Ottawa Ontario – a complete travel guide

The beautiful nations capital at the crossroads of two founding nations


The beautiful city of Ottawa Ontario is the second largest city in the province and the fourth largest in Canada with over 1.2 million inhabitants.

The Capital City of Canada is located on the south bank of the Ottawa River, the natural boundary between the historic provinces of Upper and Lower Canada (now Ontario and Quebec).

Great to visit at all times of the year its picturesque setting makes it a favorite among visitors and tourists alike…

Originally the area was settled by natives but in the early 1800’s a small lumber dominated town sprung up and during the construction of the Rideau Canal under the supervision of Lieutenant-Colonel John By, a townsite was laid out that soon became known as Bytown. Bytown was renamed Ottawa in 1855 when it was incorporated as a city. The name is derived from an aboriginal word meaning “to trade”.

The west side of the canal, with its higher elevation, became known as “Uppertown” where the Parliament buildings are located, while the east side of the canal, between the canal and the Rideau River, which is the oldest part of the city and includes what remains of Bytown, was known as the “Lowertown”.

Ottawa  becomes the nations capital

Queen Victoria was asked to choose a new capital for the Province of Canada (modern day Ontario and Quebec) and on December 31, 1857 she made a controversial decision and chose Ottawa, at that time a somewhat unruly logging town in the hinterland with a small population of around 10,000.

The Queen picked Ottawa for several important reasons:

    • it was the only settlement of any size located right on the border of Canada East and Canada West (today Quebec and Ontario), making it a compromise between the two colonies and their French and English populations.
    • the War of 1812 had shown that the major Canadian cities which were all located very close to the border were vulnerable to an American attack, while Ottawa was then surrounded by dense forest far from the border making it more defensible.
    • the government owned a large parcel of land on a spectacular spot overlooking the Ottawa River.
    • Ottawa was at a point nearly exactly midway between Toronto and Quebec City (500 kilometres (310 mi)).
    • The small size of the town made it less likely that politically motivated mobs could go on a rampage and destroy government buildings, as had happened in the previous Canadian capitals.
  • Ottawa would soon have railway connections to Toronto and Montreal and thus access to other connecting rail lines in Canada and the United States in the very near future.

In 1866 the legislature was finally moved to Ottawa after a few years of alternating between Toronto and Quebec City, and it has been the Capital City of the country ever since.


Location of Ottawa Ontario


How to get to Ottawa:

Getting around is easier to do than in most large cities no matter whether you are traveling by public transit or car. Public transit is run by the Ottawa Transit Commission, find out more information as to routes, schedules and fees at their official site: OC Transpo. The site also contains information on the “O-Train”, a short commuter light rail system that connects the southern suburbs with downtown.

For those arriving by car the Trans – Canada Highway (Highway 417) runs right through the city. The main routes to the city are:

  • From Toronto: Take Highway 401 East to Highway 416 North to Highway 417 heading East
  • From Montreal: Take Autoroute 40 West which turns into Highway 417 at the provincial border
  • From Northern Ontario: Take Highway 17 South which turns into Highway 417

Ottawa Ontario Attractions

Rideau Canal

This Canadian National Historic Site that has also been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site begins right in the heart of Ottawa under the shadows of the Parliament buildings. Get all the information about this beautiful must see atraction on my Rideau Canal page.

ByWard Market

The oldest part of the city is still its entertainment centre and a must-see destination that should not be missed. Whether eating, shopping or clubbing the Byward Market area has it all. For more information visit my ByWard Market page.

Bytown Museum

The small but historically important Bytown Museum is Ottawa’s oldest stone building and sits at the head of the Rideau Canal, one of the most pictureque locations in the entire province. Most visitors to the city head down to the canal so while in the area it is definitely worthy of a short visit. For more information visit my Bytown Museum page.


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