Why Visit Ottawa-Gatineau?
This is the nation’s capital, home to not just the Parliament Buildings, Rideau Hall, and 24 Sussex, but most of the national museums. Once the center of the once-booming lumber trade, it is now considered Silicon Valley North, with a specialization in telecommunications. The Ottawa River which extends over 1000 km to the north, and the smaller Rideau and the Gatineau rivers connect to nearby recreation areas. The city is surrounded with and bisected by pretty Greenbelt parklands, and the Rideau Canal. Importantly, the region sits astride two provinces, letting locals pick & choose the laws regarding drinking hours & age, civic holidays, and shopping. As should visitors!
Ottawa is located where the Ottawa River is joined by the Rideau River on one side and the Gatineau River on the other. The city was a portage spot for the early fur traders because of two major rapids. Called Bytown in its early days, it was one endpoint of the Rideau Canal, built in 1846 to bypass the St Lawrence Seaway. In 1867, the city was made the capital of the new country of Canada. While the city has long been a centre for government, decentraliztion in the 1970s moved several departments away from the city. Ottawa has since grown into “Silicon Valley North” with 500 well-known technology companies including Corel, Newbridge, Mitel
In 1994, Ottawa was ranked the best city in Canada by Chatelaine magazine in terms of crime rates, air quality, job prospects and green space. Ottawa was also ranked sixth in the world by the Corporate Resources Group. Ottawa is enclosed by a 42,240 acre greenbelt of protected farmland, wetlands. The Rideau Canal meanders through the city and the Gatineau Hills and Park, which offer outstanding recreational opportunities and breathtaking views, are located only 10 minutes from the downtown core.
The capital region has 29 museums, including 12 museums exhibiting national treasures, and hosts over 60 festivals, including the internationally recognized Winterlude and Canadian Tulip Festival. In the wintertime, the Rideau Canal becomes the worlds longest skating rink.
Early and Colonial Era
The earliest recorded Indian habitation of the area is traced back over 1000 years. The Algonquins that lived in this area called the river Kichesippi “the Great River”, and called themselves Kichisippirini, the people of the Great River. The Algonquins mastered travel on the river highways using birch bark canoes.
French explorers came to the area in the early 1600s, following the lead of Etienne Brule who came up the Ottawa. He was accompanied by Jesuit missionaries who began attempting to convert the natives to Christianity. In 1613, Samuel de Champlain, the French commander of New France, himself visited the area for the purpose of trading for furs, and on June 4th 1613, he named one tributary on the southwest bank for the French word for curtain, “Rideau.”
Following the War of 1812 with the United States, Britain realized it needed a trade route into the Interior of Canada that did not pass alongside the American border on the St Lawrence. It built a 200 kilometre Rideau Canal from Kingston between 1826 and 1832. The canal was fortified, particularly at Kingston, and enabled ship traffic to come up from Lake Ontario and then navigate down the Ottawa River to Montreal and the Atlantic. The town was named Bytown, for Colonel John By, the canal’s chief builder. The main Bytown streets of Wellington and Rideau were built at that time, to the width of 30 metres, about 50 per cent wider than most roads at the time. Over the next 30 years, Both Bytown and Wrightstown thrived on a forestry industry, as the valleys were cleared of trees (and converted to farming).
In 1857, Queen Victoria was asked to choose a new capital for its growing Canadian colonies, and was originally given a choice between Toronto, Montreal, Quebec City or Kingston. In 1867, Ottawa had a population of 18,000 and covered 760 hectares, There were few stone buildings other than the Parliament Buildings, and the riverbanks and canals were lined with sawmills paper mills and factories.
The Second World War led to a massive growth in the civil service, as the government took control of the economy in this first “total war,” that made C.D. Howe the “minister of everything” under prime minister Mackenzie King. Many temporary buildings were built around the city (many were still standing into the early 1980s). During the war, Ottawa provided a residence to the Dutch royal family (they lived at Rideau Hall), and just before the birth of the royal heir, an act of Parliament declaring the Civic hospital to be (temporarily) Dutch territory. In 1945, and area of 2,330 square kilometres on both sides of the river designated the “National Capital District.” The Dutch Royal family began a tradition by donating 100,000 tulip bulbs to beautify the city’s pathways and parks.
In 1969, a new regional government of Ottawa-Carleton was set up to govern to Ontario lands of the National Capital District. In Quebec, the Outauoais region was set up for the same purpose. In the late 1980’s there were a number of government restructuring studies, reviewing the over 10 municipal level governments in the region. The new Mike Harris government in Ontario, forced all the municipalities to amalgamate into one single City of Ottawa municipality, which became effective with the municipal elections in 2000.
Whether it’s a visit to a park, an art gallery or the area’s history, Ottawa offers its visitors and residents lots to do every day of the
Highway & Cyclist Notes
Because the #417 Trans-Canada Highway through Ottawa is a “400” series limited access highway, bicycles are not allowed, from the Quebec border west past Carp. Fortunately, the old Highway 17 (take the Grenville-Hawkesbury bridge into Ontario) meanders along the Ottawa River through rural farming country Ottawa’s eastern suburbs. In Orleans, head a bit south of the highway to St Joseph Boulevard in Orleans, which becomes Montreal Road in Ottawa and takes you right downtown. Ottawa has many scenic bike routes adjacent to riverside parkways taking you right past the Rideau Canal and the Parliament Buildings. After following the western Ottawa River Parkway, continue west along Carling Avenue to follow lighter-trafficked routes to where the #17 highway is accessible again. If you are coming from the west, at Arnprior, head toward the Ottawa River to follow Highway 9 & 49 into Kanata, and from there head east on Carling Avenue to the Ottawa River Parkway.