What is the capital city of Canada? Well, it’s not as simple as pointing out the biggest city in the country and naming it the capital. If you have some geographical knowledge, you will know that Ottawa is the capital.
Why is that, however? After all, Toronto is much larger, Montreal is a European-linked city, Vancouver has a very strategic port and Quebec City is located in the centre of Canada.
Let’s take a brief look at the history of Canada as a colony in order to understand why Ottawa is the capital of Canada.
Canada is relatively new on a national perspective compared to other former European colonies and has a unique history to go alongside that.
The first Europeans to enter Canada were not French or British explorers, but Icelandic Vikings, who settled about 1,000 years ago on the northwestern coast of Newfoundland. John Cabot, an Italian explorer who was the first to map Canada’s east coast, was the next person to visit.
In the mid-1500s, when Jacques Cartier took over the country for France and his King, Francis I, the colonialism began. It was in the 1550s that the land became known as the Anglicized Canada – after the Iroquoian word Kanata, or “village.”
For over a hundred years, Canada remained under French control when King Charles II of England gave the Hudson Bay Company of England exclusive trade rights. Trade development was coupled with the growth of established English colonies in the province and the English colonies were a lot larger and more productive than Canada’s French areas.
By the 1700s, Britain was eager to get as much control as possible of North America and their armies conquered France in 1759 in the Battle of the Plains of Abraham near the capital Quebec City.
Since then, Canada was called the “Province of Quebec” by a British colony, hence the British dominating shipping.
The takeover of the British would play a significant role not only in managing ties between Canadians who speak French and English but also in determining the capital against a former British colony to the south — the USA.
City of Ottawa
In 1857, a few towns claimed the city capital status. It had close competition as each had something to offer as the seat of government.
In the end, Queen Victoria chose Ottawa as the national capital of Canada, but why did she choose Ottawa? Ottawa was a good choice since it was in the centre of two other major contenders: Montreal (mainly French) and York (now Toronto, which is mainly British).
These two towns were the largest in Ontario and Quebec in the mid-19th century, in the middle of Canada. Picking Ottawa was a good compromise, as the Queen didn’t seem to favour one major city over the other.
However, unlike Toronto and Quebec, Ottawa was centrally located and also a safe distance from the U.S. southern neighbours of Canada, which meant that the city would be secure if the United States decided to attack again.
After all, as a result of their resentment of British interference in shipping, it had only been 40 years since the war in 1812 when American troops invaded. Although America was unable to conquer Canada, the British government’s occupation was disastrous and the crown was not about to let it happen again.
Research continued on the development work and Ottawa was the first city to have all-electric street lights in 1885. Redesign efforts created the parkway and several highway systems during the 1950s and consolidated the location of multiple government offices and parliament buildings.
This was accompanied by a construction wave that continued until the 1980s, preceded by a technology industry boom. In 2001, all the surrounding provinces and territories were merged into one city.
Things to do in Ottawa
Ottawa is home to most national museums in Canada, a delicious culinary scene, and fun activities and it’s a breeze to get around with most attractions being within a 20-minute walk of most hotels in the downtown area.
Here are some of the places you should visit in Ottawa that you can’t miss:
Parliament Hill, Canada’s most iconic site, is situated on a scenic hill overlooking the Ottawa River. Admire the three federal government buildings of neo-Gothic style (East Block, West Block and Centre Block) constructed between 1859 and 1927. Special free events including yoga, the Changing of the Guard ceremonies and interactive displays, are held on the grounds year-round.
While the Centre Block’s interior undergoes a decade-long rehabilitation, you can take free guided tours of two sites temporarily housing Parliamentary Chambers: The House of Commons in the renovated West Block and The Senate in the Senate of Canada Building, just one block away (a Beaux-Arts-style structure which was originally Ottawa’s train station built in 1912).
One of the most visited locations in the region is the magnificent Ottawa River and is one of the best places to catch amazing sunset views throughout the year. Cross the bridges connecting Ottawa, Ontario and Gatineau, Quebec via foot, cycling and by car. Explore the multipurpose paths that run along each bank, leading to beautiful sites, such as city beaches and balanced rock sculptures. Or ride the Aqua-Taxi which is electric, as well as sightseeing cruises from the water for stellar views.
The Ottawa River is a water-related mecca. Experience exciting whitewater activities like an urban rafting excursion or head for some of the finest whitewater rafting in the country, like Class V rapids, just over an hour drive west of downtown Ottawa. Whitewater kayaking in the city and in the countryside is also available. Do some paddleboarding in the shadow of Parliament Hill, the Rideau Falls and the Ottawa Locks for flatwater pleasure!
Every season offers various ways to experience the magnificent Rideau Canal, the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in Ontario. Walk or cycle along the beautiful shores of the canal in warmer months or enjoy a soothing cruise on its waterways. You can also take a kayak, canoe, stand up paddleboard (SUP) or paddleboat to navigate the river on your own.
The frozen waterway becomes the world’s largest skating rink, the Rideau Canal Skateway, during the winter months, which is around December to February. This exclusive skate experience is available day and night (weather permitting) and extends through downtown Ottawa for 7.8 kilometres (4.8 miles).
Ottawa is home to seven of nine national museums, offers unprecedented access to the treasures of the world, some of which are thousands of years old. You can find the largest indoor totem poles in the world, stunning indigenous and Canadian art, prehistoric dinosaur fossils, Canadian military legends and aviation artefacts.
Byward Market Neighbourhood
The ByWard Market is one of Canada’s oldest and largest farmer markets and it is also surrounded by the name of the historic and eclectic neighbourhood. The four square blocks include fresh food, maple syrup and crafts and exclusive foods, bars, bistros, coffee shops and restaurants.
Visit Ottawa Today
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