16 Cool Facts About Ottawa

16 Cool Facts About Ottawa

Having been born and raised in Ottawa, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing pretty much all the great things that the city has to offer. Growing up here gave me the opportunity to discover many of its wonders, and I’ve learned so much about it. 

Throughout its lifetime, a lot of cool and interesting things have happened in the capital city. I want to share some of them with you so you can have a better appreciation for Ottawa. 

Now, let’s take a closer look! 

Ottawa was not the first choice to be Canada’s capital city. 

Ottawa was not the first choice to be Canada’s capital city

Back in the 19th century when Canada was still a collection of provinces and territories, there was a heated rivalry between two major cities: Toronto (then known as York) and Montreal. 

These two municipalities were vying to become the capital of the newly united Province of Canada.

However, neither Toronto nor Montreal could agree on the matter, and the dispute threatened to tear the young nation apart before it even truly formed. 

The solution? A compromise.

In 1857, Queen Victoria, acting on the wisdom of her advisors, chose Ottawa as the capital. You might ask, “Why Ottawa?” 

Well, it was carefully placed on the border between Ontario, which spoke English, and Quebec, which spoke French. This made it a neutral ground. 

So, Ottawa became the consensus choice, the “middle ground” if you will, that tried to please both English and French Canadians. It was a practical choice that helped keep the newly united Canada together and not show favoritism to either language group.

Ottawa was the first ever Canadian city to get traffic lights. 

Ottawa was the first ever Canadian city to get traffic lights

Ottawa is famous for being the first city in Canada to have traffic lights. This important event happened in 1908 at the corner of Wellington Street and O’Connor Street, right here in the capital. 

At the time, these early traffic lights were controlled by hand by a police officer. He or she would direct the flow of horse-drawn wagons and cars, making sure that traffic went smoothly and safely.

Ottawa has its own personalized flag. 

Ottawa has its own personalized flag

The flag of Ottawa is a unique and important sign that stands for the city. 

It has a stylized “O” for Ottawa with a maple leaf embedded in the letter, which is a symbol of Canada. This design honors the fact that the city is Canada’s capital.

The blue and green colors of the flag reflect the Ottawa River and the lush greenery of the area. The white background shows that Ottawa is known for its snowy winters. 

The flag is a sign of the city as a whole, and you can see it flying at different city buildings and events all over Ottawa.

Ottawa is the seventh coldest capital in the world.

Ottawa is the seventh coldest capital in the world

Yes, Ottawa is one of the coldest capital cities in the world. As such, we are well-prepared for the chill! 

During winter months, temperatures can get as low as -15°C (5°F), and it can get even lower than that. So if you want to visit the capital, it’s good to have a thick winter coat with you. 

If you’re wondering why Ottawa is often dubbed the 7th coldest capital city in the world, let me give you the lowdown on our frosty reputation. 

You see, Ottawa’s bone-chilling winters are no secret to us locals, and there are a few key factors that contribute to our frigid status.

First and foremost, it’s all about geography. The capital is situated in eastern Canada, nestled within the Ottawa Valley, which means we’re not too far from the Arctic Circle. 

Our proximity to the North Pole means that we get hit with chilly air masses that sweep down from the Arctic, causing our temperatures to plummet.

Then there’s the infamous Canadian cold front, which comes into play. When polar air masses collide with warm, moist air from the south, it creates a perfect storm of icy conditions. 

This clash of wind masses can lead to some seriously cold snaps, often accompanied by heavy snowfall. It’s not uncommon for our winters to feature weeks of sub-zero temperatures.

Now, let’s talk about something we locals call the “Ottawa River effect.” 

Our city is bordered by the Ottawa River, and when it freezes over in winter, it can intensify the cold. The frozen body of water acts like a giant refrigerator, keeping temperatures even lower than they might be in nearby areas.

And let’s not forget the occasional visits from the polar vortex. This meteorological phenomenon can bring extreme cold to our region, causing temperatures to plummet to jaw-dropping lows.

Ottawa is a proudly bilingual city.

Ottawa is a proudly bilingual city

Bilingualism isn’t just a policy in Ottawa, it’s a way of life.

Both English and French are recognized as official languages in Canada. And since Ottawa is the capital of the country, it takes this job very seriously. 

The government and federal offices here work in both English and French so that all Canadians can use government services in the language they prefer. 

It’s not uncommon to walk into a government building and hear people talking in both of these aforementioned languages at the same time.

Now, let’s talk about how it fits into the culture. There are many events and holidays in Ottawa that honor both English and French Canadian culture. 

From Winterlude to Canada Day, there are events and acts in both English and French that show off our rich linguistic history. It’s pretty common to see us locals speaking to one another in these languages. 

Ottawa is the heart of Canada’s government. 

Ottawa is the heart of Canada’s government

Ottawa has been the political center of the country for a long time, and there are good historical and physical reasons for this.

First and foremost is the capital’s location. 

Ottawa is in a good position because it is on the line between Ontario, which speaks English, and Quebec, which speaks French. It’s almost like a bridge between Canada’s two most important languages and cultures. 

In the middle of the 19th century, this central site was chosen so that neither the English nor the French would be favored and to help bring people together in a newly united country.

Then there’s the history. Queen Victoria chose Ottawa as the capital of the Province of Canada (which became Canada) in 1857. 

The city was chosen so that both Toronto and Montreal, which both wanted to be the capital, could reach a compromise. 

Not only that, Ottawa’s remote location made it less susceptible to American invasion, a concern in the 19th century. So, it was a great strategic choice for a capital city.

Now, let’s talk about Canada’s famous government building, Parliament Hill

The Senate and the House of Commons meet in the impressive Gothic Revival buildings in this iconic location. This is where important choices about the future of our country are made. 

It’s not just a place where politics happen; it’s also a sign of our democracy.

Rideau Hall, which is the home of the Prime Minister and the Governor General, is also located in Ottawa. These famous places are important to how our country is run and how it deals with other countries.

In essence, Ottawa’s place as the center of Canada’s government isn’t just because of its location or history. It’s also because it’s a symbol of unity in a large, diverse country. 

It’s where our elected officials meet to discuss, pass laws, and make important decisions about the future of our great country.

Ottawa’s Parliament Hill was nearly burned down in a fire. 

Ottawa’s Parliament Hill was nearly burned down in a fire

Back on February 3, 1916, Ottawa experienced one of its darkest moments when a catastrophic fire swept through the Centre Block of Parliament Hill. 

This began in the evening, and strong winds fueled the flames, rapidly engulfing the iconic Centre Block building, which housed the House of Commons and the Senate.

The blaze was a devastating sight. Flames roared from the windows, and thick plumes of smoke billowed into the cold winter night. 

Ottawa residents and firefighters from all corners of the city rushed to the scene to battle the inferno, but it seemed like an impossible task.

In the end, despite their valiant efforts, the Centre Block was badly damaged, and a large part of it was burned to dust. Fortunately, the library survived thanks to its clerk Michael MacCormac’s fast response in shutting its iron doors. 

The part of this story that gives us hope, though, is that Ottawa and its people are so resilient. 

The government started a huge rebuilding project right away, and Parliament Hill was rebuilt in a beautiful Gothic Revival style that kept its famous look. 

During this restoration, the Peace Tower was built and now sits proudly in the middle of Ottawa’s government center. It is a sign of hope and recovery.

So, even though that terrible fire in 1916 nearly destroyed all of Parliament Hill, it came back from the ashes stronger and more beautiful than ever. Today, it stands as a sign of strength for Canada’s democracy and its lasting impact.

Ottawa’s Peace Tower has its flag changed every day, and residents can even get one for themselves. 

Ottawa’s Peace Tower has its flag changed every day, and residents can even get one for themselves

Yes, every flag that the locals and tourists see at the top of the Peace Tower is a unique one. You can even get one for yourself, provided that you meet the appropriate requirements.  

To get one of the flags of the Peace Tower at Parliament, you have to be on a waitlist that is more than 100 years long. Only one flag is allowed per family, and anyone who lives in Canada can get one.

On the website of the Canadian government, you can book a spot for one of the used flags. You can save one for a younger family member if you’re not sure if you’ll still be alive in 100 years.

This tradition feels very Canadian, and that’s why it’s one of our favorite fun facts about Ottawa.

Ottawa is home to Rideau Canal, a UNESCO world heritage site. 

Ottawa is home to Rideau Canal, a UNESCO world heritage site

The Rideau Canal is one of Ottawa’s signature landmarks and is a man-made marvel. 

Construction of the Rideau Canal began way back in 1826, and it was no small feat. Lieutenant Colonel John By, the man in charge, had a monumental task on his hands. 

He was tasked with creating a military supply route, a precautionary measure in case of war with the United States. So, he began work on what would be one of the world’s most wondrous locations that served the country and became an iconic location. 

To us Ottawans, the Rideau Canal isn’t just a marvel of engineering; it’s a work of art.

What makes it truly special is the fact that it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, recognized for its historical and cultural significance. 

Stretching from the Ottawa River to Lake Ontario, it winds its way through picturesque landscapes, including forests, lakes, and charming little towns.

Now, let’s talk about the canal’s design. It’s not just a run-of-the-mill waterway. It features a series of locks, dams, and weirs, making it a true engineering masterpiece of its time. 

And here’s a fun fact: the Rideau Canal has the oldest operating canal locks in North America.

Ottawa also has the world’s largest skating rink. 

Ottawa also has the world’s largest skating rink

The Rideau Canal isn’t just a place where people can ride boats and explore. During the winter, the canal transforms into the world’s largest skating rink, a title that’s even earned it a spot in the Guinness World Records. 

For us Ottawans, winter without a skate on the Rideau Canal is like missing out on a true Canadian experience.

And don’t forget our annual Winterlude festival. It’s a celebration of all things winter, featuring ice sculptures, snow slides, and, of course, the canal itself as the centerpiece for skating enthusiasts.

Ottawa has a grand total of 56 museums.

Ottawa has a grand total of 56 museums

The capital city has an extremely rich culture, and it has a very large number of museums that offer unique perspectives on its arts, history, and culture. We get to enjoy so many of these facilities that really leave you in awe of Ottawa’s numerous stories. 

There are a few notable examples of Ottawa’s national museums worth talking about. 

These include the Canadian Museum of History which features artifacts on the country’s history and indigenous people, and the Canadian Museum of Nature which showcases what Canada was like a thousand years ago.

You also have the Canadian War Museum, a place that commemorates the military service achievements of Canada and its soldiers. 

For other museums and galleries, you may want to consider visiting the Bank of Canada Museum, the Deifenbunker, and the Mackenzie King Estate

Ottawa has a famous spider statue called “Maman.”

Ottawa has a famous spider statue called “Maman.”

“Maman” is a monumental work of art created by the renowned French-American artist Louise Bourgeois. Its name comes from the French word for “mother,” and this sculpture takes the form of a giant spider.

Now, you might wonder, why a giant spider? Well, Louise Bourgeois was known for her deeply symbolic and often enigmatic art. “Maman” is no exception. 

It’s a tribute to her own mother, who was a weaver, and the spider is a symbol of both maternal protection and the creative process.

This impressive sculpture, made of bronze, stainless steel, and marble, stands at over 30 feet tall and can be found outside the National Gallery of Canada. 

It’s an imposing and thought-provoking piece that has become an iconic part of our city’s artistic landscape.

Ottawa is considered to be the shawarma capital of Canada. 

Ottawa is considered to be the shawarma capital of Canada

The title of “Shawarma Capital of Canada” is one that Ottawa proudly wears! You see, it’s not just about the sheer number of shawarma joints here (though we do have plenty), but also the quality and variety they offer. 

Ottawa’s diverse population has contributed to this reputation, as people from all corners of the world have brought their own unique spin to this Middle Eastern delicacy.

Now, what makes Ottawa’s shawarma special? It’s all in the details – the perfectly seasoned meat, the array of fresh vegetables, and the tantalizing sauces that vary from place to place. 

And let’s not forget about the famous Ottawa-style garlic sauce, which locals can’t get enough of.

Whether you’re in the mood for a traditional beef or chicken shawarma wrap, or you’re feeling adventurous and want to try something with a unique twist, Ottawa’s shawarma scene has got you covered.

Ottawa hosts the Canadian Tulip Festival every May. 

Ottawa hosts the Canadian Tulip Festival every May

The Tulip Festival is one of Ottawa and Canada’s most historical events. This all began during World War II when the Dutch royal family took refuge in Canada, specifically in Ottawa, during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands.

To express their gratitude for the hospitality and safety they found in Canada, the Dutch royals sent 100,000 tulip bulbs to Ottawa as a gift. These bulbs symbolized both their appreciation and the hope of liberation for the Netherlands.

Over the years, those tulips multiplied, and today, Ottawa is adorned with over a million colorful tulips during the festival. It’s a beautiful way to celebrate the enduring friendship between Canada and the Netherlands and to mark the arrival of spring in our city.

So, when you see those vibrant tulip displays around town in May, remember that they are not only a feast for the eyes but also a symbol of the enduring bond between nations forged during a dark chapter of history.

Ottawa is home to plenty of haunted locations. 

Ottawa is home to plenty of haunted locations

If you’re into tales of the supernatural, Ottawa has quite a few spooky stories to tell. You see, our city is steeped in many notable events, and where there’s history, there are often tales of ghosts and hauntings.

One of the most famous haunted spots here is the Fairmont Château Laurier Hotel. This grand and historic hotel has been the subject of many ghostly legends over the years, with stories of apparitions and eerie occurrences.

Then there’s the Ottawa Jail Hostel, which was once an actual jail. It’s said to be haunted by the spirits of former inmates, and some visitors have reported hearing ghostly footsteps and strange noises.

The Bytown Museum, located in the oldest stone building in Ottawa, is rumored to have its share of paranormal activity as well. Plenty of folks and guides have some tales of ghostly figures and unexplained happenings in the surrounding area.

Of course, it’s all in good fun, and whether you believe in ghosts or not, these stories add a layer of intrigue to our city’s rich history. 

Ottawa’s many historic buildings and sites make for the perfect backdrop for these ghostly tales, and they certainly add a unique flavor to our local lore. 

So, if you’re feeling brave, you might want to explore some of these haunted locations and see if you can uncover any ghostly mysteries for yourself!

Ottawa was supposed to get furniture for its Chateau Laurier, but it sank with the Titanic. 

Ottawa was supposed to get furniture for its Chateau Laurier, but it sank with the Titanic

The history of the Chateau Laurier and the Titanic is a fascinating and somewhat tragic tale of Ottawa’s past. 

In the early 1900s, the Chateau Laurier Hotel, which is a famous and expensive building in our city, was being built. The managers of the grand hotel had ordered a shipment of beautiful furniture and fittings from Europe.

But fate had different plans. The furniture, which was made in Europe with great care and style, was on its way to Ottawa, but it was supposed to come on the doomed RMS Titanic. 

We all know that the Titanic was destroyed when it hit an iceberg and sank in the North Atlantic Ocean on April 15, 1912.

The beautiful furniture that was supposed to go in the Chateau Laurier went down with the ship, which was one of many heartbreaking things that were lost in that accident. 

It’s a sad reminder of how much the Titanic changed the world, including how our favorite hotel was built.