"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
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
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:Compact and Varied Downtown
- Cons:Vary Rarely Thaaat Cold!!
- In a nutshell:Who said, "Canada can be cold and inhospitable"??
To visit the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau from Ottawa you can take the OCTranspo bus #8 which will... more travel advice
As a visitor it's very unlikely that you'll have brought your own skates but there are several places on the canal (and... more travel advice
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