A Complete Guide to the Capital of Canada
Author: Yan Desjardins, Founder and Executive Director
Canada is a land of opportunity, friendly people, and home to some of the most beautiful natural landscapes North America offers. But did you ever wonder what city is the capital of Canada? Perhaps you thought it was Toronto? Or Maybe Vancouver? In fact, the capital of Canada is the city of Ottawa, located in the province of Ontario.
Many people make this mistake when asked, “what is the capital of Canada?” But why is that? Ottawa is not one of the most well-known Canadian cities, but it does not mean it should be ignored! On the contrary, Ottawa is a beautiful city filled with history, culture, festivals and offers an excellent quality of life. Below you will find our complete guide to the capital of Canada.
Ottawa was founded in 1855, and it was in 1857 that it was designated to be the capital of Canada by Queen Victoria of England since Canada was, at the time, a British colony. The Queen was called upon to settle the ongoing disputes between Québec City, Montréal, Toronto, and Kingston, who all competed to become the capital of Canada. In 1867, when the Dominion of Canada was created, Ottawa officially became the capital of Canada.
Ottawa’s name comes from the first nation tribe called the Algonquins, who called it ‘Adewe,’ which means trade. Ottawa was a strategic trading post for the British colony for trading lumber, furs, and other natural resources. If you have looked at schools to study in Canada, you may have come across Ottawa’s Algonquin College, named in recognition of the capital of Canada’s first nations.
Ottawa is part of the national capital region, more commonly known in Canada as the NCR. It spans over Ontario to Québec on both sides of the Ottawa River, or the ‘Outaouais River’ if you live on the Québec side. You can elect to live in Ottawa, Nepean, Orleans in Ontario, or Gatineau, Aylmer, Chelsea, amongst others. All cities combined, the NCR counts a population of approximately 1.5 million people. However, Ottawa alone is the 4th largest city in Canada, after Toronto, Montréal, and Vancouver, and is a member of the G8 group of cities.
A visit to the capital of Canada will surely please architecture lovers. One of the great benefits of applying for a 10-year Canadian visa is that you can come over and over to discover all of the great French and British architectural legacy that Canada has to offer. Here are 3 of the most notorious architectural wonders of Ottawa.
Parliament Hill is the home of Canada’s Parliament. Built during the mid-1800s, this masterpiece of gothic architecture is composed of 3 main buildings: The Center, West, and East Blocks. The main building is home to the House of Commons, where elected members of Parliament decide on the country’s most important laws and matters. In addition, the Senate ensures that laws passed in the House are reviewed and ready for implementation before being passed.
The Peace Tower was erected to commemorate the fallen soldiers and sacrifices made during the world wars as a way to solidify Canada’s position on peace and humanitarianism. Lastly, the Library of Parliament is situated at the back of the center block, is the only part of Parliament that survived and was undamaged by the great fire that ravaged through the capital of Canada’s Parliament buildings in 1916.
The Château Laurier is another masterpiece of architecture that embellishes the capital of Canada. As such, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Canada’s 7th Prime Minister and first francophone to be elected, was a key founder of the Château, now one of Canada’s most luxurious and renowned hotels. The ‘chateauesque’ architecture was chosen to commemorate the French heritage and complement the gothic architecture of the Parliament buildings. The hotel has been host to some of the highest international dignitaries, such as Queen Elizabeth II, Nelson Mandela, and Winston Churchill.
The cradle of Canadian Justice and lawmaking, the Supreme Court of Canada is the highest Tribunal in the country. Nine appointed judges sit in the main courtroom and decide on the most litigious questions brought to the Court. The federal government and Prime Minister can also turn to the Court for legal questions. The Court’s rulings are final and cannot be appealed. The Court’s architecture is notorious but straightforward. Make sure to book a visit on your journey through the capital of Canada.
Ottawa may have once been known as a dull city, but those days are over! After years of building a cultural scene, Ottawa is a prime city that can compete with any big international city. Ottawa is now known as a prime destination for the arts, culture, and festivals.
Bluesfest started as a small Blues festival but has evolved into a major music festival attraction in Canada. Prominent names of the entertainment industry have played at the Bluesfest: Black Eyed Peas, Pink, Donna Summers, Arcade Fire, and many more have set fire to the LeBreton Flats in Ottawa, where BliesFest is held. So if you are planning a visit to the nation’s capital, make sure to put this festival on your itinerary.
The Ottawa Jazz Festival is smaller than the Montréal International Jazz Festival, but nevertheless, it offers an intimate experience right in the heart of the city. Over the years, many great artists participated in the festival. However, one of the most iconic moments was in 2014 when the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin herself, belted vocal notes that resonated throughout the capital of Canada.
Winterlude is Canada’s largest winter outdoor playground. Over 1.6 million people come every year to celebrate the winter months and enjoy the massive snow-made slides, ice sculptures, skating on the world’s largest ice skating rink – the Rideau Canal – and celebrate the hearty winter Canadian food culture. This is not your typical festival. If you want to experience northern life, pack up your boots and mittens, and make sure to stop for a visit and get a glimpse of Canadian life.
After the cold winter months, people living in the capital of Canada happily welcome the spring season with the Tulip Festival. All of the cities of the National Capital Region turn into an elegant display of colors. Approximately one million tulips are planted each year around the city, making it the largest festival of its kind worldwide. The festival offers excellent views in the city, fun-filled family events, and entertainment that warms the people’s hearts after the long winter months.
The capital of Canada is known for its many national museums. There are 14 national museums to choose from in the capital of Canada. Each one of them offers a unique experience. Here are the top 5 favorites museums in the National Capital Region:
The Museum of History – Gatineau, Québec
A beautiful national monument with genuinely unique architecture. The museum’s design consists of curving forms designed by architect Douglas Cardinal. You can see many permanent exhibitions, including the main one honoring Canada’s first nations. Take a trip back in time and visit the different eras of human history in this larger-than-life museum.
The Canadian Museum of Nature – Ottawa, Ontario
The permanent exhibitions displayed in this national institution will take you back to the era of fossils and dinosaurs that once walked the land of Canada. Discover the world of mammals and birds, or perhaps fall in love with the live insects’ gallery.
This museum is one of the most popular in the capital of Canada.
The National Art Gallery – Ottawa, Ontario
If you’re an art lover, this is the museum for you. Footsteps away from Parliament Hill and niched on the bank of the Ottawa river, the gallery offers permanent exhibitions that showcase great Canadian and international artists. The Gallery is also host to temporary guest collections such as Picasso and Rembrandt.
The Canadian War Museum – Ottawa, Ontario
One of the newest museums in the capital of Canada, it takes visitors back to the time of world wars and commemorates the contribution of Canadians on the international battlefields. Here you can witness the different war machines, aircraft, and stories that forged Canada and ensured that the country remained independent, free, and strong.
The Canada Aviation and Space Museum – Ottawa, Ontario
The ultimate address for aviation lovers! Witness the different aircraft used in Canadian aviation and explore the story of human flight from the early days of aviation to the jet age. Space lovers will not be disappointed with the permanent exhibition either; the museum offers a ‘Life in Orbit international space station’ to experience. Did you know that the long robotic arm, called Canadarm, attached to the International Space Station, was developed by Canada?
This is a non-profit festival that is the biggest Dragon Boat Festival event in North America. It attracts more than 200 competitive teams, 5,000 paddlers, and 75,000 visitors each year. The festival was established to help strengthen the capital of Canada community life by supporting local charitable organizations. To date, the festival has raised more than $4.9 million in support of more than 50 charities.
The Sound of Light festival is recognized as one of the top pyrotechnic competitions in Canada. Each year, countries from around the world come to compete during this event. Located on the Québec side of the capital of Canada, the casino is one of the 3 largest government-operated casinos in the province. Maybe after watching one of the internationally acclaimed performances of the Sound of Lights, you will want to try your luck at one of the many gaming options the casino has to offer.
No festival season would be complete without the ultimate celebration of what it means to be Canadian! People from all over the country fly to the capital of Canada to join the festivities. Each year, on July 1st, Parliament Hill is turned into a gigantic outdoor concert hall where artists from French and English Canada perform all day long. Street performers flock to the capital to entertain the many thousands of guests, with street food and beverages stalls popping up all over the capital city. Canada Day is a great way to sample some of the best Canadian beers and specialty food. Don’t miss out on the massive fireworks show to close off this wonderful day!
Ottawa is filled with great neighborhoods, attractions, and places to meet and greet with the locals. Catch a glimpse of the many great coffee shops, restaurants, and bars and visit the most thrilling tourist attractions the city has to offer. Let’s take a closer look at some of the best locations in the capital of Canada.
Initially established in 1826, the ByWard Market was primarily a trading point in the city and used for farmers to come and sell their products. The market is one of the oldest in North America. It is still to this day a place where residents come to buy fresh, locally sourced produce. The market has evolved tremendously since the 1800s and has gone through many repurposing.
Nowadays, the ByWard Market is the most buzzing neighborhood in the capital of Canada. Not only is it located in the heart of Ottawa, minutes from the downtown core and Parliament Hill, it is also home to some of the city’s most remarkable restaurants, hippest bars, and refined shops of all sorts. No wonder why it is the #1 tourist hotspot in the city. While strolling through the market, you can find all types of unique Canadian products: specialty cheese, maple syrup infused delicatessen, tasty local craft beers, and even ‘BeaverTails’! Don’t worry. It is not what you might think. ‘BeaverTails’ are a typical Canadian sweet fried pastry in the shape of a beavertail.
The ByWard Market is also where residents of the capital of Canada like to live. It is home to some of the most prime real estate in the city. Over the years, the face of the market has seen dramatic changes where high-rise condo towers stand in harmony with the architectural wonders of the 1800s legacy era. So if you are thinking of applying for a Canada tourist visa, make sure to put the market on your itinerary.
The Rideau Canal is one of the pride and joy of the capital of Canada. Not only is it part of the UNESCO World Heritage, but it is a place where local Ottawa residents like to spend time and enjoy the great outdoors. The canal’s original purpose was to connect the capital city to Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence river during the war between the Canadian and American British colonies in the early 1800s. However, Ottawa became vulnerable to land and water attacks during the war and was built to reroute the river traffic away from the battle zones safely.
Nowadays, during the summer, the canal is used by boaters for fun cruising between the Ottawa river and the St. Lawrence river. Boaters can then move from one river to the other using the Rideau Canal Locks – making the canal the oldest continuously operated canal system in North America. Also, the canal is boarded by a cycling path on each side that cyclists and runners love to use to admire the many great city views.
During the winter months, the Rideau Canal turns into the longest outdoor ice skating rink in the world – measuring at 7.8km long to be exact! It is one of the most visited attractions during the Winterlude festival, which we wrote about above. While you are skating down the canal, stop at one of the coffee and BeaverTails shops to warm up and enjoy a bit of a sugar rush to help you conquer the rest of your ice skating journey through the capital of Canada!
Built in the late 1800s, the park was used primarily for Agricultural fairs during the summer. The oldest building was also used as one of the earliest skating rinks in the city and was even the host, in 1904m of a ‘Stanley Cup’ playoff – the highest honor a professional hockey team can win!
Today, Lansdowne Park has been repurposed and redesigned into a hip urban ground that blends modern amenities, courtyards, heritage buildings, and green spaces. During the revitalization, the site became a highly sought-after place to live by residents of the capital of Canada with new and modern real estate developments. The site is filled with restaurants, shops, sports, and recreational facilities that make the neighborhood one of the best places to live in and hang out in Ottawa.
If you want a little rest and recovery, the Nordik Spa is a great place to spend the day in all 4 Canadian seasons. Nested in the hills of Gatineau Park, a short 30 minutes drive from the capital of Canada, the spa is one of the biggest of its kind in North America. It offers a genuinely northern experience at an affordable cost, and it is a prime destination for professionals to rest from their busy lives.
While you are visiting Gatineau Park, make sure to enjoy all of the beautiful nature that it has to offer. Gatineau Park is the second most visited national park in Canada. You can find hundreds of kilometers of hiking trails in the park, the mystical Carbide Willson Ruins. If you have time, stop by for a visit at the Mackenzie-King estate– the former Canadian prime minister’s summer residence that is sure to take you back in time.
Canada offers one the greatest quality of life that one can find. So it comes as no surprise that Canadian cities, including the capital of Canada, are some of the prime locations for families to call home. Ottawa is one of the most family-friendly cities. Ottawa is located 200km or a 2 hours drive away from Montréal, and only 450km or a 4h30 drive from Toronto and Québec City. If you prefer flying, flight times vary from 30 minutes to Montréal, 60 minutes to Toronto, or 90 minutes to New York City.
Keep reading below for a comprehensive look at life in Ottawa.
Ottawa real estate prices are lower in comparison to its sister, Toronto. The cost of buying a home in Ottawa is somewhat higher than its neighboring cities on the Québec side of the capital of Canada, but still relatively lower in comparison to other big Canadian cities.
Here are some of the cities you may wish to consider in the National Capital Region on both sides of the river.
Ontario: Nepean, Kanata, Orléans, Stittsville, Gloucester
Québec: Gatineau, Aylmer, Hull, Chelsea, Cantley
For example, here’s a quick look at some of the median real estate prices buyers should expect in Ottawa:
- Single Detached Houses: the median prices can reach approximately CAD$700,000
- Townhouses/Row Units: the median prices can reach approximately CAD$550,000
- Apartment/Condominiums Units: the median prices can reach approximately CAD$390,000
Comparatively, those who elect to establish residence in the Québec part of the National Capital Region can expect median prices for real estate as follows:
- Single Detached Houses: the median prices can reach approximately $479,000CAD
- Townhouses/Row Units: the median prices can reach roughly $350,000CAD
- Apartment/Condominiums Units: the median prices can reach approximately $290,000CAD
Ottawa is home to some great neighborhoods. The ByWard Market is not the only great place to live in Ottawa. Here are some of the hottest areas in the city.
- The Glebe: often chosen for its charming older houses. The Glebe offers a high-end and luxurious way of life, minutes away from the downtown core.
- Westboro Village: very trendy, lively, and outdoorsy Westboro Village neighborhood has significantly grown in popularity over the years.
- Sandy Hill: high-end historic neighborhood, home to many foreign embassies and the University of Ottawa. Sandy Hill is one of the most coveted locations in Ottawa.
- Hintonburg: filled with hipsters, pubs and shops, vegan restaurants, and an artsy scene, this neighborhood is perfect for the young and hip adults.
- LeBreton Flats: the newest development in the city, sits on the edge of downtown Ottawa and is an evolving complex that allows everyone to live, work and play.
University of Ottawa
Ottawa is an excellent choice for Canadians and international students to receive a great education. Ottawa is home to some of the top universities in Canada. Therefore, it is not surprising that the capital of Canada is a leading destination for international students.
If you are looking to study in Canada, here is some of the most popular learning institution in the city:
- University of Ottawa: (OttawaU): offers many higher education programs, has a law school, and you may even be eligible for a scholarship with the university.
- Carleton University: nationally recognized for its journalism, public affairs, and architecture programs, Carleton U is a preferred choice for Canadians.
- Saint-Paul University: this is the institution for the thinkers. It offers programs such as philosophy, theology, and human relations.
- La Cité Collégiale: the largest french speaking college in Ontario, offers more than 90 programs to more than 5,000 students.
- Algonquin College: specializing in Applied Arts and Technology, the college is a large institution that receives many international students each year.
The capital of Canada’s leading and largest employer is, without any surprise, the Federal Government. But there are many other sectors of work that are available in Ottawa. For instance, the city is known to be the Silicon Valley of the north. Many IT companies have elected to break ground in Ottawa – making the city one of the biggest centers for advanced technologies in North America with more than 70,000 employed professionals. The city also notes other thriving sectors of operations such as construction, health care, and manufacturing.
Ottawa has seen over CAD $2.5 million in venture capital investments since the year 2000 and a growing GDP of more than CAD $40 billion CAD. In addition, the city accounts for over 500,000 jobs and more than 25,000 employers.
Canada has strong gun control laws that make Canadian cities amongst the safest in the world, and the capital of Canada is no exception. Ottawa is known in Canada as one of the safest cities in the country.
In its 2019-2020 report, the Ottawa Police has reported an overall decrease in city crime. In addition, Statistics Canada said that in 2020 there were only 10 incidents of violent crimes causing death. When taken into consideration, these statistics are lower than other comparable cities across many countries.
Ottawa has been a home for Vietnamese families for more than 40 years. Many have elected to live in the surroundings of Ottawa’s Chinatown and start businesses there, but also everywhere else in the city. Therefore, it is a great joy for the residents of the capital of Canada to take a stroll down Somerset Street and stop at the ‘Saigon Meat & Vegetables’ grocery store, where locals can buy all sorts of Vietnamese imported products or stop at the many Phở restaurants. There are so many Vietnamese restaurants in the neighborhood that one can easily find all kinds of delicious foods!
Canadian-Vietnamese have founded the ‘Vietnamese Canadian Community of Ottawa’, which aims to connect the members of the community, promote entrepreneurship and provide resources in Vietnamese to its members. If you are immigrating to Canada permanently, make Ottawa a viable option for you and your family.
After all of the information shared with you today, will you now be able to guess what the Capital of Canada is when someone asks you? Of course! We thought so! To close this epic journey through Ottawa, here are a few fun facts about the city that you may not know about.
- Nearly half the population is under the age of 35 – making it one of the youngest cities in the country.
- Visitors to Ottawa can stay in a hostel that used to be a jail in the 19th Century.
- Ottawa is the 7th coldest capital in the world.
- The hottest day recorded in Ottawa was 37.8 °C, while the coldest was -36.1°C.
- In 1970-71, a record 444.1 cm of snow fell onto Ottawa.
Last but not least, here are some of the coolest celebrities born or who grew up in Ottawa.
- Alanis Morisette – famous Canadian singer and songwriter
- Tom Cruise – Hollywood actor
- Sandra Ho – Hollywood actress
- Paul Anka – Famous Canadian singer and songwriter
- And… Justin Trudeau – Canada’s current Prime Minister.
Make the capital of Canada your destination of choice when going to Canada. Whether you wish to come for a visit or live permanently, Ottawa is a friendly, safe, and family-oriented city.
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