Ottawa, Canada

Ottawa is the capital of Canada, the second largest country in the world by area. It is located on the border between the country’s largest provinces, Quebec and Ontario. As Canada’s capital, the city contains many government buildings, including the Parliament of Canada, which dominates the view of downtown Ottawa, sitting atop Parliament Hill. In recent history, the high-tech sector has joined the government sector as a major source of employment in the city. Today, Ottawa remains at the center of political power in the country, and is also known for other attractions, both natural and man-made.


Rideau Canal and the Parliament of Canada in Ottawa. 

Ottawa is situated on the southern bank of the Ottawa River, which serves as the border between the provinces of Quebec and Ontario, with the Canadian capital considered to be part of the latter. The city is bisected by the Rideau River, which divides the city into eastern and western parts. The older part of the city, known as Lower Town, sits in an area between the Rideau Canal and the Ottawa and Rideau Rivers. To the west of the Rideau Canal are the neighborhoods of Centretown and Golden Triangle.

Ottawa river
The Ottawa River flowing past Ottawa.

Downtown Ottawa is located at the confluence of the Ottawa River and the Rideau Canal, to the northwest of Centreville and the Golden Triangle. It is in downtown Ottawa where you will find the Parliament of Canada, which sits atop the appropriately-named Parliament Hill, overlooking the Ottawa River. To the north of Ottawa, across the Ottawa River is the city of Gatineau, Quebec. Although Ottawa and Gatineau are part of different provinces, together they form what is known as the National Capital Region, which is considered a single metropolitan area.

Panoramic view of Ottawa River and Alexandra Bridge from Ottawa to Gatineau City of Quebec, Canada. 


Ottawa is the fourth largest city in Canada and the second largest city in Ontario. Based on the 2011 Census, the population of Ottawa is 883,930. However, the City of Ottawa has projected its 2021 population to be just over 1 million. The National Capital Region of Ottawa-Gatineau had a population of more than 1.3 million by 2016. Together with surrounding suburbs, the population of greater Ottawa could be more than 1.4 million today. Like the rest of Canada, Ottawa is very multicultural. The city is home to large Caribbean, African, Middle Eastern, and Chinese communities. As of 2016, more than 20% of the Canadian capital’s population were immigrants, and more than one in four residents were members of a visible (non-white) minority. In the same year, it was reported that 61% of Ottawa residents spoke English as their mother tongue, while 14% spoke French, and 22% other languages.


Bird's eye view of the modern architecture of the Canadian Capital from the Peace Tower. Editorial credit: Julien Jean Zayatz /

Ottawa’s economy is based mainly on two sectors: government and high-tech. The former comprises 18.2% of the city’s gross domestic product (GDP), while the latter makes up 18.9%. Other notable sectors include health and education, trade, finance/insurance/real estate, construction, and tourism. Ottawa is a wealthy city compared to other cities in Canada. In fact, as of 2015, the National Capital Region had the sixth highest total household income in Canada. Ottawa also has the largest rural economy among large Canadian cities.

City Attractions

Parliament Buildings and Fairmont Chateau Laurier Hotel in Ottawa, Ontario. 

As the capital of Canada, most of the city’s attractions have to do with the government or history of the country. One of the foremost attractions in Ottawa is Parliament Hill, on which the Parliament of Canada and the other Parliament buildings are situated. The Parliament buildings were built in 1865, and were constructed with Victorian Gothic sandstone. At the center of Parliament Hill is the so-called Centre Block, which features the Senate, the House of Commons, and the Peace Tower. Unfortunately, the Centre Block is now off-limits to tourists as it is currently undergoing renovations. Other parliament buildings include the National War Memorial, and the Prime Minister’s Office.

The Rideau Canal Ice Skating Rink in Ottawa during winter. 

Parliament Hill sits adjacent to another of Ottawa’s main attractions, the previously mentioned Rideau Canal. The 200 km long waterway links Ottawa with the city of Kingston, on Lake Ontario, which lies to Ottawa’s south. During the warmer months, many tourists enjoy going for boat cruises on the canal. In the winter, when the canal freezes over, it becomes the world’s largest skating rink. Indeed, skating on the Rideau Canal is one of the most entertaining activities for people in Ottawa during the winter. Other attractions in Ottawa include the Canadian War Museum, the National Gallery of Canada, the Canadian Museum of Nature, Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica, the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum, the Royal Canadian Mint, Byward Market, and Dows Lake Pavilion.


Old buildings at downtown in Ottawa, Canada. Editorial credit: Phuong D. Nguyen /

The name, “Ottawa”, is thought to be derived from the word, “odawa”, which is an indigenous Algonquin word that means, “to trade”. It is also named for the indigenous Canadian people of the same name, although the city does not sit on the territory of the Odawa, but on territory belonging to the Algonquin people, though these people are closely related to the Odawa.

Europeans appeared in what is now Ottawa in the beginning of the 17th century. By the late 18th century, European settlement in the present-day Ottawa area was still limited to a few minor outposts. In 1800, however, New Englander Philemon Wright established the first European settlement in the area, in what is now Hull, Quebec. In the next twenty years, settlers came to live on the south bank of the Ottawa River. Ottawa itself began in 1826 as an unnamed campsite established by Royal Engineers under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel John By, as a construction base for the Rideau Canal. One year later, a sizeable community called Bytown was founded. In 1855, Bytown’s name was changed to Ottawa, and it was incorporated as a city.

Notre Dame cathedral and Maman spider scuplture in Ottawa, Canada. Editorial credit: anderm /

Construction of the Parliament buildings began in 1859. They were opened in 1866. One year later, Ottawa was made the capital of the Dominion of Canada. By 1940, the federal government became the dominant employer in the city, as it expanded rapidly in the midst of World War II. The 1980s was when the city became a major high-tech center, with the arrival of companies like Corel and JDS Uniphase. Ottawa’s emerging high-tech sector earned it the name “Silicon Valley North”.