history of Ottawa includes excerpts from the National Capital
Commission's "A Capital in the Making":
The first inhabitants of the Ottawa area were the Algonquin
Indians who called the Ottawa River the "Kichesippi" - the
Great River - and called themselves the Kichesippirini (People of
the Great River). French fur traders named the Ottawa River after
the Outaouais tribe which in fact only inhabited the area for some
ten years. They served as middlemen in the fur trade, carrying furs
to Quebec after the Iroquois Indians had driven the Algonquins from
With the end of
New France in 1759, the Ottawa area came under British rule and
settlers from the United States began to stake claims to the land.
Amongst these was Philemon Wright and his settlers who, anticipating
the enormous energy possibilities of the Ottawa River, settled
across the River in Hull Township.
After the War of
1812 between Canada and the United States, a
means of communication between Montreal and the western part of the
country was sought to protect it from possible attacks by our
neighbours to the south. The 200-kilometre Rideau Canal was designed
to establish a link by waterway between Montreal and Kingston (then
Canada's capital) via Ottawa. Construction of the Canal was
entrusted to Lieutenant-Colonel John By and carried out between 1826
and 1832. Colonel By is recognized as the first builder and planner
of what was to become the Capital. The plans he developed in 1828
set aside large land expanses for public use at the entrance to and
along the Canal. At first, these areas were to have been used for
the building of fortifications, but they later became the site for
Canada's Parliament Buildings and the parkway network.
The thirty years
that followed the building of the Rideau Canal saw Ottawa (by then
called Bytown) and Philemon Wright's settlement (Wright's Town)
progress mainly because of the thriving forest industry. Stores,
manufactories (mainly producing stoves and axes) and banks were set
up, churches and schools were built and a little manufacturing
community was started in New Edinburgh about the Rideau Falls.
Steamboats plied the river and canal, and a newspaper, the Bytown
Gazette, was started in 1836. In 1855, Bytown was incorporated and
became Ottawa. Wright's Town followed suit in 1875 and became known
In 1857, Queen
Victoria was asked to settle a dispute between Quebec City,
Montreal, Toronto, Kingston and Ottawa as to which city should be
named Capital of the Province of Canada (made up of Upper and Lower
Canada which consisted of parts of today's Provinces of Ontario and
Quebec). Queen Victoria chose the City of Ottawa as the seat of the
new government. Work immediately began on the new Parliament
Buildings on Barrick Hill (henceforth to be Parliament Hill) and
between 1859 and 1866 the Centre, East and West Blocks were built.
(The latter two Blocks were known as the Eastern and Western
One year after
their completion, Ottawa became the Capital of the new Canadian
Confederation composed of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick and parts of
present-day Quebec and Ontario. Ottawa's population was 18,000 in an
area of 760 hectares.
Ottawa Grows Into
The Capital has
not always been the beautiful city it is becoming today. At first a
military building site, then a prosperous lumber town, the City of
Ottawa which, by royal edict, was suddenly given the top rank among
Canadian cities, had grown haphazardly until 1899. It was then that
the Canadian Government concluded that if Ottawa were to become a
Capital worthy of a vast and growing country, a start should be made
with the planning of its environment: the Ottawa Improvement
Commission (OIC) was therefore created.
The OIC's first
priority was to clean up the banks of the Rideau Canal which were
cluttered with warehouses, sheds, lumber yards and piles of
construction material. They also began the park system and envisaged
the creation of boulevards and scenic
parkways. After the rubble was cleared from along the banks of the
Canal, part of the present Queen Elizabeth Driveway was constructed
as the first of the scenic drives. In 1912 the Union Station and the
Chateau Laurier Hotel, both built by the Grand Trunk Railway
Company, were opened.
1900 and 1916:
Disaster Strikes Ottawa
April 26, 1900
was a day of horror. A fire started in Hull and, carried by the
wind, soon destroyed a large segment of the city, flamed across the
Chaudière Falls and burned a swath through Ottawa as far as
Dows Lake, making thousands homeless.
had not celebrated its first half century when tragedy struck once
again. On February 3, 1916, near 9 p.m., a small fire started in the
Parliamentary Reading Room in the Centre Block. Fed by stacks of
newspapers and varnished woodwork, it was soon a raging blaze that
claimed seven lives and reduced all but the northwest wing and the
Library to a charred shell.
almost complete redirection of resources to fighting the First World
War, construction began almost immediately on rebuilding Canada's
Parliament. The new structure, which preserved the Gothic Revival
style of the original, was designed by John Pearson and Jean Omer
Marchand and completed by 1922.
Plan: Modern Ottawa Arises
In 1936, while
visiting the site for the World Exhibition of 1937 in Paris,
Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King became acquainted with
Jacques Gréber, chief architect for the exhibition
and reputed for his work in Philadelphia on the Fairmont Parkway.
King invited Gréber to come to Ottawa to advise on the plans
for Confederation Square and to undertake a number of studies of the
National Capital area. The Prime Minister envisioned large parks,
scenic driveways and broad thoroughfares for Ottawa and Hull as well
as the preservation of a natural park - his beloved Gatineau Hills.
departure Gréber submitted a report in which he recommended
the creation of a master plan for the Capital's development. While
the outbreak of the Second World War delayed the completion of this
plan until 1949, it would serve as the city's planning guide well
into the 1970's. The creation and conservation of green space was an
important element of the master plan. The Canadian Government
purchased property along the banks of the Rideau Canal and of the
Ottawa, Rideau and Gatineau Rivers and restored it to its natural
beauty to allow public enjoyment of these waterways. Today, large
tracts of land around Federal Government buildings are beautifully
maintained as are the flower beds in the parks and along the
driveways. Exceptionally broad park corridors containing driveways
and pathways further enhance the open space concept.
1958 the Government established a "greenbelt" around
Ottawa to avoid uncontrolled urban sprawl as well as provide future
parks and public open space. The Greenbelt, which Gréber
called "the Capital's emerald necklace", forms a
semi-circular belt of about 17,600 hectares running in a continuous
44.8 kilometres arc on the outer edge of the urban area. Presently,
some of the land is leased, some is in public use, some is used for
research and development activities, and large tracts have been set
aside for the conservation of the water table and the preservation
of animal and plant life.
Ottawa in the
This decade saw
the Capital assume its role as the cultural showcase for the nation.
New festivals such as Winterlude, the Canadian Tulip Festival and
the Gatineau Hot Air Balloon Festival were launched; the National
Arts Centre Orchestra developed into one
of the world's pre-eminent orchestras; and new museums and galleries
rose throughout the city.
buildings, in particular, captured people's imaginations. The
National Gallery of Canada, inaugurated in 1988, now houses the most
comprehensive collection in the world of Canadian art as well as
masterpieces from Europe, Asia and the Americas. The Canadian Museum
of Civilization, opened the following year, traces Canada's
intriguing history from prehistoric times to the present. Visitors
come face-to-face with longhouses and totem poles, life-size
reconstructions of historic Canadian scenes and larger-than-life
movies in the museum's OMNIMAX and IMAX theatre.