"Definitely A Tale Of Two Cities!!" Top 5 Page for this destination Ottawa by johngayton

Ottawa Travel Guide: 1,831 reviews and 4,556 photos

Or Even A Tale Of Two Men!

A mere 200 years ago Ottawa didn't even exist as a placename, far less as a city, with the only settlement in the area being Wrightsville (which became Hull and is now Gatineau) on the northern bank of the river. The river itself was originally simply known as "The Big River" which seems to be a reasonably direct translation from the Algonquin "Kichisipi" but towards 1800 the name "Riviere des Outaouais" entered common usage being the French name for the local native people of the Odowas.

By 1800 the river was generally known as the River Ottawa and formed the border between the provinces of Quebec and Ontario (or upper and lower Canada as they then were). In 1800 an American named Philemon Wright established a farming community on the northern bank of the river where the rapids required that any passing river trade had to be portered overland and the community then developed into a relatively substantial township as Wright began to exploit the local white pine for lumber.

Following the war between the US and Britain in 1812, which saw substantial fighting on the Canada/US borders, the British decided that a means for logistical supply from inland Canada to Lake Ontario would be a useful defense against further US incursion. Thus the idea of building a canal to link the Ottawa River and the British fort at Kingston was formed since the then supply route to it was via the St Lawrence River which exposed the supply vessels to American attack.

The British military engineer, Lieutenant Colonel John By, was assigned the task and after consulting various people, including Philemon Wright, it was decided that the obvious place on the south bank of the Ottawa River for the start point of the canal would be the Rideau River opposite Wrightsville.

Work on the canal began in 1826 and a barracks and hospital were built on what is now Parliament Hill and a somewhat rough and ready community grew in the area which became known as Bytown and was formally incorporated as a town in 1847.

In 1855 Bytown was granted city status and the named changed to Ottawa, though still very much a frontier town based around the lumber trade.

Against a background of French/British political unrest at this time Queen Victoria was asked to determine the capital city of Canada and diplomatically chose Ottawa in 1857 for its relatively neutral position on the Quebec-Ontario border and also being at a strategic distance from the US border.

Thus John By's town became Ottawa the national capital whilst Philemon Wright's town later became The City of Hull and then Gatineau with the whole becoming The National Capital Region in 1969 - yet another bit of political diplomacy!!


Now that Ottawa was officially Canada's capital it was then a matter of actually making it so: hence it was time to build some infrastructure - well at least of the bureaucratic nature which involved building offices for the government officers. Yep, just like a city ain't a city without a Starbucks, neither is a nation without a Parliament and ideally based on the British "role model" (as opposed to the French!)

Mind you there's really not a lot in it when you compare the French and the British ideal of what a seat of government should look like except perhaps that the French do it with a tad more flair, but you'll have to go to my Hull or Gatineau pages for that!!

The Parliament buildings here in Ottawa were obviously designed to emulate the British Houses of Parliament but not taking into account the possibility of the "Guy Fawkes" factor being timber framed. The original buildings were constructed relatively slowly between 1859 and 66 and finally completed after the final decision to really locate Ottawa as Canada's capital after the 1867 Dominion act.

In 1916 the lack of foresight regarding the potential "Guy Fawkes Factor" resulted in the buildings catching fire, not that it was any anti-government feeling involved but merely an unextinguished stoogie in a wastepaper basket - but whereby our Guy Fawkes failed so miserably, the Canadian Stoogie suceeded spectacularly, pretty much raising the buildings to the ground.

The "modern" parliament buildings were reconstructed based on the same design but with a little more attention to the fact that wood is a bit too combustible for anything intended as a permanent structure!

For a bit more history try this link Bytown History

Ottawa, Gatineau and The National Capital Region

The pic here is of the original Parliament's west wing which was designed to house the bureaucracy required for the fledgling dominion and with room for 350 civil servants was thought to be a little on the large side for the bureaucratic needs of the nation AT THE TIME!!

Of course bureaucracy breeds bureaucracies and so in more recent times Ottawa has left behind its Bytown/Wrightsville lumber roots, with their respective 1,000 -ish populations one hundred and fifty odd years ago, to grow to the present day population approaching 1 million of whom civil servants number about 200,000 in the Ottawa/Gatineau Region alone!!

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Compact and Varied Downtown
  • Cons:Vary Rarely Thaaat Cold!!
  • In a nutshell:Who said, "Canada can be cold and inhospitable"??
  • Last visit to Ottawa: Jan 2009
  • Intro Updated May 9, 2016
  • Add to Trip Planner (?)
  • Report Abuse

Reviews (62)

Comments (13)

  • kenHuocj's Profile Photo
    Aug 24, 2013 at 4:05 AM

    one is never too old to learn about one's own City from others ;-)))

    • johngayton's Profile Photo
      Aug 24, 2013 at 11:11 AM

      Oh yes - even here on my Island there's always something new that someone else brings to my attention. Welcome to my "fiends" list!

  • Regina1965's Profile Photo
    Aug 21, 2012 at 11:15 AM

    Very good tips, John. I am in Ottawa right now for 5 weeks and will go to the museums in the afternoon on Thursday for free entrance. I did not know about that. And Kowloon Market is where I do my shopping as I am living very close to China town.

  • Jim_Eliason's Profile Photo
    Sep 26, 2010 at 8:22 PM

    Nice tips John!

  • marielexoteria's Profile Photo
    Oct 16, 2009 at 5:38 AM

    I enjoyed visiting Ottawa very much :) and I look forward to seeing some of the places you wrote about.

  • BruceDunning's Profile Photo
    Aug 6, 2009 at 1:34 PM

    Your detail description and history on the overview page was fascinating and informative as well as the pictures and comments of to do. Great job.

  • Bavavia's Profile Photo
    May 16, 2009 at 6:53 AM

    looks like pretty yummy freebies there !

  • May 11, 2009 at 12:44 PM

    The Byward Cafe is now a formal sighseeing spot - that is, following Barak Obama's visit to the capital when he popped in there unannounced to get "Canadian cookies" (maple leaf-shaped) for his daughters. Cheers, Marina ;-)

  • pieter_jan_v's Profile Photo
    Dec 23, 2008 at 12:27 AM

    I see you're having a great time at Ottawa! PJ

  • toonsarah's Profile Photo
    Dec 12, 2008 at 11:32 AM

    Great page John, though it looks a little too cold for my liking! I was very interested by the "Women are Persons" story and I loved your restaurant tips (Domus Cafe sounds particularly special)

  • Greggor58's Profile Photo
    Oct 10, 2008 at 3:58 PM

    Heh John....what a GREAT Ottawa page you've put together here....Marina said it well...Summer here is such a different scene altogether...you really should check it out here sometime when there's NOT ten feet of snow on the ground!

johngayton Visits Here Frequently!


“The slow lane often gets you there faster”

Online Now


Top 1,000 Travel Writer
Member Rank:
0 0 0 6 0
Forum Rank:
0 0 0 1 7

Badges & Stats in Ottawa

  • 62 Reviews
  • 125 Photos
  • 15 Forum posts
  • 7,796PageViews

Have you been to Ottawa?

  Share Your Travels  

Travel Interests

See All Travel Interests (6)