Ottawa (Ont)

Ottawa, Ont, incorporated as a city in 1855, population 883 391 (2011c), 812 129 (2006c).The City of Ottawa is the capital of Canada and is located on the OTTAWA RIVER on Ontario's eastern boundary with Québec, about 200 km west of Montréal. With the amalgamation that went into effect 1 January 2001, "old" Ottawa was merged with 10 area municipalities and the Regional Municipality of Ottawa-Carleton to create a new city also called Ottawa. Embraced in the new city are the former cities of Ottawa, VANIER, NEPEAN, KANATA, GLOUCESTER and Cumberland; the townships of Rideau, West Carleton, Goulbourn and Osgoode; and the village of Rockcliffe Park.


Evidence of Algonquian settlements has been found throughout the Ottawa Valley. "Ottawa" is thought to derive from native people of the same name, probably from a word meaning "to trade" (seeOTTAWA). As the Ottawa River and its tributaries form the most direct water route between the St Lawrence River and the continental interior, it was part of aboriginal trading systems and, from the 17th to 19th centuries, the chief artery of the Montréal FUR TRADE. Minor fur outposts were established in the valley before 1800, when the first permanent settlement, an agricultural community at the site of HULL, Qué (then Lower Canada), was established by New Englander Philemon WRIGHT. Itinerant lumberers were drawn by the trade in squared timber begun in 1806 by Wright.

On the Upper Canadian side of the river, agricultural settlers began moving in shortly after, beginning with Ira Honeywell in the winter of 1809-10 in Nepean Township; and Braddish Billings in 1812 in Gloucester Township. The largest group to arrive was the dozen families of British soldiers who settled at Richmond in 1818. Like the Wrights, many of these early settlers combined farming with lumbering, whether harvesting and sometimes milling logs or supplying food for the growing trade in squared timber.

Ottawa itself grew from an unnamed campsite established in 1826 by Royal Engineers under Lieutenant-Colonel John BY as a construction base for the RIDEAU CANAL. It was situated on a 30 m bluff flanking the headlocks, near Chaudière Falls and the mouths of the Rideau and Gatineau rivers. It immediately attracted contractors, labourers and a small community of merchants, tradesmen and professionals. By 1827 a considerable town named Bytown had sprung up, although a continuing municipal authority was not granted until 1850.

In the 1830s the TIMBER TRADE to Britain became the focus of economic activity. Bytown eclipsed "Wrightsville" (later Hull) as the principal valley town. A new industry emerged in the 1850s when the power of Chaudière and Rideau falls was employed to saw logs into lumber for the American market. In 1855 Bytown's name was changed to Ottawa following its incorporation as a city, sought in part to shake free of the oversight of Carleton County. The new city is now effectively co-incident with the county, which now exists primarily for juridical purposes.


By the 1860s, in addition to a large trade in squared timber, Ottawa contained one of the largest milling operations in the world, accompanied by huge cutting, driving and barging operations, and was connected to the GRAND TRUNK RAILWAY and American rail networks. The railway made Ottawa a serious candidate as permanent capital of the PROVINCE OF CANADA, but urban rivalries made any choice politically dangerous and the matter was thrust upon Queen Victoria. Colonial officials ensured that her only possible choice would be Ottawa, as announced the last day of 1857. Construction of the PARLIAMENT BUILDINGS began in 1859, and they were officially opened in 1866.

In 1867 the city was made capital of the new Dominion of Canada. About 1890, the hydroelectric potential of Ottawa's rivers was exploited, the chief industrial application being in the production of pulp and paper using the inferior logs of depleted valley forests. The sawn lumber industry declined significantly in the 20th century. By 1940, the federal government had emerged as the dominant employer. Those in the NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL and Defence Research Board, along with the 2 area universities, became the seedbed for a HIGH-TECH sector. This sector emerged in about 1961 with the establishment of Computing Devices, later Leigh Instruments, developers of the precursor to aviation's black box. Of critical importance was the decision of Bell Northern Research (now Nortel) to place its operations in Ottawa. Its labs also opened in 1961. Nortel is now a major employer among the estimated 78 000 in the "advanced-technology" sector in the capital region, compared with 73 000 in the federal public service.


Ottawa has an outstanding physical endowment. Rapids and waterfalls punctuate river courses, which are protected by parks and driveways. Lower Town, east of the canal, was the first growth pole, and much of the mid-19th-century city is found here, including the restored "Mile of History" along Sussex Drive and the Byward Market. It was outstripped in the 1860s by Upper Town, which was entrenched by a government economy as the chief retail and office locus of the city. The large Central Experimental Farm, located in the southwest part of the city, and a federal "greenbelt" girdling the built-up region are treasured amenities, though they have been completely surrounded by suburban expansion.

Since the 1920s, much of the core area has been appropriated and redeveloped with parks (Confederation Square) or major national buildings (National Arts Centre, National Defence Building and Bank of Canada Building) by the federal authority. It also collaborated on construction of Rideau Centre, a downtown convention, hotel and shopping complex opened in 1983. Office towers, which from the 1960s began to overwhelm the Parliament Buildings, are the dominant feature of the downtown landscape.

The NATIONAL CAPITAL COMMISSION (NCC) and its predecessors have carried out much of the beautification of the city, removing rail lines and yards from the city core and preserving the scenic canal. The NCC maintains the extensive system of driveways in the city lined with millions of tulip bulbs and other flowering plants; it operates a number of parks and in winter maintains the world's longest skating rink on the frozen Rideau Canal. The dominant feature of the "new" Ottawa is, however, its suburbs, many of them developed in the last 30 years outside the greenbelt and in a close relationship with the high-tech industry. Both the residential areas and the industrial and commercial parks are located in areas that remain in some measure rural.


With 323 340 inhabitants in 1996, current estimates for the new Ottawa are in excess of 800 000. Migration patterns, the evolution of the high-tech industry, and the amalgamation of 2001 have significantly altered the contours of the population. For some 150 years the people were about one-quarter French Roman Catholic, one-quarter Irish Roman Catholic, and most of the remainder Protestant of British origin. Small communities - chiefly Jewish, German and Italian - arrived at the turn of the century, and after the Second World War an Arabic-speaking (mainly Lebanese) community and more recently an East African community have also struck roots in Ottawa. An older Asian community has recently experienced much growth, largely through an influx of Vietnamese.

Traditionally, the Protestant and English community favoured the Upper Town of the core area and the western and southern parts of Carleton County, while the Roman Catholic and French community tended to reside in the Lower Town of the core and the eastern parts of the county. Religious institutions (churches, schools and hospitals), ethnic associations and even political organizations have solidified this pattern. Nineteenth-century Ottawa became a focal point of Catholic and Protestant-Orange militants, and also emerged as the capital of Franco-Ontario and the centre of early Canadian conflicts over language. In the 1850s, sawmilling firms at Chaudière generated a working-class community, broadly French and Irish Catholic, and in the 20th century union activity tended to centre on the white-collar unions of the public service. At the outset, the growing public service diffused into the pre-existing communities. Renewal and renovation in older areas have altered this pattern, attracting professionals to all core areas.

Recent years have seen the rapid growth of visible minorities, which now make up nearly 15% of the total population, and among whom the largest single group is BLACKS. This immigration, among other factors, has diluted the relative influence of both English and French as languages first learned and still understood, with English still dominant at about 65%, French at 15% and languages other than English or French at 18%.

The combination of government and the high-tech sector has produced one of the most highly educated populations in Canada, with more than 31.6% of those 25 years or over having completed university, compared, for example, with all of Ontario at 18.8%.

Economy and Labour Force

Though patterns in the Ottawa work force have undergone dramatic change, "service" to a dominant industry has been a continuing motif. Original settlers serviced the needs of canal construction, the squared timber trade and agriculture. In 1861 "industrial" jobs, most associated with sawmilling, comprised about 48% of the labour force. Government employment, only 10% in 1871, grew by 1971 to about one-third, including large numbers of women, while manufacturing fell to about 6%.

Public sector employment reached a peak of about one-quarter of the labour force in the 1980s, but downsizing and decentralization in the 1990s, coupled with growth in the high-tech sector, have created a more balanced distribution in the metropolitan area, which is now as much "silicon valley north" as the "nation's capital." The high-tech sector, rooted in digital communications, has expanded to embrace both hardware and software applications from computer-assisted design to BIOTECHNICAL services, with more than 90% of the product exported outside the region. Still, however, service to the 2 main industries is the pre-eminent employer, accounting for about one-third of the jobs in the new city, including business and recreational tourism, which caters to more than 4 million visitors annually. Among specialty services, printing, including bank note printing, remains, as does remote sensing, contracting a major share of the world's business.


Rivers and canals formed the city's original transportation corridors and were the basis of its claim to be the economic capital of central Canada: the RIDEAU CANAL to Kingston; the Gatineau into the Québec Laurentians; and the Ottawa east to Montréal and west to Lake Huron. However, transportation is now largely by road and rail; the city is on both transcontinental rail lines and on the TRANS-CANADA HIGHWAY. A direct 4-lane link to Highway 401 between Montréal and Toronto was inaugurated recently. Ottawa has one of Canada's busiest air terminals, largely owing to its location on the Montréal-Toronto-Ottawa air triangle. The Macdonald-Cartier International, West Carleton, Rockport and Gatineau airports are located in the new city. Public transportation is provided by quasi-autonomous OC Transpo, which is municipally controlled.


Most local television production is carried out by Rogers Cable in Ottawa (both English and French) and Laurentian Cable in Hull (French). The Canadian Public Affairs Channel (bilingual) is a national network based in Ottawa, where much production occurs. In addition, both the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network and the Inuit Broadcasting Corporation have bureaus in Ottawa. Apart from news, there is very little network television production in Ottawa, as all network stations are controlled elsewhere by media corporations that produce outside the city. Radio presents a similar picture. The only independent stations are run by students at the 2 area universities and Algonquin College.

Ottawa's daily newspapers are Le Droit (French), The Ottawa Sun (English) and The Ottawa Citizen (English). The Ottawa Citizen, the city's largest newspaper, was embraced in 1996 by Conrad BLACK's media empire with the takeover of the Southam chain. Specialty newspapers include The Hill Times, an Ottawa version of Frank Magazine, and Xpress, a free critical arts publication.

Ottawa has one of the original and still operating freenet sites in Canada, quartered at Carleton University. The university is also the site for SCHOOLNET, originally a site for material generated by the Canadian government. It now supplies an array of educational material to, and provides a communications link for, schools across Canada.

The city is considered to be the most "wired" in the nation, with more than 60% of households having Internet access. It has, as a result, numerous local, national and international Internet service providers, including educational, commercial and residential ones.

Government and Politics

Ottawa operates in one of the most jurisdictionally complex areas of the country, though this was simplified in 2001 with the amalgamation of 11 municipalities and the regional government (established in 1969) into the single city of Ottawa. Still, a provincial boundary divides the metropolitan area, which is about two-thirds in Ontario and one-third in Québec, where 2 regional governments, the Communité urbain de l'Outaouais, and a rural one, the Municipalité regionale de compte des collines de l'Outaouais, and a number of municipalities, including the cities of GATINEAU, Hull and AYLMER, operate. In January 2001 the Québec government launched a process aimed at amalgamating the Outaouais municipalities into a single city.

The metropolitan area is still heavily influenced, in an economic sense, by Montréal, and nationalist governments in Québec City have discouraged close relationships between Québec municipalities and the federal authority, as well as with Ottawa City itself. In addition, jurisdictional divisions have shifted in the past decade in nature and influence. The NCC, with a shrinking budget, wields a strong but waning influence in the National Capital Region, whereas local authorities now control budgets 20 times that of the national authority. The federal government, though the city's largest landowner, is constitutionally exempt from city bylaws and taxes, and the extent of its responsibility to respect laws and provide grants in lieu of taxes has for more than 100 years been a chronic, controversial and unresolved issue between the Crown and the city.

From the outset, Ottawa had a ward system sensitive to internal linguistic and religious divisions. Administration was a council-committee system until 1908, when a council-board of control system (the mayor and 4 controllers elected at large) was adopted. In 1980 the city returned to the original pattern used by most area municipalities. In 1969 a regional authority was put in place to plan and provide services for these municipalities. As of 1 January 2001, a single authority made up of a mayor, elected at large, and 21 councillors, elected by ward administers the new city on a council-committee basis.

At the provincial and national political level, since 1841 Ottawa's Irish-French Catholic communities have mainly voted reform or Liberal, and the Anglo-Protestant communities Conservative. An NDP presence and shifting social patterns have recently altered this tendency, especially in the suburban areas that contain much of the population.

A complex school system is overseen by the public Ottawa-Carleton District School Board and the Ottawa-Carleton Catholic School Board, as well as 2 French boards, one public, the other Roman Catholic. Large French-immersion programs, launched in about 1970 under the influence of the federal government's bilingual thrust, continue to operate in the English boards.

Amalgamations in education and municipal government have also occurred in medicine, with a single Ottawa Hospital now in place, consisting of a number of "campuses" in various parts of the new city under a single administration.

Cultural Life

Both area universities are geographically central: CARLETON UNIVERSITY is located just outside the downtown core and the bilingual UNIVERSITY OF OTTAWA is within it. St. Paul's University, run by the Oblate Order, is affiliated with the University of Ottawa. Through Algonquin College and its French counterpart, La Cité Collégiale, Ottawa is also the centre of the region's community college system.

Much of the city's cultural life and most of its facilities are dominated by the federal government. Almost all federal cultural agencies have showcases in Ottawa, including the NATIONAL MUSEUMS, the NATIONAL GALLERY, the NATIONAL ARCHIVES and the NATIONAL LIBRARY. The NATIONAL ARTS CENTRE supports only its orchestra on site, but is the venue for travelling companies.

A complex and growing local scene has emerged in recent years and is considerably expanded with the inauguration of the new city. Ottawa now owns and operates 3 museums - Billings Estate, Gloucester and Pinhey's Point - and a fourth, Cumberland, is operated under contract. In addition, it financially supports 4 others - Bytown, Goulbourn, Osgoode and Nepean - as well as the Diefenbunker in Carp, and has recently acquired a second heritage estate, Fairfield House. It also operates one of the country's largest local archives, the Ottawa City Archives.

On the arts front, new Ottawa sports 2 purpose-built theatres, Nepean's Centre Pointe Theatre and the Cumberland Town Hall Theatre. These are major additions to the only space owned by the old city, a small "black box" in downtown Arts Court, a multi-purpose facility converted from the old County Court House. Arts Court also contains the Ottawa Art Gallery and is home to numerous arts groups, including Canada's pre-eminent contemporary dance group, Le Groupe Dance Lab (see LE GROUP DE LA PLACE ROYALE).

In addition to the Ottawa Art Gallery, the new city has galleries in Nepean and Kanata, and the Karsh-Masson Gallery at old Ottawa City Hall. It also inherits the 1200-item collection of old Ottawa City as well as the 400-item collection of the old region. With art from other municipalities, a civic collection of some 2000 items will be created. These galleries are complemented by the small, prestigious gallery at Carleton University.

The new city also supports the Great Canadian Theatre Company, a professional company and facility; Ron Maslin Playhouse, home to Kanata Theatre; and La Nouvelle Scene, home to 4 resident French theatre companies. Ottawa's oldest facility and company, Ottawa Little Theatre, continues a lively program without civic aid.

Opera Lyra, operating from Arts Court, is the city's professional opera organization, usually using the National Arts Centre; and Orpheus, its musical theatre organization, operates out of Centre Pointe. The Ottawa Symphony Orchestra complements the smaller National Arts Centre Orchestra, both of which operate out of the national facility. But the city also contains numerous other groups, both instrumental, like the Thirteen Strings, and choral, like the Ottawa Choral Society. They are complemented by a concert hall and extensive music program at the University of Ottawa.

Music also reaches large audiences through locally produced music festivals, including the Chamber Music Festival, the largest in North America, and those featuring blues, jazz and folk music, as well as music that is annually part of Le Festival Franco-Ontarien. A lively club music scene also thrives in the city, with a range of styles.

Ottawa is the site for the biennial Canada Dance Festival and the Ottawa International Animation Festival, the second largest of its kind in the world. Other annual local festivals include the Children's Festival, as well as the Tulip Festival and Winterlude, under the auspices of the NCC. In 2001 Ottawa and Hull sponsored the Francophone Games, an international event featuring both athletics and culture.

In literature, well-known writers include John METCALF, Charlotte Gray, Giller Prize nominees Elizabeth Hay and Alan Cumyn and Governor-General's Prize nominee Brian McKillop. The city is also home to Canada's national poetry magazine, Arc, and a number of independent publishing houses, the largest being Oberon Press, and 2 presses in French.

A long-time tradition of filmmaking in Ottawa through Crawley Films (1939-89) and the NATIONAL FILM BOARD OF CANADA (1939-56) has recently been coupled with current communications innovations to produce a lively film, video and animation scene. Several hundred film and video artists work in the city, most in one or both of the Independent Film Makers Co-operatives of Ottawa or the SAW Video Co-operative. In addition, there are some 100 commercial film and video companies producing a variety of products, including documentaries, often for the proliferating cable channels, and feature films for a similar market as well as direct-release video. A number of small animation companies operate in the city, developing, among other things, material for the Internet.

Ottawa is home to the National Hockey League OTTAWA SENATORS, the Triple-A Ottawa Lynx baseball team, as well as the Ottawa '67s, a Junior-A hockey team. The Ottawa Senators operate out of the newly built Corel Centre, in Kanata, in the western part of the new city. In 1996 the OTTAWA ROUGH RIDERS football club ceased operations. Neither the current owners nor the Canadian Football League was prepared to support the team in the 1997 season, and new owners could not be found.