Ottawa is the most educated city in Canada and is home to a number of post-secondary, research, and cultural institutions, including the National Arts Centre, the National Gallery, and numerous national museums. Ottawa has the highest standard of living in the nation and low unemployment. It ranked 2nd nationally, 24th worldwide in the quality of life index and is consistently rated the best place to live in Canada.
With the draining of the Champlain Sea around ten thousand years ago the Ottawa Valley became habitable. Local populations used the area for wild edible harvesting, hunting, fishing, trade, travel, and camps for over 6500 years. The Ottawa river valley has archaeological sites with arrow heads, pottery, and stone tools. Three major rivers meet within Ottawa, making it an important trade and travel area for thousands of years. The Algonquins called the Ottawa River Kichi Sibi or Kichissippi meaning "Great River" or "Grand River".
Étienne Brûlé, the first European to travel up the Ottawa River, passed by Ottawa in 1610 on his way to the Great Lakes. Three years later, Samuel de Champlain wrote about the waterfalls of the area and about his encounters with the Algonquins, who had been using the Ottawa River for centuries. Many missionaries would later follow the early explorers and traders. The first maps of the area used the word Ottawa, derived from the Algonquin word adawe ("to trade", used in reference to the area's importance to First Nations traders), to name the river.
Philemon Wright, a New Englander, created the first settlement in the area on 7 March 1800 on the north side of the river, across from Ottawa in Hull. He, with five other families and twenty-five labourers, set about to create an agricultural community called Wrightsville. Wright pioneered the Ottawa Valley timber trade (soon to be the area's most significant economic activity) by transporting timber by river from the Ottawa Valley to Quebec City.
Bytown, Ottawa's original name, was founded as a community in 1826 when hundreds of land speculators were attracted to the south side of the river when news spread that British authorities were immediately constructing the northerly end of the Rideau Canal military project at that location. The following year, the town would soon be named after British military engineer Colonel John By who was responsible for the entire Rideau Waterway construction project. The canal's military purpose was to provide a secure route between Montreal and Kingston on Lake Ontario, bypassing the stretch of the St. Lawrence River bordering the state of New York that had left the British forces easily exposed to American enemy fire during the War of 1812. Colonel By set up military barracks on the site of today's Parliament Hill. He also laid out the streets of the town and created two distinct neighbourhoods named "Upper Town" west of the canal and "Lower Town" east of the canal. Similar to its Upper Canada and Lower Canada namesakes, historically 'Upper Town' was predominantly English speaking and Protestant whereas 'Lower Town' was predominantly French, Irish and Catholic. Bytown's population grew to 1,000 as the Rideau Canal was being completed in 1832. Bytown encountered some impassioned and violent times in her early pioneer period that included Irish labour unrest that attributed to the Shiners' War from 1835 to 1845 and political dissension that was evident from the 1849 Stony Monday Riot. In 1855 Bytown was renamed Ottawa and incorporated as a city. William Pittman Lett was installed as the first city clerk guiding it through 36 years of development.
On New Year's Eve 1857, Queen Victoria, as a symbolic and political gesture, was presented with the responsibility of selecting a location for the permanent capital of the Province of Canada. In reality, Prime Minister John A. Macdonald had assigned this selection process to the Executive Branch of the Government, as previous attempts to arrive at a consensus had ended in deadlock. The 'Queen's choice' turned out to be the small frontier town of Ottawa for two main reasons: Firstly, Ottawa's isolated location in a back country surrounded by dense forest far from the Canada–US border and situated on a cliff face would make it more defensible from attack. Secondly, Ottawa was located approximately midway between Toronto and Kingston (in Canada West) and Montreal and Quebec City (in Canada East). Additionally, despite Ottawa's regional isolation it had seasonal water transportation access to Montreal over the Ottawa River and to Kingston via the Rideau Waterway. By 1854 it also had a modern all season Bytown and Prescott Railway that carried passengers, lumber and supplies the 82-kilometres to Prescott on the Saint Lawrence River and beyond. Ottawa's small size, it was thought, would make it less prone to rampaging politically motivated mobs, as had happened in the previous Canadian capitals. The government already owned the land that would eventually become Parliament Hill which they thought would be an ideal location for building the Parliament Buildings. Ottawa was the only settlement of any substantial size that was already located directly on the border of French populated former Lower Canada and English populated former Upper Canada thus additionally making the selection an important political compromise. Queen Victoria made her 'Queen's choice' very quickly just before welcoming in the New Year.
Starting in the 1850s, entrepreneurs known as lumber barons began to build large sawmills, which became some of the largest mills in the world. Rail lines built in 1854 connected Ottawa to areas south and to the transcontinental rail network via Hull and Lachute, Quebec in 1886. The original Parliament buildings which included the Centre, East and West Blocks were constructed between 1859 and 1866 in the Gothic Revival style. At the time, this was the largest North American construction project ever attempted and Public Works Canada and its architects were not initially well prepared. The Library of Parliament and Parliament Hill landscaping would not be completed until 1876. By 1885 Ottawa was the only city in Canada whose downtown street lights were powered entirely by electricity. In 1889 the Government developed and distributed 60 'water leases' (still currently in use) to mainly local industrialists which gave them permission to generate electricity and operate hydroelectric generators at Chaudière Falls. Public transportation began in 1870 with a horsecar system, overtaken in the 1890s by a vast electric streetcar system that lasted until 1959. The Hull–Ottawa fire of 1900 destroyed two-thirds of Hull, including 40 per cent of its residential buildings and most of its largest employers along the waterfront. The fire also spread across the Ottawa River and destroyed about one fifth of Ottawa from the Lebreton Flats south to Booth Street and down to Dow's Lake. On 1 June 1912 the Grand Trunk Railway opened both the Château Laurier hotel and its neighbouring downtown Union Station. On 3 February 1916 the Centre Block of the Parliament buildings was destroyed by a fire. The House of Commons and Senate was temporarily relocated to the then recently constructed Victoria Memorial Museum, now the Canadian Museum of Nature until the completion of the new Centre Block in 1922, the centrepiece of which is a dominant Gothic revival styled structure known as the Peace Tower. The current location of what is now known as Confederation Square was a former commercial district centrally located in a triangular area downtown surrounded by historically significant heritage buildings which includes the Parliament buildings. It was redeveloped as a ceremonial centre in 1938 as part of the City Beautiful Movement and became the site of the National War Memorial in 1939 and designated a National Historic Site in 1984. A new Central Post Office (currently the Privy Council of Canada) was constructed in 1939 beside the War Memorial because the original post office building located on the proposed Confederation Square grounds had to be demolished.
Ottawa's former industrial appearance was vastly altered by the 1950 Greber Plan. Prime Minister Mackenzie King hired French architect-planner Jacques Greber to design an urban plan for managing development in the National Capital Region, to make it more aesthetically pleasing and thus more befitting a location serving as Canada's political centre. Greber's plan included the creation of the National Capital Greenbelt, the Parkway, the Queensway highway system, the relocation of downtown Union Station (now the Government Conference Centre) to the suburbs, the removal of the street car system, the decentralization of selected government offices, the relocation of industries and removal of substandard housing from the downtown and the creation of the Rideau Canal and Ottawa River pathways to name just a few of its recommendations. In 1958 the National Capital Commission was established as a Crown Corporation from the passing of the National Capital Act to implement the Greber Plan recommendations-which it successfully accomplished during the 1960s and 1970s. In the previous 50 years, other commissions, plans and projects had failed to implement plans to improve the capital such as the 1899 Ottawa Improvement Commission (OIC), The Todd Plan in 1903, The Holt Report in 1915 and The Federal District Commission (FDC) established in 1927. In 1958 a new City Hall opened on Green Island near Rideau falls where urban renewal had recently transformed this former industrial location into green space. Until then, City Hall had temporarily been located for 27 years (1931–1958) at the Transportation Building adjacent to Union Station and now part of the Rideau Centre. In 2001, Ottawa City Hall moved back downtown to a relatively new building (1990) on 110 Laurier Avenue West, the prior home of the now defunct Regional Municipality of Ottawa-Carleton. This new downtown location was very close to Ottawa's first (1849–1877) and second (1877–1931) City Halls. This new city hall complex also contained an adjacent 19th century restored heritage building formerly known as the Ottawa Normal School.
From the 1960s until the 1980s, the National Capital Region experienced a building boom, which was followed by large growth in the high-tech industry during the 1990s and 2000s. Ottawa became one of Canada's largest high tech cities and was nicknamed Silicon Valley North. By the 1980s, Bell Northern Research (later Nortel) employed thousands, and large federally assisted research facilities such as the National Research Council contributed to an eventual technology boom. The early adopters led to offshoot companies such as Newbridge Networks, Mitel and Corel.
Ottawa's city limits had been increasing over the years, but it acquired the most territory on 1 January 2001, when it amalgamated all the municipalities of the Regional Municipality of Ottawa–Carleton into one single city. Regional Chair Bob Chiarelli was elected as the new city's first mayor in the 2000 municipal election, defeating Gloucester mayor Claudette Cain. The city's growth led to strains on the public transit system and on road bridges. On 15 October 2001, a diesel-powered light rail transit (LRT) line was introduced on an experimental basis. Known today as the Trillium Line, it was dubbed the O-Train and connected downtown Ottawa to the southern suburbs via Carleton University. The decision to extend the O-Train, and to replace it with an electric light rail system was a major issue in the 2006 municipal elections where Chiarelli was defeated by businessman Larry O'Brien. After O'Brien's election transit plans were changed to establish a series of light rail stations from the east side of the city into downtown, and for using a tunnel through the downtown core. Jim Watson, the last mayor of Ottawa prior to amalgamation, was re-elected in the 2010 election.
In October 2012, City Council approved the final Lansdowne Park plan, an agreement with the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group that saw a new stadium, increased green space, and housing and retail added to the site. In December 2012, City Council voted unanimously to move forward with the Confederation Line, a 12.5 km light rail transit line, to be fully operational by 2018.
Ottawa is situated on the south bank of the Ottawa River and contains the mouths of the Rideau River and Rideau Canal. The older part of the city (including what remains of Bytown) is known as Lower Town, and occupies an area between the canal and the rivers. Across the canal to the west lies Centretown and Downtown Ottawa, which is the city's financial and commercial hub and home to the Parliament of Canada and numerous federal government department headquarters, notably the Privy Council Office. On 29 June 2007, the Rideau Canal, which stretches 202 km (126 mi) to Kingston, Fort Henry and four Martello towers in the Kingston area, was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Located within the major, yet mostly dormant Western Quebec Seismic Zone, Ottawa is occasionally struck by earthquakes. Examples include the 2000 Kipawa earthquake, a magnitude-4.5 earthquake on 24 February 2006, the 2010 Central Canada earthquake, and a magnitude-5.2 earthquake on 17 May 2013.
Ottawa sits at the confluence of three major rivers: the Ottawa River, the Gatineau River and the Rideau River. The Ottawa and Gatineau rivers were historically important in the logging and lumber industries and the Rideau as part of the Rideau Canal system for military, commercial and, subsequently, recreational purposes. The Rideau Canal (Rideau Waterway) first opened in 1832 and is 202 km long. It connects the Saint Lawrence River on Lake Ontario at Kingston to the Ottawa River near Parliament Hill. It was able to bypass the unnavigable sections of the Cataraqui and Rideau rivers and various small lakes along the waterway due to flooding techniques and the construction of 47 water transport locks.The Rideau River got its name from early French explorers who thought that the waterfalls located at the point where the Rideau River empties into the Ottawa River resembled a 'curtain'. Hence they began naming the falls and river 'rideau' which is the French equivalent of the English word for curtain. During part of the winter season the Ottawa section of the canal forms the world's largest skating rink, thereby providing both a recreational venue and a 7.8 kilometres (4.8 mi) transportation path to downtown for ice skaters (from Carleton University and Dow's Lake to the Rideau Centre and National Arts Centre).
Across the Ottawa River, which forms the border between Ontario and Quebec, lies the city of Gatineau, itself the result of amalgamation of the former Quebec cities of Hull and Aylmer together with Gatineau. Although formally and administratively separate cities in two separate provinces, Ottawa and Gatineau (along with a number of nearby municipalities) collectively constitute the National Capital Region, which is considered a single metropolitan area. One federal crown corporation, the National Capital Commission, or NCC, has significant land holdings in both cities, including sites of historical and touristic importance. The NCC, through its responsibility for planning and development of these lands, is an important contributor to both cities. Around the main urban area is an extensive greenbelt, administered by the NCC for conservation and leisure, and comprising mostly forest, farmland and marshland.
Ottawa has a humid continental climate (Köppen Dfb) with four distinct seasons and is between Zones 5a and 5b on the Canadian Plant Hardiness Scale. The average July maximum temperature is 26.6 °C (80 °F). The average January minimum temperature is −14.4 °C (6.1 °F)
Summers are warm and humid in Ottawa. On average 11 days of the three summer months have temperatures exceeding 30 °C (86 °F), or 37 days if the humidex is considered. Average relative humidity averages 54% in the afternoon and 84% by morning.
Snow and ice are dominant during the winter season. On average Ottawa receives 224 centimetres (88 in) of snowfall annually but maintains an average 22 centimetres (9 in) of snowpack throughout the three winter months. An average 16 days of the three winter months experience temperatures below −20 °C (−4 °F), or 41 days if the wind chill is considered.
Spring and fall are variable, prone to extremes in temperature and unpredictable swings in conditions. Hot days above 30 °C (86 °F) have occurred as early as 17 April (as in 2002) or as late as 22 September (as in 2007), although such events are unusual and brief. Annual precipitation averages around 940 millimetres (37 in).
Ottawa experiences about 2,130 hours of average sunshine annually (46% of possible). Winds in Ottawa are generally Westerlies averaging 13 km/h but tend to be slightly more dominant during the winter.
The highest temperature ever recorded in Ottawa was 37.8 °C (100 °F) on 4 July 1913, 1 August 1917 and 11 August 1944. The coldest temperature ever recorded was −38.9 °C (−38 °F) on 29 December 1933.
Ottawa is bounded on the east by the United Counties of Prescott and Russell; by Renfrew County and Lanark County in the west; on the south by the United Counties of Leeds and Grenville and the United Counties of Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry; and on the north by the Regional County Municipality of Les Collines-de-l'Outaouais and the City of Gatineau. Modern Ottawa is made up of eleven historic townships, ten of which are from Carleton County and one from Russell.
The city has a main urban area but many other urban, suburban and rural areas exist within the modern city's limits. The main suburban area extends a considerable distance to the east, west and south of the centre, and it includes the former cities of Gloucester, Nepean and Vanier, the former village of Rockcliffe Park (a high-income neighbourhood which is adjacent to the Prime Minister's official residence at 24 Sussex and the Governor General's residence), and the communities of Blackburn Hamlet and Orléans. The Kanata suburban area includes the former village of Stittsville to the southwest. Nepean is another major suburb which also includes Barrhaven. The communities of Manotick and Riverside South are located on the other side of the Rideau River, and Greely, southeast of Riverside South. A number of rural communities (villages and hamlets) lie beyond the greenbelt but are administratively part of the Ottawa municipality. Some of these communities are Burritts Rapids; Ashton; Fallowfield; Kars; Fitzroy Harbour; Munster; Carp; North Gower; Metcalfe; Constance Bay and Osgoode and Richmond. Several towns are located within the federally defined National Capital Region but outside the city of Ottawa municipal boundaries, these include the urban communities of Almonte, Carleton Place, Embrun, Kemptville, Rockland, and Russell.
In 2011, the populations of the City of Ottawa and the Ottawa–Gatineau census metropolitan area (CMA) were 883,391 and 1,236,324 respectively. The city had a population density of 316.6 persons per km2 in 2006, while the CMA had a population density of 196.6 persons per km2. It is the second-largest city in Ontario, fourth-largest city in the country, and the fourth-largest CMA in the country.
Ottawa's median age of 39.2 is both below the provincial and national averages as of 2011. Youths under 15 years of age comprised 16.8% of the total population as of 2011, while those of retirement age (65 years and older) comprised 13.2%. In 2011, females made up 51.5% of the amalgamated Ottawa population.
Between 1987 and 2002, 131,816 individuals relocated to the city, which represents 75% of the population growth for that period. Over 20 percent of the city's population is foreign-born, with the most common non-Canadian countries of origin being the United Kingdom (8.8% of those foreign-born), China (8.0%), and Lebanon (4.8%). About 6.1% of residents are not Canadian citizens.
Members of visible minority groups (non-white/European) constitute 23.7%, while those of Aboriginal origin make up 2.1% of the total population. The largest visible minority groups are: Black Canadians: 5.7%, Chinese Canadians: 4.0%, South Asians: 3.9%, and Arabs: 3.7%. Smaller groups include Latin Americans, Southeast Asians, Filipinos, and West Asians.
Around 65% of Ottawa residents describe themselves as Christian as of 2011, with Catholics accounting for 38.5% of the population and members of Protestant churches 25%. Non-Christian religions are also very well established in Ottawa, the largest being Islam (6.7%), Hinduism (1.4%), Buddhism (1.3%), and Judaism (1.2%). Those with no religious affiliation represent 22.8%.
Bilingualism became official policy for the conduct of municipal business in 2002, and 37% of the population can speak both languages as of 2006, making it the largest city in Canada with both English and French as co-official languages. Those who identify their mother tongue as English constitute 62.4 percent, while those with French as their mother tongue make up 14.2 percent of the population. In terms of respondents' knowledge of one or both official languages, 59.9 percent and 1.5 percent of the population have knowledge of English only and French only, respectively; while 37.2 percent have knowledge of both official languages. The overall Ottawa–Gatineau census metropolitan area (CMA) has a larger proportion of French speakers than Ottawa itself, since Gatineau is overwhelmingly French speaking. An additional 20.4 percent of the population list languages other than English and French as their mother tongue. These include Arabic (3.2%), Chinese (3.0%), Spanish (1.2%), Italian (1.1%), and many others.
Ottawa's primary employers are the Public Service of Canada and the high-tech industry. The latter ("tech sector") was doing particularly well in 2015/2016. The national headquarters for many federal departments are located in Ottawa. The city has a high standard of living and low unemployment. Mercer ranks Ottawa with the third highest quality of living of any large city in the Americas, and 16th highest in the world. It is also rated the second cleanest city in Canada, and third cleanest city in the world. In 2012, the city was ranked for the third consecutive year as the best community in Canada to live in by MoneySense.
Ottawa had the fourth highest GDP growth rate among major Canadian cities in 2007 at 2.7%, which exceeded the Canadian average of 2.4%. It is estimated that the National Capital Region attracts around 7.3 million tourists annually who spend about 1.18 billion dollars.
The region of Ottawa-Gatineau has the third highest income of all major Canadian cities. The average gross income in the region amounted to $40,078, an increase of 4.9% compared to the previous year. The annual cost of living rate in 2007 grew 1.9%.
The Federal government is the city's largest employer, employing over 110,000 individuals from the National Capital region. Ottawa is also an important technology centre; in 2015, its 1800 companies employed approximately 63,400 people. The concentration of companies in this industry earned the city the nickname of "Silicon Valley North". Most of these companies specialize in telecommunications, software development and environmental technology. Large technology companies such as Nortel, Corel, Mitel, Cognos, Halogen Software, Shopify and JDS Uniphase were founded in the city. Ottawa also has regional locations for Nokia, 3M, Adobe Systems, Bell Canada, IBM and Hewlett-Packard. Many of the telecommunications and new technology are located in the western part of the city (formerly Kanata).
Another major employer is the health sector, which employs over 18,000 people. Four active general hospitals are in the Ottawa area: Queensway-Carleton Hospital, The Ottawa Hospital, Montfort Hospital, and Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario. Several specialized hospital facilities are also present, such as the University of Ottawa Heart Institute and the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. Nordion, i-Stat and the National Research Council of Canada and OHRI are part of the growing life science sector. Business, finance, administration, and sales and service rank high among types of occupations. Approximately ten percent of Ottawa's GDP is derived from finance, insurance and real estate whereas employment in goods-producing industries is only half the national average. The City of Ottawa is the second largest employer with over 15,000 employees.
The National Defence Headquarters located in Ottawa is the main command centre for the Canadian Armed Forces and hosts the Department of National Defence. The Ottawa area includes CFS Leitrim, CFB Uplands, and the former CFB Rockcliffe. During the summer, the city hosts the Ceremonial Guard, which performs functions such as the Changing the Guard.
In 2006, Ottawa experienced an increase of 40,000 jobs over 2001 with a five-year average growth that was relative slower than in the late 1990s. While the number of employees in the federal government stagnated, the high-technology industry grew by 2.4%. The overall growth of jobs in Ottawa-Gatineau was 1.3% compared to the previous year, down to sixth place among Canada's largest cities. The unemployment rate in Ottawa-Gatineau was 5.2% (only in Ottawa: 5.1%), which was below the national average of 6.0%. The economic downturn resulted in an increase in the unemployment rate between April 2008 and April 2009 from 4.7 to 6.3%. In the province, however, this rate increased over the same period from 6.4 to 9.1%.
Traditionally the ByWard Market (in Lower Town), Parliament Hill and the Golden Triangle (both in Centretown – Downtown) have been the focal points of the cultural scenes in Ottawa. Modern thoroughfares such as Wellington Street, Rideau Street, Sussex Drive, Elgin Street, Bank Street, Somerset Street, Preston Street, Richmond Road in Westboro, and Sparks Street are home to many boutiques, museums, theatres, galleries, landmarks and memorials in addition to eating establishments, cafes, bars and nightclubs.
Ottawa hosts a variety of annual seasonal activities—such as Winterlude, the largest festival in Canada, and Canada Day celebrations on Parliament Hill and surrounding downtown area, as well as Bluesfest, Canadian Tulip Festival, Ottawa Dragon Boat Festival, Ottawa International Jazz Festival, Fringe Festival and Folk Music Festival, that have grown to become some of the largest festivals of their kind in the world. In 2010, Ottawa's Festival industry received the IFEA "World Festival and Event City Award" for the category of North American cities with a population between 500,000 and 1,000,000.
As Canada's capital, Ottawa has played host to a number of significant cultural events in Canadian history, including the first visit of the reigning Canadian sovereign—King George VI, with his consort, Queen Elizabeth—to his parliament, on 19 May 1939. VE Day was marked with a large celebration on 8 May 1945, the first raising of the country's new national flag took place on 15 February 1965, and the centennial of Confederation was celebrated on 1 July 1967. Elizabeth II was in Ottawa on 17 April 1982, to issue a royal proclamation of the enactment of the Constitution Act. In 1983, Prince Charles and Diana Princess of Wales came to Ottawa for a state dinner hosted by then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. In 2011, Ottawa was selected as the first city to receive Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge during their tour of Canada.
Influenced by government structures, much of the city's architecture tends to be formalistic and functional; however, the city is also marked by Romantic and Picturesque styles of architecture such as the Parliament Buildings' gothic revival architecture. Ottawa's domestic architecture is dominated by single family homes, but also includes smaller numbers of semi-detached houses, rowhouses, and apartment buildings. Many domestic buildings are clad in brick, with small numbers covered in wood, stone, or siding of different materials; variations are common, depending on neighbourhoods and the age of dwellings within them.
The skyline has been controlled by building height restrictions originally implemented to keep Parliament Hill and the Peace Tower at 92.2 metres (302 ft) visible from most parts of the city. Today, several buildings are slightly taller than the Peace Tower, with the tallest located on Albert Street being the 29-storey Place de Ville (Tower C) at 112 metres (367 ft). Federal buildings in the National Capital Region are managed by Public Works Canada, while most of the federal land in the region is managed by the National Capital Commission; its control of much undeveloped land gives the NCC a great deal of influence over the city's development.
Amongst the city's national museums and galleries is the National Gallery of Canada; designed by famous architect Moshe Safdie, it is a permanent home to the Maman sculpture. The Canadian War Museum houses over 3.75 million artifacts and was moved to an expanded facility in 2005. The Canadian Museum of Nature was built in 1905, and underwent a major renovation between 2004 and 2010. Across the Ottawa river in Gatineau is the most visited museum in Canada, the Canadian Museum of History. Designed by Canadian Aboriginal architect Douglas Cardinal, the curving-shaped complex, built at a cost of 340 million USD, also houses the Canadian Children's Museum, the Canadian Postal Museum and a 3D IMAX theatre.
The city is also home to the Canada Agriculture Museum, the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, the Canada Science and Technology Museum, Billings Estate Museum, Bytown Museum, Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography, Canadian Ski Museum, Currency Museum, and the Portrait Gallery of Canada.
The Ottawa Little Theatre, originally called the Ottawa Drama League at its inception in 1913, is the longest-running community theatre company in Ottawa. Since 1969, Ottawa has been the home of the National Arts Centre, a major performing arts venue that houses four stages and is home to the National Arts Centre Orchestra, the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra and Opera Lyra Ottawa. Established in 1975, the Great Canadian Theatre Company specializes in the production of Canadian plays at a local level.
The Rideau Canal is the oldest continuously operated canal system in North America, and in 2007, it was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In addition, 24 other National Historic Sites of Canada are in Ottawa, including: the Central Chambers, the Central Experimental Farm, the Château Laurier, Confederation Square, the former Ottawa Teachers' College, Langevin Block, Laurier House and the Parliament Buildings. Many other properties of cultural value have been designated as having "heritage elements" by the City of Ottawa under Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act.
Sport in Ottawa has a history dating back to the 19th century. Ottawa is currently home to four professional sports teams. The Ottawa Senators are a professional ice hockey team playing in the National Hockey League. The Senators play their home games at the Canadian Tire Centre. The Ottawa Redblacks are a professional Canadian Football team playing in the Canadian Football League. Professional soccer club Ottawa Fury FC play in the United Soccer League, the second division in North American pro soccer after Major League Soccer. Both Ottawa Fury FC and the Ottawa Redblacks play their home games at TD Place Stadium. The Ottawa Champions play professional baseball in the Can-Am League at Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton Park, following the departure of the Lynx International League franchise. Several non-professional teams also play in Ottawa, including the Ottawa 67's junior ice hockey team. The city was previously home to a professional basketball team, the Ottawa SkyHawks, of the National Basketball League of Canada
Collegiate teams in various sports compete in Canadian Interuniversity Sport. The Carleton Ravens are nationally ranked in basketball, and the Ottawa Gee-Gees are nationally ranked in football and basketball. Algonquin College has also won numerous national championships. The city is home to an assortment of amateur organized team sports such as soccer, basketball, baseball, curling, rowing, hurling and horse racing. Casual recreational activities, such as skating, cycling, hiking, sailing, golfing, skiing and fishing/ice fishing are also popular.
The City of Ottawa is a single-tier municipality, meaning it is in itself a census division and has no county or regional municipality government above it. As a single tier municipality, Ottawa has responsibility for all municipal services, including fire, emergency medical services, police, parks, roads, sidewalks, public transit, drinking water, storm water, sanitary sewage and solid waste. Ottawa is governed by the 24-member Ottawa City Council consisting of 23 councillors each representing one ward and the mayor, currently Jim Watson, elected in a citywide vote.
Along with being the capital of Canada, Ottawa is politically diverse in local politics. Most of the city has traditionally supported the Liberal Party. Perhaps the safest areas for the Liberals are the ones dominated by Francophones, especially in Vanier and central Gloucester. Central Ottawa is usually more left-leaning, and the New Democratic Party have won ridings there. Some of Ottawa's suburbs are swing areas, notably central Nepean and, despite its francophone population, Orléans. The southern and western parts of the old city of Ottawa are generally moderate and swing to the Conservative Party. The farther one goes outside the city centre like to Kanata and Barrhaven and rural areas, the voters tend to be increasingly conservative, both fiscally and socially. This is especially true in the former Townships of West Carleton, Goulbourn, Rideau and Osgoode, which are more in line with the conservative areas in the surrounding counties. However, not all rural areas support the Conservative Party. Rural parts of the former township of Cumberland, with a large number of Francophones, traditionally support the Liberal Party, though their support has recently weakened.
At present, Ottawa is host to 130 embassies. A further 49 countries accredit their embassies and missions in the United States to Canada.
Ottawa is served by a number of airlines that fly into the Ottawa Macdonald–Cartier International Airport, as well as two main regional airports Gatineau-Ottawa Executive Airport, and Ottawa/Carp Airport. The city is also served by inter-city passenger rail service at the Ottawa Train Station by Via Rail, located near the Alta Vista neighbourhood, and inter-city bus service operating out of the Ottawa Bus Central Station.
OC Transpo, a department of the city, operates the public transit system. An integrated hub-and-spoke system of services consists of: regular buses traveling on fixed routes in mixed traffic, typical of most urban transit systems; a bus rapid transit (BRT) system which is a high-frequency bus service operating on the transitway (a network of mostly grade-separated dedicated bus lanes within their own right of way) and having full stations with Park & Ride facilities, further supported by on-road reserved bus lanes and priority traffic signal controls; a light rail transit (LRT) system known as the O-Train operating on one north-south route (the Trillium Line); and a door-to-door bus service for the disabled known as ParaTranspo. Both OC Transpo and the Quebec-based Société de transport de l'Outaouais (STO) operate bus services between Ottawa and Gatineau.
Construction is underway on the Confederation Line, a 12.5-kilometre (7.8 mi) light-rail transit line (LRT), which includes a 2.5-kilometre (1.6 mi) tunnel through the downtown area featuring three underground stations. The project broke ground in 2013, with operation scheduled to start in 2018. A further 30 kilometers and 19 stations will be built by 2023, referred to as the Stage 2 plan.
The city is served by two freeway corridors. The primary corridor is east-west and consists of provincial Highway 417 (designated as The Queensway) and Ottawa-Carleton Regional Road 174 (formerly Provincial Highway 17); a north-south corridor, Highway 416 (designated as Veterans' Memorial Highway), connects Ottawa to the rest of the 400-Series Highway network in Ontario at the 401. Highway 417 is also the Ottawa portion of the Trans-Canada Highway. The city also has several scenic parkways (promenades), such as Colonel By Drive, Queen Elizabeth Driveway, the Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway, Rockcliffe Parkway and the Aviation Parkway and has a freeway connection to Autoroute 5 and Autoroute 50, in Gatineau. In 2006, the National Capital Commission completed aesthetic enhancements to Confederation Boulevard, a ceremonial route of existing roads linking key attractions on both sides of the Ottawa River.
Numerous paved multi-use trails wind their way through much of the city, including along the Ottawa River, Rideau River, and Rideau Canal. These pathways are used for transportation, tourism, and recreation. Because many streets either have wide curb lanes or bicycle lanes, cycling is a popular mode of transportation throughout the year. As of 31 December 2015, 900 km of cycling facilities are found in Ottawa, including 435 km of multi use pathways, 8 km of cycle tracks, 200 km of on-road bicycle lanes, and 257 km of paved shoulders. 204 km of new cycling facilities were added between 2011 and 2014. A downtown street that is restricted to pedestrians only, Sparks Street was turned into a pedestrian mall in 1966. On Sundays (since 1960) and selected holidays and events additional avenues and streets are reserved for pedestrian and/or bicycle uses only. In May 2011, The NCC introduced the Capital Bixi bicycle-sharing system.
The average amount of time people spend commuting with public transit in Ottawa,for example to and from work, on a weekday is 84 min. 30.5% of public transit riders, ride for more than 2 hours every day. The average amount of time people wait at a stop or station for public transit is 13 min, while 20.1% of riders wait for over 20 minutes on average every day. The average distance people usually ride in a single trip with public transit is 8 km, while 18.% travel for over 12 km in a single direction.
Ottawa is known as one of the most educated cities in Canada, with over half the population having graduated from college and/or university. Ottawa has the highest per capita concentration of engineers, scientists, and residents with PhDs in Canada.
The city has two main public universities:The University of Ottawa (originally named the "College of Bytown") was the first post-secondary institution established in the city in 1848. The university would eventually expand to become the largest English-French bilingual university in the world. It is also a member of the U15, a group of highly respected research-intensive universities in Canada. The university's campus is located in the Sandy Hill neighbourhood, just adjacent to the city's downtown core.Carleton University was founded in 1942 to meet the needs of returning World War II veterans and later became Ontario's first private, non-denominational college. Over time, Carleton would make the transition to the public university that it is today. In recent years, Carleton has become ranked highly among comprehensive universities in Canada. The university's campus sits between Old Ottawa South and Dow's Lake.
Ottawa also has two main public colleges – Algonquin College and La Cité collégiale. It also has two Catholic universities – Dominican University College and Saint Paul University. Other colleges and universities in nearby areas (namely, the neighbouring city of Gatineau) include the University of Quebec en Outaouais, Cégep de l'Outaouais, and Heritage College.
Four main public school boards exist in Ottawa: English, English-Catholic, French, and French-Catholic. The English-language Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) is the largest board with 147 schools, followed by the English-Catholic Ottawa Catholic School Board with 85 schools. The two French-language boards are the French-Catholic Conseil des écoles catholiques du Centre-Est with 49 schools, and the French Conseil des écoles publiques de l'Est de l'Ontario with 37 schools. Ottawa also has numerous private schools which are not part of a board.
The Ottawa Public Library was created in 1906 as part of the famed Carnegie library system. The library system had 2.3 million items as of 2008.
Three main daily local newspapers are printed in Ottawa: two English newspapers, the Ottawa Citizen established as the Bytown Packet in 1845 and the Ottawa Sun, with 900,197 and 274,628 weekly circulation respectively, and one French newspaper, Le Droit. Another free commuter daily paper, Metro Ottawa was added in the 2000s. Several weekly and monthly community papers are also published, including the Kitchissippi Times. Multiple Canadian television broadcast networks and systems, and an extensive number of radio stations, broadcast in both English and French.
In addition to the market's local media services, Ottawa is home to several national media operations, including CPAC (Canada's national legislature broadcaster) and the parliamentary bureau staff of virtually all of Canada's major newsgathering organizations in television, radio and print. The city is also home to the head office of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, although it is not the primary production location of most CBC radio or television programming.
Ottawa is twinned with: Beijing, China; Cairo, Egypt; and Catania, Italy.