These are some old pictures I found on-line that I think does justice to the rich history of Ottawa.
Located on the southern bank of the Ottawa River, the City of Ottawa has long held a reputation as a stodgy government center lacking in the same level of cultural, historical and entertainment offerings of bigger cities in Canada such as Toronto and Montreal. Reputations aren’t always accurate though, as residents and visitors who love Ottawa can tell you. With its ranking as the most bilingual city in Canada, thanks to its position between French speaking Quebec and English speaking Ontario, Ottawa has a rich history, beautiful architecture and a wide variety of attractions to entertain every type of tourist and visitor.
The earliest inhabitants of the area that would become Ottawa were members of the Algonquin First Nation, including the Ottawa or Outaouais tribe, which briefly settled in the region during the mid 1600s. The City of Ottawa takes its name from the Algonquin word adawe, which means “to trade”. This is in reference to the people of the First Nation’s use of the river as a trade route, which continued with the European explorers and settlers who used the river for the same purpose. This includes Samuel de Champlain, a French explorer who, during his travels through the area in 1613, wrote what is believed to be the first European description of the area.
Aside from explorers and missionaries, the Ottawa River didn’t become a significant trade route for Europeans until 1800, when farmers from Massachusetts established the town of Wrightsville. This town, which was the first European settlement in the area, became the city of Hull in 1875, and today is Gatineau, Ottawa’s sister city on the north bank of the Ottawa River. It was the leader of Wrightsville, Philemon Wright, who began harvesting trees in 1806, leading to the thriving lumber trade that would become the primary industry of Ottawa and Gatineau.
Ottawa, however, wasn’t established the same way. Bytown, the name of the settlement that would become Ottawa, was established in 1826 when land speculators learned that the British Crown was constructing a portion of the Rideau Canal Military Project on the northern bank. A year later, the settlement became Bytown, named after the Canal’s designer, Lieutenant Colonel John By of the Royal Engineers. Bytown quartered the workers building the Canal, as well as the Lieutenant Colonel. In 1850 Bytown was incorporated as a town, and in 1855 it was renamed Ottawa and incorporated as a city.
As a smaller city primarily invested in the lumber trade, Ottawa wasn’t the obvious choice for the capitol city of Canada. But fighting amongst Toronto, Quebec City, Montreal and Kingston in 1857 led city leaders to request the choice be made by Queen Victoria. She passed up four cities, and instead named Ottawa the capitol of Canada for its location and accessibility.
A fascinating history of Ottawa University can be found on the Ottawa University History page.