Hello from Ottawa – First Impressions and an Overview

My partner in crime Theresa and I went to Ottawa 3 or 4 years ago in the winter to catch Ottawa’s famous winter festival “Winterlude”. Unfortunately that year the weather was too warm and the weekend was a total wash-out. Even the ice sculptures had melted.

Well, it was time to give it a second shot. So this past Friday we got in the car and once we drove through a few snow squalls past Oshawa it was smooth sailing all the way to Canada’s capital. We got into town right around 4:30 pm, just before sunset.

Coming in on the 417 into town we caught a bit of Ottawa’s rush hour, and traffic along Wellington Street was bumper to bumper. Funny, I had always figured that Ottawa didn’t have a rush hour, boy was I wrong. Just because some people may think that Ottawa is a bit of a bureaucratic backwater doesn’t mean it’s not a hustling and bustling place.

So I have since done some research about this capital of ours and have found out some interesting facts that demonstrate that Ottawa is a much more interesting city than expected:

Ottawa is the fourth largest urban centre in Canada (behind Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver), with a population of more than 1.2 million people.

Ottawa naturally is the home of government organizations such as the Government of Canada, Canada’s Parliament, the Senate, and the Supreme Court of Canada

Ottawa is a centre of high technology and home to technology giants such as Nortel Networks, JDS Uniphase, Cognos, Cisco and Alcatel.

Other major companies like MBNC Canada, ING Direct and Clarica also make Ottawa their home.

More than 65,000 people are employed in 1500 companies in the high-tech sector.

Apparently Ottawa has the best-educated workforce in Canada. On a per capita level it has more engineers, scientists and PhDs than any other city in the country.

Ottawa is one of the top 5 sites in the world for R&D.

More than 7 million visitors come to Ottawa every year, and collectively they spend more than $1.3 billion.

A Swiss-based management firm, Corporate Resources Group, ranked Ottawa sixth in the world for quality of life.

Ottawa is a truly bilingual city and it also has significant number of people who speak Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Chinese and Arabic

So this little bit of research taught me that there is much more to Ottawa than what we commonly know. It’s pretty evident that Ottawa has undergone huge changes since the early part of the 1800s when Colonel By came to build the Rideau Canal from 1826 to 1832. This initial settlement was called Bytown and in 1855 Bytown officially changed its name to Ottawa.

The city really grew around the canal and today, the Rideau Canal is one of the major centers in Ottawa for recreation, and comes alive in the winter as the Rideau Canal Skateway. Ottawa’s first industry was derived from logging which grew around the Ottawa River. Rafts of timber were floated down the Ottawa River, and large sawmills were built during the 19th century.

Right from the start the ByWard Market became a major centre of action for the lumberjacks, and even today it has remained one of Ottawa’s primary entertainment and commercial areas.

Ottawa’s first electric streetcar service was opened in 1891 and a local pioneer, Thomas Ahearn, often referred to as Canada’s Edison, was a driving force behind bringing electricity to Ottawa. He invented heating appliances and one menu of the day (in 1892) boasts that this was the first instance in history that an entire meal was cooked by electricity.

In 1877, the public got its first demonstration of the telephone. And Canada’s first country-wide broadcast came through the radio waves from Ottawa in 1927. Tragedy struck Ottawa several times: in 1900, a huge fire destroyed entire neighbourhoods, and in 1916, the Parliament Buildings suffered the same fate.

Ottawa is a major tourist destination, and visitors to the city enjoy the cultural and heritage attractions, as well as Ottawa’s festivals and special events.

Quite surprisingly, Ottawa has a number of world-renowned celebrities, including Paul Anka, Lorne Green, Margaret Atwood, Alanis Morissette and Matthew Perry. So the history and make-up of Ottawa is indeed much more interesting and diverse than expected.

One of the great things about Ottawa is its unique heritage architecture. Being the passionate photographer that I am I requested Theresa to stop the car in various treacherous positions in the middle of rush hour traffic, just to hop out and take some pictures in the warm evening light. The temperature itself was anything else but warm, it must have been -10, -12 degrees Celsius.

I got out of the car near the Supreme Court of Canada and got out to shoot a few photos in the setting afternoon soon. My breath was freezing and walking around without a toque or gloves was not a good idea in this -10 degree weather. I definitely had to cover my trigger fingers on the camera with gloves since the biting cold was chewing at my digits.

Of course I wanted to catch a close-up of the Parliament Buildings as well, so we grabbed an illegal parking spot and I hopped out of the car and instructed Theresa to circle around the block in the event someone was going to shoo her away.

Then it was on to our next stop, the historic Lord Elgin Hotel, located right downtown, 5 minutes from the Parliament Buildings, right across from Confederation Park and the famous Rideau Canal, our destination on Saturday for some outdoor skating on the Canal, at 7.8 km the world’s largest skating rink.