Ottawa  is the capital of Canada, and the fourth largest city in the country. The city stands on the south bank of the Ottawa River in the eastern portion of Southern Ontario. Ottawa borders GatineauQuebec, and together they form the National Capital Region (NCR).

Founded in 1826 as Bytown and incorporated as “Ottawa” in 1855, the city has evolved into a political and technological centre of Canada. Its original boundaries were expanded through numerous minor annexations and ultimately replaced by a new city incorporation and major amalgamation in 2001 which significantly increased its land area. The name “Ottawa” is derived from the Algonquin word adawe, meaning “to trade”. Initially an Irish and French Christian settlement, Ottawa has become a multicultural city with a diverse population.

The 2011 census had the city’s population as 883,391, the census metropolitan area (CMA) population as 1,236,324.    Mercer ranks Ottawa with the second highest quality of living of any large city in the Americas, and 14th 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.

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, while the Ottawa-Gatineau urban area had a population of 860,928. The city had a population density of 1,680.5 persons per km2 in 2006, while the CMA had a population density of 197.8 persons per km2.[82][83] It is the second largest city in Ontario and the fourth largest city and metropolitan area in the country.

Ottawa’s median age of 36.7, as well as its percentage of seniors are both below the provincial average and the national average, while those under 15 exceed Canadian percentages.[85][86][87]

The vast majority of the population growth is attributable to relocations to the city,[88] and over 20 percent of the city’s population is foreign-born. Around 75% describe themselves as Christian, with Catholicsaccounting for 43.3% of the population and members of Protestant churches was 27.6%.[85]

Bilingualism became official policy for the conduct of municipal business in 2002,[89] and 37% of the population can speak both languages,[83] making it the largest city in Canada with both English and French as co-official languages.[90] Mother tongue was listed as 62.8% English, 14.9% French and 21.6% list languages other than English and French as their mother tongue.[83]

Ottawa is situated on the south bank of the Ottawa River, and contains the mouths of the Rideau River and Rideau Canal.[50] 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 liesCentretown and Downtown Ottawa, which is the city’s financial and commercial hub. As of 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.[51]

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.[57] 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 National Capital Commission for conservation and leisure, and comprising mostly forest, farmland and marshland.[58]


Ottawa has a humid continental climate with four distinct seasons. The average July maximum temperature is 26.5 °C (80 °F). The average January minimum temperature is −14.8 °C (5.4 °F). Winters can be very cold with minimum temperatures recorded as low as -36 °C. Summers are warm and humid in Ottawa. Daytime temperatures of 30 °C (86 °F) or higher are commonplace. Ottawa averages many days with humidex (combined temperature & humidity index) between 30 °C (86 °F) and 40 °C (104 °F) annually. Snow and ice are dominant during the winter season. Ottawa receives about 224 centimetres (88 in) of snowfall annually. Days above freezing and nights below −20 °C (−4 °F) both occur in the winter.

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 March (as in 2012) or as late as October, although such events are unusual and brief.[61] Annual precipitation averages around 940 millimetres (37 in).

Bicycle and Pedestrian Pathways

There are numerous paved multi-use trails that 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 most streets either have wide curb lanes or bicycle lanes, cycling is a popular mode of transportation in the region throughout the year. There are over 220 km of paths located throughout the Ottawa-Gatineau region. 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 Bixi Bike rental program.


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, connecting the Ottawa River and the Saint Lawrence River at Kingston, Ontario, by-passes unnavigable sections of the Rideau River as it winds its way through the city.  Rideau is a French word that means ‘Curtain’ in English, and the Rideau Falls resemble a curtain, thusly named by the early French canoeists. During part of the winter season the frozen waters of the canal form the world’s largest skating rink thereby providing both a recreational venue and a 7.8 kilometres  transportation path to downtown for ice skaters (from Carleton University and Dow’s Lake to the Rideau Centre and National Arts Centre).