World Facts Index > Canada > OttawaThe city of Ottawa is situated at the confluence of two rivers, the Ottawa and the Rideau. Its geographic location has shaped the city from its earliest days.
Founded as logging towns, Ottawa (originally known and Bytown), and its twin city, Hull (originally known as Wrightstown), were once among the roughest towns in the New World. In the early 1800s, most of the population was concentrated in Wrightstown, on the other side of the Ottawa River. In 1826, Colonel John By arrived on the scene with orders to link the Ottawa River with Lake Ontario. The result was the Rideau Canal and a new village called Bytown, which, thanks to the canal, soon became a bustling boom town.
In 1855, Bytown was officially renamed Ottawa. Five years later Queen Victoria selected the city as the capital of the newly-founded Dominion of Canada.
With a population of about 750,000 Ottawa is smallish as capital cities go. The Ottawa International Airport is located in the south end of the city about a 20-minute drive from downtown. Visitors traveling by car arrive via Highway 416 from the south or Highway 417 from the east. Both highways join up with the Queensway, Ottawa's major east-west artery. Downtown access can be had by taking either the Nicholas, Metcalfe or Bronson exits northbound. Train and bus stations are downtown.
Once downtown the street layout is pretty basic, with all major streets running either north-south or east-west.
The most famous of these events is mid-May's Canadian Tulip Festival, the largest of its kind in the world. The festival's origins lie in a gift of 100,000 tulip bulbs, presented to Ottawa in 1945 by a grateful Holland. Canada had given the Dutch royal family refuge during the war and, in 1944, a floor of an Ottawa hospital was declared part of Holland so that a princess of the exiled royal family could be born on Dutch territory. Today, millions of tulip bulbs are planted each fall in flower beds throughout the city. The result is a cacophony of color that has to be witnessed to be believed.
Another famous event is February's Winterlude, one of the largest winter festivals in North America, featuring the world's longest skating rink, the Rideau Canal.
In between these festivals are spectacular displays of fall foliage at nearby Gatineau Park, a winter of downhill and cross-country skiing at numerous surrounding slopes, and a summer of sightseeing, relaxing in sidewalk cafes, and strolling, rollerblading or bicycling along miles of pubic pathways.
Parliament Hill has three parts. The Centre Block contains the House of Commons and the Senate chamber as well as the Peace Tower, while the East Block and the West Block are occupied by members of the two houses. Guided tours of the Centre Block, which take in both houses of parliament as well as the parliamentary library, are held every 20 minutes in both French and English. During the summer months visitors to Parliament Hill can also take in the Changing of the Guard Ceremony every morning at 10am.
One block south of the parliament buildings is the Sparks Street pedestrian mall. During lunch hour the mall is filled with public servants who pour out of the many surrounding government buildings. Walk east along Sparks Street (that's left if you're facing Parliament Hill) and you come to Confederation Square, containing the National War Memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Running south of the square is trendy Elgin Street, with its many restaurants and busy nightclubs.
East of Confederation Square is the National Arts Centre, home to the NAC Orchestra and a variety of theatre productions and live performances. To the northwest is the landmark Chateau Laurier Hotel, built in 1912. Behind the hotel is Major's Hill Park, the oldest park in Ottawa. One block east of the hotel is the Rideau Shopping Centre, with over 200 stores, restaurants and services.
North of the Rideau Centre is the Byward Market. The Market has been a Mecca for visiting tourists for decades. Containing dozens of excellent restaurants and specialty shops, one can spend hours touring the area. Along with Elgin Street, the Market is also the place to go to experience Ottawa's night life.
Just east of the Chateau Laurier and running north along the west side of the Byward Market is Sussex Drive, home to several must-see attractions including the National Gallery, the Canadian War Museum, the Royal Canadian Mint, the Prime Minister's residence and Rideau Hall, home of the Governor General.
Behind the National Gallery one can find Nepean Point, with a statue of Ottawa's first tourist, Samuel de Champlain, at its summit. Across the Ottawa River and over the Alexandria Bridge in Hull is the Museum of Civilization, containing a state-of-the-art Imax theatre and Canadian Children's Museum.
Somerset Heights and Little Italy
A short walk west of Somerset Heights along Somerset Street is Little Italy, which runs south along Preston Avenue. Be sure to walk down to the Prescott Hotel and enjoy a cold draft beer in one of Ottawa's oldest drinking establishments.
At the southern end of Preston Street one can access the Queen Elizabeth Driveway which runs along Dow's Lake and the Rideau Canal.
One of the more beautiful homes in Rockliffe Park is the Apostolic Nunciature, or office of the Papal Nuncio, at 722 and 724 Manor Avenue. The mansion, which can be seen through a curved archway, is also known as Manor House. Other homes of interest are the residences of the US and Russian ambassadors, located next to each other on Lisgar Road, and Stornaway, the home of the leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition in the House of Commons, on Acacia Avenue.
History of OttawaIf Samuel de Champlain were to return to modern-day Ottawa, he would likely shake his head in wonderment at what has transpired in the years since his last visit some four centuries ago. In 1613, he was the first European to tour the area, which had long served as hunting grounds for the Outaouais tribe of Algonquin Indians. Champlain took the time to christen the Chaudière Falls (French for "cauldron") and observe Indian sacrifices of tobacco before venturing deeper into the continent.
In the two following centuries the region served as little more than a camping stop along the Ottawa River, which was named by the French fur traders who followed Champlain's lead. In 1800, a United Empire Loyalist (a supporter of Great Britain in the Revolutionary War) named Philemon Wright left Massachusetts, snowshoed down the Ottawa River, and found a likely spot to found a permanent settlement. Originally called Wrightstown, the tiny community was later renamed Hull in honour of the English birthplace of Wright's parents. Wrightsville grew in the early 19th century as British demand for wood exploded. The Napoleonic Wars, and Britain's lumber-hungry shipyards, made the Ottawa region's thick pine forests a valuable commodity; Wright cleared the forests and floated timber down the Ottawa River to Montreal.
In 1826, construction began on the Rideau Canal. Lieutenant-Colonel John By and his workforce of French, Irish, and Scottish workers completed the 202-kilometre, 47-lock canal in 1832. It was originally designed to keep military marine traffic safe from American invasion of the St. Lawrence River. As a defence project the canal was useful in theory only; shortly after its completion it proved much more valuable for industrial purposes. The canal shifted development to the south side of the river where Ottawa (originally known as Bytown, after the canal's builder)now stands.
An influx of European immigrants flocked to the region, and Wrightsville and Bytown quickly earned their legendary reputations as beery, brawling logging towns. A group of American lumber barons descended upon the area in the 1840s, expanding the squared-timber trade and establishing the two communities as their centre of operations in the Ottawa River Valley. In 1850, the Chaudière Falls were harnessed, providing the power for the largest concentration of milling operations in the world.
Construction on the neo-gothic Parliament Buildings began in 1860, and in 1867 they became home to the federal government of the Dominion of Canada, which initially comprised Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario. The "Westminster in the Wilderness" was a bizarre study in contrasts: the stately centre block of Parliament Hill towered over the haphazardly-planned bustle of industrial Ottawa, and the circular, flying-buttressed Library of Parliament overlooked an Ottawa River that was often tightly packed with floating lumber. Rideau Hall, the palatial residence of the Queen's representative in Canada, was also completed in 1867, in nearby Rockliffe. All of Canada's Governors General have lived there since its construction, including one Lord Stanley of Preston, who, in 1892, donated the silver cup that bears his name. (It was the National Hockey League Ottawa Senators who masterminded the first professional Stanley Cup dynasty, winning four Cups between 1920 and 1927.)
A more presentable city
In 1936, Prime Minister Mackenzie King, who ran the country for 22 years, became acquainted with the renowned French civil architect Jacques Gréber. Gréber provided the blueprint for the broad park corridors and 44.8-kilometre greenbelt, which give Ottawa its distinctively bucolic and open feel. Mackenzie King lived at Laurier House until 1949, and there visitors can see the portrait of his mother and the crystal ball from which he sought advice during the darkest days of Canada's involvement in the Second World War.
The gloom of the Second World War briefly lifted in Ottawa when the heirs to the Dutch throne, then riding out the war at Rideau Hall, found themselves in a quandary with the imminent birth of a new princess. In 1943, Parliament temporarily ceded a floor of the Ottawa Civic Hospital to the Netherlands so that Princess Margriet could be born a Dutch citizen on Dutch soil. This gesture, as well as Canada's leading role in the liberation of the Netherlands, led to a lasting bond between the two countries--one that has been symbolized every year since 1945 with the shipment of millions of Dutch tulips to Ottawa. The Ottawa Tulip Festival, held every May, is one of the region's most popular attractions.
In addition to the prime ministerial residence at 24 Sussex Drive, which has been in use since the 1950s, another official residence bears mention--the nuclear bomb-proof Diefenbunker in nearby Carp, Ontario, which was built in the early 1960s and is now open to the public. Constructed in total secrecy some 30 metres beneath a dairy farm (with the grudging permission of Prime Minister John Diefenbaker), the 100,000 square-foot complex was designed to enable the federal government to run the country in the event of an atomic attack.
A less sombre aspect of all things military also made its first appearance in the early 1960s: every day in the months of July and August the guardsmen and band members of the Ceremonial Guard have mount their changing of the guard ceremony on Parliament Hill.
The metropolitan population of Ottawa-Hull has grown to more than 1 million, and with its booming tourism industry the capital continues to round itself with such recent additions as the National Gallery of Canada and the Canadian Museum of Civilization. The mid-1990s also saw Ottawa reinventing itself as the "Silicon Valley of the North," with a profusion of high-tech companies establishing themselves in the city's western suburbs.
Despite its somewhat sterile reputation among Canadians as a quiet, family-oriented city, Ottawa is both a bustling metropolis and a magnet for tourists from all over the world.
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