History Series: Why Ottawa is Canada's Capital City

The French were the first known European settlers to have contact with the Algonquin people who inhabited areas along the Ottawa River. Through trade agreements an alliance was formed. Great Britain acquired Canada from the French in 1763 through the Paris Treaty. Even though this occurred after the Seven Years War, a period of destruction, this conquest brought stability. Sadly, the settlement of Europeans meant disease and loss of land for the Algonquins. The Algonquin people kept a neutral status, acting as allies and warriors between the English and French. Once the English and French ceased fighting, they sadly no longer took the opinions or care of the Algonquins into consideration.

The name Ottawa (from the Algonquin term Odawa) means ‘to trade’. The Algonquins used the Ottawa River (‘Kichessippi’) for trade, travel and fishing for centuries. The primary trade was fur, until the British took over and traded timber.

Rideau Canal, Chateau Laurier Ottawa, Downtown Ottawa Canal Locks

The idea for the Rideau Canal was conceived after the war of 1812, to create a secure route from Montreal to Kingston. Lieutenant Colonel John By was given the job in 1826, and the unnamed campsite was named Bytown. He opened one of North America’s most navigatable waterways in 1832. Bytown was renamed Ottawa in 1855 when it was incorporated as a city.

Ottawa’s history is often overshadowed by its identity as the capital city, but it is one of the oldest and largest municipalities of Canada.


Queen Victoria Chooses Ottawa as Our Capital

Parliament Hill Ottawa Ontario Canada, Canada's Parliament building, downtown Ottawa Canada's capital

Selecting a city as the capital took years. It would mean bringing new prosperity to the location and surrounding areas. In 1856, politicians could not agree on selecting a city, and the job was given to Queen Victoria, partially out of respect and to settle political tensions.

At the time, Ottawa was essentially the center of the Province of Canada, a fair median between French and British colonies. The Province of Canada was a British colony, comprised of Upper Canada (present day Ontario) and Lower Canada (now Southern Quebec), from 1841-1867. Since Ottawa was on the border of Ontario and Quebec, between the two cities Toronto and Montreal, it was chosen.

The population quickly increased and the Parliament buildings were constructed. The Parliament of Canada is the heart of Canadian government and is a beautiful attraction for tourists, overlooking the Ottawa River. In 1867, the Constitution act was completed, passed, and signed by Queen Victoria. The Dominion of Canada started to resemble the country we know today, Ottawa was made the capital.

The same waterways that made Ottawa an advantageous location for war and trade, are now where we, as Ottawa citizens, enjoy walks, biking, paddles and boat rides.



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1 comment

  • This was a really interesting read. Honestly, while we touched on the history of Ottawa back in school, I had forgotten a lot of the details. I love Ottawa – it has such an incredible atmosphere to it, one that I am sure is partially tied to its historical role in our country.

    Britt K

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