Ottawa
Ontario, Canada
November 1999


Canada's federal parliament.
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 the area.



With my mother.
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.



The parliament building from a closer point.
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 as Hull.



Inside the ornate halls of the building.
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 Departmental Buildings.) 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.



Flame fountain in the front courtyard. In the background is the country's Supreme Court.
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.



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. Canada 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. Despite the 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.



At the Spark Street Mall.
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.



Before his 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.

The text materials above were excerpts from the Canada's National Capital Commission's "A Capital in the Making".