Interesting and fun Ottawa facts

90 Interesting Facts About Ottawa

No, the capital city of Canada is not Toronto or Vancouver. It’s Ottawa! (As a Canadian who frequently travels abroad, I’ve found that so many people around the world make this mistake…)

So what exactly is “O-Town” known for? You’re about to find out with these fascinating and fun facts about Ottawa! For more information about the province where Ottawa is located, also read these fun facts about Ontario.

General Ottawa Facts

  • The city of Ottawa (French: Ville d’Ottawa) is the capital city of Canada and has been since Queen Victoria chose it as the capital of the United Province of Canada in 1857.
  • Ottawa is located in the southeastern corner of the province of Ontario.
  • Ottawa is antipodal to Augusta, Western Australia, and falls on the same latitude as Portland, Oregon and Venice, Italy.
  • Ottawa sits on the south bank of the Ottawa River, which forms the border between Ontario and Quebec.
  • The city of Gatineau in Quebec is across the Ottawa River from Ottawa, and the two cities form the Ottawa-Gatineau census metropolitan area (they are counted as one city in the national census), also called the National Capital Region.
  • Ottawa is 325 km (202 mi) east of Toronto (Canada’s largest city) and 150 km (93 mi) west of Montreal (Canada’s 2nd largest city), as the crow flies. It is 530 km (329 mi) north of New York City.
  • With a population of 1.1 million (metropolitan 1.5 million), Ottawa-Gatineau is the 6th largest population centre in Canada, sitting between Edmonton and Winnipeg. It is the 2nd largest city in Ontario after Toronto.  
View of bridge across Ottawa River with Gatineau in background
Bridge across the Ottawa River to Gatineau
  • Measured according to the national census, Ottawa is the 4th largest municipality in Canada.
  • Ottawa is named after the Ottawa River, which in turn comes from the Algonquin word Odawa, meaning “to trade.”
  • Ottawa lies on Algonquin territory, and no treaty has ever been signed with the Algonquin for it.
  • Ottawa has been nicknamed “O-Town”, “The Government City”, “Capital City”, “Silicon Valley North” (for its tech industry) and “The City that Fun Forgot” (apparent locals find it boring…)  
Rideau Canal with a park on the side
Rideau Canal leading toward Fairmont Château Laurier
  • Ottawa used to be called “Bytown”, from its founding in 1826 until 1855. The name was derived from John By, who oversaw the construction of the Rideau Canal, which was built to connect Ottawa to the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario to the south.
  • The city’s official motto is “Advance-Ottawa-En Avant” (combining English and French). See here to learn about the many features of Ottawa’s Coat of Arms.
  • Ottawa’s tourism slogan changed from “Technically Beautiful” to “Canada in One City” in 2019.
  • People from Ottawa and called Ottawans or simply “Ottawa residents”.
  • 20% of Ottawans are foreign born, with the largest minority being Chinese (8%).
  • Ottawa is the largest city in Canada with English and French as official languages. Francophones make up 14%, while nearly 40% can speak both.   
Ottawa city flag
The flag of Ottawa City
  • The flag of Ottawa has a stylized O representing Ottawa, the Tower of Peace, and the Canadian maple leaf, on a blue (left, symbolizing rivers) and teal (right, symbolizing the city’s green spaces and quality of life) background.
  • Ottawa’s twin cities are Beijing, China and Catania, Italy.

Random Interesting Facts about Ottawa

  • Ottawa sits at the confluence of three rivers: The Gatineau, Rideau, and Ottawa Rivers.
  • The old town of Ottawa, called Lower Town, is between the Rideau Canal and Rideau & Ottawa Rivers. The Parliament of Canada is found in the newer Centretown/Downtown.
People ice skating on Rideau Canada, with Parliament Hill on the left and Chateau Laurier on the right
Rideau Canal Skateway
  • Rideau Canal stretches for 202 km (126 mi) from Ottawa to Kingston, on the shore of Lake Ontario. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and operated by Parks Canada. “Rideau” means curtain in French, after the curtain-like appearance of Rideau River’s twin waterfalls where it joins Ottawa River.
  • In winter, a 7.8 km (4.8 mi) section of Rideau Canal becomes Canada’s largest skating rink, called the Rideau Canal Skateway. It covers 165,621 m² (1.78 million ft²), similar in size to 90 Olympic sized skating rinks.
  • Rideau Canal is the oldest continuously used canal system in North America.
  • Parliament Hill is on the southern bank of the Ottawa River. It includes several structures built in the Gothic Revival style, the tallest of which is the Peace Tower, at 98 m (322 ft). 3 million people visit Parliament Hill every year.
  • Ottawa has long had rules regulating buildings in the city so that Parliament Hill can be visible from anywhere, but currently there are a few buildings taller than Peace Tower.
The various buildings of Canada Parliament in Ottawa
Parliament Hill
  • The Canadian flag at the top of the Peace Tower is replaced every weekday. Any Canadian can resident can request to receive one of the used flags for free (1 per household), but the waiting list is currently over 100 years.
  • At the Whispering Wall on Parliament Hill, whispers can be heard from one end of the wall to the other. The wall is the base of a bronze statue of two Canadian statesmen.
  • The natural gas-powered Centennial Flame at Parliament Hill has been burning since Canada’s 100th anniversary (1967).
  • The Fairmont Château Laurier is one of several iconic Fairmont hotels across Canada. Built in 1912, it is a National Historic Site. The hotel is next to the Parliament buildings and overlooks Ottawa River and the Rideau Canal locks.
Exterior of the Fairmont Chateau Laurier Hotel in Ottawa
Fairmont Chateau Laurier
  • The Château Laurier is said to be haunted by the founder of the company that built it, Charles Melville Hays, who died on the Titanic when it hit an iceberg off the coast of Newfoundland.
  • The Canadian Museum of History (formerly “Canadian Museum of Civilization”) in Gatineau is the 2nd most visited museum in Canada, welcoming over 1 million visitors per year (the 1st is the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto).
  • Lester B. Pearson Building in Ottawa, which houses the headquarters of Global Affairs Canada, is shaped like a sphinx, but with a late modern/brutalist design.
Canadian Museum of History at night, with a Canadian flag on it
The Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau
  • Ottawa is known for its tulips and has hundreds of thousands of them. Many of them were originally given to Canada by the Netherlands in WWII.
  • Every Sunday from May 1 to early October, several parkways (landscaped highways) in Ottawa are closed to traffic and open to cyclists/pedestrians. In 2021, this was expanded to the whole weekend.
  • Over 7 million people visit Ottawa annually, contributing over $1 billion to the city’s economy.
  • Ottawans have a higher rate of university degrees than any other city in Canada, with over half of people possessing post-secondary degrees. The city is home to the University of Ottawa and Carleton University.
Pink tulips with some rooftops of historical buildings in Ottawa in the background
Tulips in Ottawa
  • Over 100,000 people work for the federal government in Ottawa, making it the city’s largest employer.
  • There is a horseshoe-shaped Greenbelt around the southern side of Ottawa, with 20,000 hectares of green space, supporting ecological and human health in the city.
  • Ottawa is home to the Ottawa Senators (NHL), Ottawa Redblacks (CFL), Ottawa Blackjacks (CEBL), Atlético Ottawa (CPL), and Ottawa Titans (FL). Only the Redblacks have won a championship, the Grey Cup, in 2016.
A gravel road through the forest in Ottawa's Greenbelt park
Ottawa Greenbelt
  • The hottest temperature on record in Ottawa was 37.8°C (100°F) on July 4, 1913, while the lowest was −38.9°C (−38°F) on December 29, 1933.
  • Ottawa is the 7th coldest capital city in the world, with an annual average temperature of 5.5°C (41.9°F).
  • Ottawa is subject to about 10 earthquakes per year. One of the largest in recent times was the 2010 Central Canada Earthquake, which led to the evacuation of all schools in Ottawa.
  • Famous people from Ottawa include singer Alanis Morissette, poet Margaret Atwood, actor Dan Aykroyd, actress Sarah Chalke, singer Paul Anka, and dancer Emma Portner.
  • The current prime minister of Canada Justin Trudeau was born and still lives in Ottawa.
A mosaic of famous people from Ottawa
Famous Otawans Margaret Atwood, Paul Anka, Alanis Morissette, Emma Portner, Justin Trudeau, and Dan Akroyd (clockwise from top-left)
  • Tom Cruise lived in Ottawa when he was in 4th and 5th grade.
  • The world’s first dinner cooked entirely by electricity was at the Windsor House Hotel in Ottawa on August 29, 1892.
  • The world’s first group C meningococcal meningitis vaccine was developed in Ottawa in the 1980s by Dr. Harry Jennings.
  • Nestor Burtnyk, Ken Pulfer, and Marceli Wein have been called the fathers of computer animation for their work in the 1970s at the National Research Council of Canada in Ottawa.
  • Marquis wheat and Spartan apples were developed in Ottawa.
An apple and cinnamon BeaverTail, a Canadian treat invented in Ottawa
BeaverTails are an Ottawa invention
  • The world’s first BTM (Bitcoin ATM) was invented by Ottawa-based BitAccess Inc.
  • The iconic Canadian treat/chain store BeaverTails started in Ottawa’s ByWard Market.
  • There are over 40 breweries in Ottawa. One of them, Dominion City Brewing, was the first brewery in Canada to be started from a Kickstarter campaign.

Historical Ottawa Facts

  • Ottawa was under the inland Champlain Sea until it drained 10,000 years ago.
  • Indigenous Algonquins moved into the Ottawa Valley at least 7000 years ago.
A very green Ottawa Valley as viewed from Gatineau
The Ottawa Valley
  • Étienne Brûlé was the first European to see the area of modern-day Ottawa when he traveled up the Ottawa River in 1610. He was followed by Samuel de Champlain in 1613.
  • The name Ottawa, from the Algonquin language, was used on the first maps of the area.
  • In 1800, Philemon Wright from New England founded the first European settlement at Ottawa, on the north side of the river in present day Hull, the Central Business District of Gatineau.
  • Wright set up a timber industry in the area, sending the wood downstream to Quebec City.
  • Bytown (Ottawa’s original name) was founded in 1826.
An old house at Bytown Museum in Ottawa
Bytown Museum along Rideau Canal
  • Rideau Canal was opened in 1832 for use in case a war started with the US. It provided a safe route from Montreal to Lake Ontario of the Great Lakes, bypassing an insecure section of the St. Lawrence River along New York state.
  • Colonel By, who built the canal and who Bytown was named after, set up military barracks on what is now Parliament Hill. He also create Lower Town (east of the canal) and Upper Town (west of the canal).
  • Upper Town was mostly English speaking (just like “Upper Canada” at the time), while Lower Town was French Speaking (just like “Lower Canada” at the time).
  • In 1854, railway lines were built from Ottawa to cities to the south.
  • In 1857, Queen Victoria chose Ottawa as the capital of Canada. The choice of this small frontier town surprised many. The town was thought to be easily defensible because of its isolation, and was about halfway between Toronto/Kingston and Montreal/Quebec City.
Parliament Hill on a cloudy day with Ottawa River in the foreground
Parliament Hill overlooking Ottawa River
  • The main Parliament buildings were built from 1859 to 1866. It was the largest construction project ever in North America at the time.
  • Ottawa’s first public transportation, consisting of horse-pulled cars, started in 1870.
  • In 1885, Ottawa had the only traffic lights in Canada powered entirely by electricity.
  • In 1889, Chaudière Falls on Ottawa River were first used for making electricity.
  • In the 1890s, Ottawa got a street car system, which operated until 1959.
  • In 1900, a fire destroyed 20% of Ottawa and 66% of Hull across the river.
Rideau Canal with the Senate of Canada Building on the right
The original Grand Trunk Railway Station (right side), now Senate of Canada building
  • In 1912, Grand Trunk Railway opened Château Laurier and Grand Trunk Central Station (later Union Station). The latter stayed open until 1966 and now houses the Senate of Canada.
  • The Centre Block (main building) of Parliament Hill was destroyed in a fire in 1916.
  • In 1939, King George IV (along with Queen Elizabeth) was the first reigning monarch to come to Canada when he paid a visit to Ottawa.  
  • After the 1950 Gerber Plan, the city underwent massive changes to make it more aesthetically pleasing, including the creation of a greenbelt, new highways, and relocation of several buildings.
  • On February 15, 1965, the newly designed (and current) Canadian national flag was raised for the first time in Ottawa.
Peace Tower on Parliament Hill, Canada with a Canadian flag flying on top of it
The Canadian flag atop Peace Tower
  • On April 17, 1982, Queen Elizabeth II visited Ottawa to issue a royal proclamation of the enactment of the Constitution Act, making Canada a truly independent country with its own constitution.
  • Prince Charles and Princess Diana visited Ottawa in 1983.          
  • In the 1990s and 2000s, the tech industry boomed, lending Ottawa the nickname “Silicon Valley North”.
  • The first diesel light rail transit (DLRT), or “O-Train” line, called the Trillium Line, opened in 2001. It was followed by the Confederation line in 2019.
  • In 2007, Rideau Canal gained UNESCO World Heritage Site Status.
Boats on Rideau Canal at night
Rideau Canal at night
  • In 2001, Ottawa’s boundaries were extended to include several rural areas. These rural area’s now contribute $1 billion to the city’s economy annually, more than any other city in Canada.
  • Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge started their Canada tour in Ottawa in 2011.
  • In 2017, Canada’s 150th anniversary of Confederation was centred in Ottawa and prompted many upgrades.
A kid holding a sign that says "Canada Day 150" in front of Ottawa's Parliament building
Canada’s 150th celebration, or “sesquicentennial”
  • Parliament Hill is currently undergoing a $3 billion renovation that is not expected to be completed in 2028.
  • Ottawa has been the site of major protests and demonstrations, including numerous Algonquian protests (going back 250 years), Stoney Monday Riot (1849), On-to-Ottawa Trek (1935), Canada’s first Gay & Lesbian protest (1971), Occupy Ottawa movement (2011-2012), Women’s March (2017), Black Lives Matter (2020), and the Canada Convoy (Truckers’) Protest (2022).

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