 people employed by the Ottawa Police service, and 13,300 full-time equivalent non-police employees.
In 2016, Ottawa experienced an increase of 10,000 jobs over 2012 average growth that was relatively slower than in the late 1990s. All major clusters tracked by the city saw increases in employment between 2014 and 2019. Major areas of growth in the 2010s included local and federal administration, finance and accommodation. Between 2008 and 2020, there was growth in the number of government employees and a reduction in high-tech jobs, a reversal of previous trends from 2003 to 2008.
Ottawa already has the largest rural economy among Canada's major cities. In Ottawa, the rural economy contributes over $1 billion to the GDP. Agriculture alone accounts for $400 million, $136.7 million of which is farm-gate sales. Rural economic activity includes agriculture, retail sales, construction, forestry and mining (aggregates), tourism, manufacturing, personal and business services, and transportation, to name a few. Rural employment expanded by a healthy 18% from 1996 to 2001.
Ottawa's was featured in the short story collection For Your Eyes Only, by Ian Fleming.
The skyline has been controlled by building height restrictions originally implemented to keep Parliament Hill and the Peace Tower at visible from most parts of the city. Today, several buildings are slightly taller than the Peace Tower, with the tallest being the Claridge Icon at 143 metres. Many federal buildings in the National Capital Region are managed by Public Works Canada, which leads to heritage conservation in its renovations and management of buildings, such as the renovation of the Senate Building. Most of the federal land in the region is managed by the National Capital Commission; its control of much undeveloped land and appropriations powers gives the NCC a great deal of influence over the city's development.
The Ottawa Little Theatre, founded in 1913 as the Ottawa Drama League, is the longest-running community theatre company in Ottawa. Since 1969, Ottawa has been the home of the National Arts Centre, a major performing arts venue that houses four stages and is home to the National Arts Centre Orchestra, the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra and Opera Lyra Ottawa. Established in 1975, the Great Canadian Theatre Company specializes in the production of Canadian plays at a local level.
The Ottawa Redblacks are a professional Canadian Football team playing in the Canadian Football League. Formerly the Ottawa Rough Riders represented the city until 1996. With a history dating back to 1876, the team was one of the oldest and longest-lived professional sports teams in North America. The professional soccer club, Atlético Ottawa, play in the Canadian Premier League. The team was founded in by Spanish club Atlético Madrid, and along with the Redblacks, play their home games at TD Place Stadium. The Ottawa Blackjacks are a professional basketball team, playing in the Canadian Elite Basketball League, out of the TD Place Arena. The Ottawa Titans play professional baseball in the Frontier League at Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton Park. Ottawa was previously home to the Ottawa Lynx, a Triple-A club, as well as the Ottawa Champions, an independent baseball team in the Can-Am League.
The Carleton Ravens are nationally ranked in basketball and soccer. Carleton's men's basketball program is renown as the greatest of all time, having won 16 of the last 19 national championships. The Ottawa Gee-Gees are nationally ranked in basketball and soccer.
Along with being the capital of Canada, Ottawa is politically diverse in local politics. Most of the city has traditionally supported the Liberal Party in federal elections.
Intercity bus services are currently provided by a number of carriers at various stops throughout the city, following the closure of the former Ottawa Central Station bus station on 1 June 2021. Major carriers include: Megabus, Ontario Northland, Autobus Gatineau, and Orléans Express.
The city also has several scenic parkways and promenades, such as the Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway (formerly the Ottawa River Parkway), Colonel By Drive, Queen Elizabeth Driveway, the Sir George-Étienne Cartier Parkway (formerly the Rockcliffe Parkway), and the Aviation Parkway. The National Capital Commission manages ceremonial routes linking key attractions on both sides of the Ottawa River, including Confederation Boulevard.
Numerous downtown streets are restricted for pedestrians only. The entire length of Sparks Street was turned into a Pedestrian zone in 1966. Since 1960, additional avenues, streets, and parkways, are reserved for pedestrian and bicycle use only on Saturdays, Sundays and on selected holidays and events. In 2021 city council unanimously approved the Byward Market Public Realm Plan to make the market area more Carfree city and pedestrian friendly. From 2009 to 2015 the NCC introduced the Capital Bixi bicycle-sharing system. This continued until the program was taken over by company VeloGo from 2015 to 2018, when the partnership ceased. Scooter-sharing systems have since been introduced in the downtown and inner-city areas.
Ottawa is headquarters to numerous major medical organizations and institutions such as Canadian Red Cross, Canadian Blood Services, Health Canada, Canadian Medical Association, Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, Canadian Nurses Association, and the Medical Council of Canada.
Other colleges and universities in the metropolitan area are located in the neighbouring suburb of Gatineau, including the University of Quebec in Outaouais, Cégep de l'Outaouais, and Heritage College.
The Ottawa Public Library was created in 1906 as part of the Carnegie library system. the library system had 2.3 million items at its 34 branches and two mobile libraries. Approximately 9.5 million loans were conducted in 2020, approximately 6.7 million physical loans and the remainder digital items.
In addition to the market's local media services, Ottawa is home to several national media operations, including CPAC (Canada's national legislature broadcaster) and the parliamentary bureau staff of virtually all of Canada's major newsgathering organizations in television, radio and print. The city is also home to the head office of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.