Imagine what John By would think if he saw Ottawa today, a metropolitan area of over one million residents. Back in 1826 By, an officer in the British Army Corps of Royal Engineers, received his orders to report to Upper Canada and build a canal to facilitate transportation between Lake Ontario and the Ottawa River. There were concerns about the unpredictable Americans looking to flex their new muscles in British North America.

When By arrived at the Chaudiere Falls he found a small settlement barely two decades old where the residents clawed out a living harvest elm and maples trees and shipping the timber to Montreal. By set about his work, which included laying out streets and carving out building lots for the workers he would need. The place was called Bytown. Six years later the job was complete. By was retired and sent home to England. There was no ceremony for the Rideau Canal, not commendation, no mention of the feat whatsoever. Just another mission checked off of a long to-do list in managing the British empire. By died a few years later at the age of 55.

The Rideau Canal - it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the best preserved slackwater canal from the golden era of canal building in North America in the first half of the 19th century - kickstarted the lumber trade so acutely that Bytown was conferred as a city in 1854. It also took the name of the river, which appropriately enough, derived from the Algonquin word for “trade.” In 1857 Queen Victoria, partly because the Crown owned Bytown, designated Ottawa as the capital of the unified Province of Canada, ending a game of Parliamentary musical chairs between Quebec and Toronto. 

The surprising choice of Ottawa for Dominion Capital did not go down well when word filtered back across the Atlantic Ocean. Was it the Queen’s choice or merely a recommendation debated local politicians. After all, in recent years there had been more than 200 votes on where to place a permanent capital since Upper and Lower Canada were welded in 1841. Bytown was typically the least popular of all the vote chasers in those referendums. A motion to ask the Queen to reconsider was quickly introduced. Political wrangling ensued and the Canadian Parliament finally reached a last vote to ratify the wishes of Queen Victoria in 1859. Ottawa won by a scant five votes. 

So Ottawa became a government town. Although the city is the agricultural center of eastern Ontario a federal job is the most common occupation in the city. In 1950 Jacques Greber submitted an integrated plan of development designed to beautify the capital city and de-emphasize some of its industrial trappings like the railroads that chugged into the city’s core. The ramifications of the Greber Plan are still in evidence. Ottawa is one of the cleanest major cities in the world (#4 in one ranking) and more than seven million tourists come each year. The focal point for most visits is Parliament Hill and that is where we will begin our explorations...  

Queen’s Gates
Wellington Street at head of Metcalfe Street

This formal entrance to the Canadian government was erected in 1872 in an ornate High Victorian Gothic style. The wrought-iron gates are supported by stone piers generously decorated with pointed arches and tracery. The gates and the entire Wellington Wall fronting Parliament Hill look new thanks to a $5 million facelift in the 1990s.

Centennial Flame
Public Grounds of the Parliament Buildings

This low-slung monument was only intended to be a temporary tribute to Canada’s 100th anniversary as a Confederation when it was erected in 1967. But it was such a hit with the people that the flame became a permanent fixture in the walkway behind the Queen’s Gates. The coins that are tossed into the surrounding fountain are collected and deposited into a bank account to fund achievements by Canadians with disabilities. There are 12 shields surrounding the flame that represent the provinces of Canada - minus Nunavut that was created in 1999. This is not an “eternal” flame so the natural gas-fueled flickers may not be in operation during times of maintenance or bad weather.    ‘

Peace Tower
Public Grounds of the Parliament Buildings

“The grand old tower put up a magnificent fight for survival. Standing while the support seemed to have burned away, it sent a solid pillow of twisting, billowing gold up into the winter night,” eulogized Charles Bishop in the Ottawa Citizen in 1916. The occasion was a conflagration in the Centre Block that destroyed the seat of Canadian government. The blaze started in a reading room stuffed with old newspapers and spread rapidly through the ventilation system on a wickedly cold February 3 night. The Victoria Tower was the 55-metre centrepiece of Parliament Hill. All that survived was the tower bell that was restored and placed on the Grounds as a monument. To this day the cause of the fire is unknown, perhaps an accident, perhaps sabotage by a German agent, perhaps an electrical mishap.

The task of reconstruction was handed to celebrated Toronto architect John Pearson and Jean-Omer Marchand, the nation’s most distinguished French-Canadian designer. The new campanile soared over 300 feet (92.2 metres) above the Ottawa River. The design complements the High Victorian style of Parliament Hill and was executed in local Nepean sandstone with a roof sheathed in copper. Some 370 gargoyles, grotesques and friezes adorn the tower, which includes an observation deck. The iconic structure - it had a stint on the Canadian twenty-dollar bill - doubles as a World War I memorial. The dedication of the Peace Tower in 1927 with the Dominion Carillon was broadcast live and marked the first ever coast-to-coast radio transmission in Canada. 

Centre Block
Public Grounds of the Parliament Buildings

In 1857 Queen Victoria gave Bytown the nod as the capital of the Province of Canada which triggered a flurry of construction activity. A limestone outcrop covered with native beech and hemlock overlooking the river was selected as the site for new government buildings. The early settlers had valued the spot for its defensive possibilities and called the nob Barrack Hill but a fortress was never constructed.

Advertisements for a “plain, substantial style of architecture” attracted 298 architects in search of a $1000 design prize. The winner was Thomas Fuller, a 36-year old English-trained architect working in Toronto with Chilion Jones. He had only been in Canada two years. Fuller’s vision for a campus of High Victorian Gothic Parliament buildings has held sway ever since. Fuller would eventually become Chief Dominion Architect in 1881.

After the Centre Block burned in 1916 John Pearson and Jean-Omer Marchand re-created the original appearance with a modern steel frame and a bit less ornamentation. Still, construction required an abundance of carving in 24 different types of stone. The new Centre Block rose with more than 50,000 stone blocks of facing and trim around 550 windows. The legislature was back in session by 1920 but the decorative work on the inside was not completely finished until the 1970s.


East Block
Public Grounds of the Parliament Buildings

The Eastern Departmental Building, as it is known on official government stationery, is the only one of the four original buildings on Parliament Hill that would be completely recognizable to the legislators of the 1860s. The cabinet convened here for more than a century and its rooms contained all the government offices under one roof. In the design competition esteemed architects Thomas Stent and Augustus Laver, entering under pseudonyms, won second prize - the East and West Blocks. They delivered a standout Ruskinian Gothic Revival confection that was ready for occupancy in 1865.

West Block
Public Grounds of the Parliament Buildings

Unlike the East Block the sandstone-dressed West block has been fiddled with several times over the years since construction was completed in 1865. The Mackenzie Tower and a north wing came along in 1878 and the Laurier Tower was added in 1906. There was an unsympathetic renovation inside in 1965 and in recent years the Stent and Laver design has received an $863 million makeover that includes 1.4 million new bricks, 764 new windows and over 3,000 square metres of copper roofing.


Library of Parliament
Public Grounds of the Parliament Buildings

As fire raged in the Centre Block, library clerk Connie MacCormac ordered a set of iron doors secured that saved the only slice of the original building. The High Victorian Gothic design from Thomas Fuller and Chilion Jones, connected to the Centre Block by a single corridor, was completed in 1876. In addition to the eye-catching composition the Library is outfitted with polychromatic stone. The collection began with 47,000 volumes, including some from Queen Victoria’s private bookshelf, and now houses 600,000 items across Ottawa. Fuller and Jones used the British Library Reading Room in London as their model and the library has been acclaimed as Canada’s most beautiful room.  


Summer Pavilion
Public Grounds of the Parliament Buildings

With the Parliament buildings in place by 1873 landscape architect Calvert Vaux, best known for his work on New York City’s Central Park, was recruited to work on the Grounds. Vaux tamed the slopes of the hill with tiers and terraces, linked by stairways and curving ramps. Eventually 19 bronze statues would be added to the landscape. At this spot overlooking the Ottawa River a gazebo was installed for the Speaker of the House of Commons. It was torn down in 1956 but in 1995 a replica was put up to honour Canadian peace officers who lost their lives in service to the country.


Langevin Block/Prime Minister’s Office
80 Wellington Street at southeast corner of Metcalfe Street

This was the first government building constructed off Parliament Hill and Thomas Fuller, then serving as Chief Architect of the Department of Public Works, showed off his versatility with this French Second Empire tour-de-force that stands in Victorian-era contrast to the Gothic Revival buildings on Parliament Hill. The block-swallowing four-storey confection is clad in limestone and covered with a high copper mansard roof. Construction began in 1883 and finished in 1889. Fuller would go on to supervise over 140 buildings across Canada before leaving office in 1895; he died three years later at the age of 75.

The building was named for Hector-Louis Langevin, one of the Fathers of Confederation from Quebec who was a prime driver of building Indian Residential Schools across Canada. The department of Indian Affairs was one of the first departments to move in here, along with Agriculture, Interior and the Post Office. After renovations in the 1970s the Langevin Block welcomed the Prime Minister’s Office and the Privy Council Office. 


Terry Fox Monument
Plaza at 90 Wellington Street at southwest corner of Metcalfe Street

Terry Fox was a British Columbia scholastic distance runner and basketball player whose right leg was amputated in 1977 when he was 19 years old after the appearance of a cancerous bone tumour. In 1980 Fox embarked on a cross-Canada run to raise money for cancer research. The Marathon of Hope attracted worldwide attention but Fox was forced to end his quest in Thunder Bay after 143 days when his cancer returned. One month before his 23rd birthday, Fox died. Hailed as a national hero, Terry Fox was the youngest person to be named a Companion of the Order of Canada. This is one of seven statues, rendered in bronze by John Hooper, erected in his memory across the country. 

Old U.S. Embassy
100 Wellington Street

This Beaux Arts building was raised in 1931 to house the diplomatic corps from the United States. It carries one of the finest American architectural pedigrees possible - a design by Cass Gilbert whose resume includes three state capitols, the United States Supreme Court building in Washington and the Woolworth Building in New York City that was the tallest building in the world when it opened in 1912. The U.S. embassy shuffled off to Sussex Drive in 1998 and the building has been expensive empty space ever since. There have been proposals to fill it with a national portrait gallery or national cultural museum but there is been no new tenant for the time being.

Union Bank Building
128 Wellington Street
This Victorian-era souvenir was once part of a stretch of Wellington Street known as Bankers’ Row. Ottawa architect Frederick John Alexander contributed the Romanesque Revival design, executed in yellow sandstone hauled over from New Brunswick. The ground floor is composed of a trio of large voussoired arches for window openings and the entryway. 

Victoria Building
140 Wellington Street on southeast corner of O’Connor Street

Early skyscrapers were designed in a tripartite form in the manner of a classical column. Here, John Albert Ewart, the son of Chief Dominion Architect David Ewart, adopted the same technique for this 12-storey high-rise in 1928: a base (the two-storey limestone base), a shaft (the unadorned central stories) and a capital (the decorated upper storey and roofline). This was one of the last high-rises of its kind as more and more architects were turning to the Art Deco style for high-rise buildings by this time. One of the early tenants was the French embassy. In 1938 the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation settled in and and stayed until 1964.

Bank of Montreal
144 Wellington Street at southwest corner of O’Connor Street

The Bank of Montreal was the first bank chartered in Canada, in 1842. In 1872 it was the first to establish a branch in Ottawa, taking deposits on this corner. The offices were torn down to make way for an impressive Art Deco vault in 1929, designed by busy Montreal bank architect Ernest Isbell Barott. The elegance of this structure won Barott a gold medal from the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada. A decade later he would claim Second Prize in the national competition to design the Canadian Pavilion at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. The building, executed in limestone above a granite base, boasts full-height pilasters framing bronze windows.

National Press Building
150 Wellington Street

Hugh Archibald Richards and William J. Abra specialized in designing educational buildings - more than 50 schools across eastern Ontario in the 30 years after their partnership began in 1913. This commercial project was undertaken for the Norlite Realty Company in 1917. The Italian Renaissance style was executed in limestone and terra cotta, confined to the front as the developers clearly expected their mid-block office building to be flanked by even larger towers. The target market for leased space was the federal government which took over the property in the 1950s. So many news bureaus were housed here that the name was switched to the National Press Building. 

Wellington Building
180 Wellington on southeast corner of Bank Street
While easily passing for a monumental government building this six-storey Beaux Art office block was actually a monumental life insurance building when it was constructed in 1925. Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, one of largest early players in Canadian insurance, brought its chief architect, Dan Everett Waid, up from New York City to create this headquarters. Waid sent a parade of engaged round Corinthian columns along the Wellington Street elevation and  square Corinthian columns down the Bank Street side. Enough insurance policies were sold that a decidedly more restrained wing was added on the east side of the complex. Met Life moved behind this building in 1970 and the federal government moved in, a natural fit. 

Confederation Building
229 Wellington Street

Like his father before him, Thomas William Fuller became a Chief Dominion Architect, serving from 1927 until 1936. One of his first projects was the Confederation Building which was started by his predecessor Richard Cotsman Wright just before his death in January of 1927. Wright was an enthusiastic cheerleader for the Chateauesque style of architecture which was employed here. Look up to see ranks of dormer windows, turrets, oriels and finials. The Wellington Street facade is awash in carvings depicting Canadian life.

Bank of Canada
234 Wellington Street

The Bank of Canada was chartered in 1934 to “promote the economic and financial well-being of Canada.” The bank began operations in the Victoria Building while awaiting plans for a permanent home from the Toronto firm of Ferdinand Herbert Marani, James I. Lawson and Robert S. Morris. After a few false steps the plans for this five-storey Neoclassical vault with tall, slender windows were approved. Two large urns were placed on both ends of the facade to balance the composition; it was in use during 1938. With more space needed, in 1979 celebrated Canadian architect Arthur Erickson crafted an award-winning glass and copper headquarters around the original bank building. Considered one of Canada’s finest 20th century buildings the Bank of Canada building features an 80-metre public atrium and tropical garden.

St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church
82 Kent Street at southwest corner of Kent Street

St. Andrews conducted the first Presbyterian services in Ottawa in 1828. The main congregants were Irish and Scottish labourers building the Rideau Canal. The church moved here in the 1870s and the Gothic-flavoured sanctuary was designed by William Tutin Thomas of Montreal.


Justice Building
294 Wellington Street at northeast corner of Kent Street

Prime Minister Mackenzie King was a big fan of Canada’s Chateauesque government buildings and Thomas William Fuller launched this one in 1935. This end of Wellington Street was once filled with comfortable residences and businesses and the arrival of the Justice Building is testament to the expansion of the government during the Great Depression. The nine-storey confection is clad in Nepean sandstone and trimmed in Wallace sandstone. The entrance on Kent Street sports a stone carving of the Canadian coat-of-arms over the entrance.


Supreme Court of Canada
301 Wellington Street

The Supreme Court, with six justices, convened in rooms at the Centre Block from 1876 until 1889. A new home was then readied on Bank Street and the Court remained until 1945. Construction on the new quarters got underway here in 1939 after Queen Elizabeth laid the cornerstone. Ernest Cormier, a much-honoured architect from Montreal, created an Art Deco masterwork under a Parliament Hill-styled Chateuesque roof. The entrance is flanked by two statues by Toronto artist Walter S. Allward: Veritas (Truth) to the west, and Ivstitia (Justice) to the east. On the front lawn is Prime Minister Louis S. St-Laurent, realized from the hands of Vancouver sculptor Elek Imredy.


East/West Memorial Building
284-344 Wellington Street

The federal government continued to march down Wellington Street after World War II with the construction of these twin office complexes for the Department of Veterans Affairs. The first was completed in 1949 and the other in 1955; the two are linked by a Memorial Arch dedicated to all Canadians who served in World War II. Architects George Roper Gouninlock and H.L. Allward used the stripped-down classicism of the Art Deco style beneath the requisite copper sheathed roof.

Library and Archives of Canada
395 Wellington Street

An Act of Parliament established the national library in 1953 “to acquire, preserve, promote and provide access to the published heritage of Canada for all Canadians.” In 2003 the mission was welded to the Dominion Archives that had been set up with the Confederation in 1872. This repository was erected in 1967 at the cost of some $13 million. The interior is finished in granite and marble and visitors are greeted by golden mosaic pillars in the the main lobby.


St. Peter’s Lutheran Church
400 Sparks Street at southwest corner of Bay Street

English-born Cecil Burgess practiced architecture in Ottawa for over 40 years after hanging out his shingle in 1914. This was one of his final projects, a Gothic Revival church for the Lutheran congregation that was founded in 1910. The building stone was the same quarried for the government buildings on Parliament Hill. The first services were held in 1954.

Christ Church Cathedral
414 Sparks Street

Nicholas Sparks was a farmer who owned most of the land that would become downtown Ottawa in the early 1800s. He donated some of it for civic causes, such as this parcel in the northwest corner of his property to the Anglican Church in 1832. As the population surged it became apparent the church needed more land so Sparks gave some more. In 1872 the original church and its additions were razed and this sanctuary erected. King McCord Arnoldi, a popular Ottawa architect, designed the English Gothic style meeting house. The East Window was dedicated to members of the church’s largest benefactors, the Sparks family. When the Diocese of Ottawa was created in 1896 Christ Church became parish cathedral.


Dover Building
185-187 Sparks Street

A few 19th century commercial ornaments remain on Sparks Street. This three-storey Romanesque Revival red brick building with sandstone trim dates to 1896. A.J. Stephens ran a thriving boot business here in the early decades of the 20th century but it carries the name of Joseph Dover, who converted the space into a hardware and sporting goods emporium in 1944 and stayed until 1981.

Brouse Building
181-183 Sparks

This Romanesque-styled building shows off festive brickwork and an ornamental cornice. Ottawa grocer Henry Brouse developed this property as a speculative venture in 1893. He found a steady roster of tenants, including a hotel.

Slater Building
177-179 Sparks Street

This building has ties to the Sparks family - Esther Sparks, daughter of Nicholas, married food wholesaler Robert Slater who bankrolled the project in 1894. The ground floor has been compromised but look up to see pillar-supported arches and decorative brickwork on this Victorian-era reminder.

Booth Building
165 Sparks Street

Lumber merchant J.R. Booth spread some of his cash around with this eight-storey building that was one of Ottawa’s first concrete reinforced buildings when it rose in 1911.

Poulin’s Dry Goods Store
155 Sparks Street at southwest corner of O’Connor Street

Louis-Napoléon Poulin took over this 1871 structure in 1889 and fashioned a three-storey Romanesque Revival emporium that eventually grew to 100,000 square feet of selling space. “Ottawa’s Store of Satisfaction” continued for two more generations into the 1970s. Discounter Zeller’s took over the space in the 1980s and stayed until 2012. Sparks Street, which for decades boasted half-a-dozen department stores now had none. 

Bryson, Graham & Co
152-154 Sparks Street at southeast corner of O’Connor Street

Charles Bryson began clerking in Ottawa dry goods stores in 1864 and was shortly partnering in his own businesses. This was his third store location on Sparks Street, moving to this corner in 1880. At the same time he took Frederick John Graham, a tool salesman, as a partner. The building with a dominating Second Empire mansard roof had been here since 1871. Bryson and Graham shortly pioneered the concept of “one price for all” in Ottawa and as fixed pricing caught on the business expanded into the town’s first true department store. The partners gobbled up retail footage along Sparks Street and O’Connor Street. Bryson died in 1917 at the age of 73 and Graham followed him to the grave in 1923 at the age of 70. The store trundled on until April 18, 1953 when it shuttered forever.

Bank of Nova Scotia
125 Sparks Street

One of Toronto’s best bank architects, John McIntosh Lyle, came to Ottawa in 1924 to deliver this textbook Beaux Arts vault for the Bank of Nova Scotia. A quartet of fluted Doric columns dominate the classical facade above a rusticated ground storey. The arrival of the bank, chartered in 1832, on Sparks Street was indicative of the commercial retreat from Wellington Street in the early 1900s.

Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce
119 Sparks Street

The Canadian Imperial Bank was a major financier of the region’s timber trade since its founding in 1874. This imposing main branch fronted by full-height Corinthian guardians joined the streetscape in 1922. High-grade Indiana limestone was used in executing the Beaux Arts design. Inside, the banking hall goes all the way to the ceiling, illuminated by a skylight.

Bate Building
109-111 Sparks Street

Henry Newell Bate sailed with his family from England to Ontario when he was five years old in 1833. In 1854 Henry and his brother Charles showed up in Bytown and began a wholesale grocery business which was to make him a fortune. This was the company’s retail outlet; erected in 1859 it is the oldest structure on Sparks Street. Thomas Stent and Augustus Laver designed the building that included a residence for Charles fronting Wellington Street. Henry Bate became the first Chairman of the Ottawa Improvement Commission when it was founded in 1899 and did so much for the city in his role that he was knighted by King George V in 1910. The Bate Building is now a mish-mash of architectural styles with a handmade first storey that obscured a Paladian front that itself was tacked onto the original Italianate facade.

Canada’s Four Corners Building
93 Sparks Street at northwest corner of Metcalfe Street

Historically this corner has been the core of the Ottawa central business district. Consider these tenants/owners: Montreal Telegraph, Merchants’ Bank of Canada, Canadian National Railways. The developer was Scottish-born Hugh Allan who built the largest privately owned shipping empire in the world in Montreal. Allan founded the Merchants’ Bank in 1864 and built this ornate Second Empire branch with rough-faced stone in 1870. He was also President of Montreal Telegraph that began in 1852 and became Canada’s most important 19th century communications system.

Blackburn Building
85 Sparks Street

Robert and Russell Blackburn bankrolled Ottawa’s first high-rise building; it remained as the city’s sky king into the 1960s. The Blackburns hired architect Werner Edgar Noffke in 1907 to design a commodious seven-storey hotel fronting Metcalfe Street. The project was delayed by land title disputes and in the interim the building grew to 10 storeys before it was completed in 1913. Noffke created a Beaux Arts design in the tripartite tradition of skyscraper building; the building rose in three sections on a steel skeleton. The Union Bank was the first tenant and so this was the Union Bank building for a long time.

Hope Building
61-63 Sparks

This nine-storey mid-block commercial building with a narrow footprint was the real estate adventure of bookseller and paper merchant James Hope in 1910. The building is clad in granite and glazed terra cotta panels.

Postal Station B
47 Sparks Street at northwest corner of Elgin Street

Ottawa architect W.E. Noffke returned in 1938 to bookend this block of Sparks Street with his works, this time a post office branch. As was the wont of local architects Noffke employed a steep Château-style copper roof and stripped down Art Deco classicism for the limestone facade. The corner entrance is fashioned from bronze and is guarded by two serious stone lions. 

Scottish Ontario Chambers
42-50 Sparks Street at southwest corner of Elgin Street

This lively Victorian structure was raised by the Scottish Ontario and Manitoba Land Company in 1883. The composition blends Italianate styling with an imposing Second Empire roofline. William Bain Scarth spearheaded the formation of the company with merchant capitalists from Glasgow in 1879. 


Central Chambers National Historic Site
42-54 Elgin Street at northwest corner of Queen Street

John James Browne followed his father into architecture and became one of Montreal’s most versatile Victorian designers. This standout Queen Anne style composition of red brick, rough-faced stone and decorative tile was one of the town’s most substantial 19th century commercial buildings. Three storeys of bay windows separate an arcuated base from an upper story lined with pediments filled with Palladian windows. Construction was compelted in 1893, the same year Browne died at the age of 55 from complications after he was struck by a horse and sleigh on a Montreal Street.


Confederation Square

Prime ministers Wilfrid Laurier and William Lyon Mackenzie King fell under the spell of the City Beautiful movement that was sweeping North America in the early 20th century. The beautification of cities with landscaped squares and wide boulevards was believed to promote an increase in the quality of life. In Ottawa, that meant the naming of a Federal District Commission and the creation of Confederation Square and a widening of Elgin Street.

Jacques Greber, a French architect who had made over Philadelphia was recruited to oversee Ottawa improvements. Down came decades-old landmarks as Elgin Street was widened in 1939. The same year the National War Memorial of Canada was dedicated by King George VI to the fallen soldiers of World War I. Almost two decades in the making, British sculptor Vernon March won a world-wide contest over 127 entrants for the commission in 1925. March died of pneumonia at the age of 38 in 1930 and six of his siblings completed the bronze statues which includes 22 soldiers under a monumental arch that represent the 22 branches of the Canadian that fought in the Great War. Other war tributes include Valiants Memorial around the edges with fourteen busts of lionized national military leaders. As a whole, the National War Memorial is the most renowned of the 76 cenotaphs registered across Canada. 


Union Station/Government Conference Centre
2 Rideau Street

The Bytown and Prescott Railway ran the first trains into Bytown on Christmas Day, 1854. The line was followed by several others to the end of the century, with each building railway stations. John Rudolphus Booth built the largest lumber operation in the world in central Ontario and his main sawmill was in the heart of Ottawa at Chaudière Falls. Booth built the Canada Atlantic Railway to handle the output of his mill and constructed a depot on this location in 1895. He sold the railroad to the Grand Trunk Railway in 1905 and plans were hatched for a Union Station. George Allen Ross and Robert Henry Macdonald, Canada’s most esteemed architects, came up from Montreal to execute the Beaux Arts passenger terminal in 1912. The last of those passengers boarded in 1966 and the building was repurposed as a centre for Canada’s centennial celebrations the following year.

Château Laurier
1 Rideau Street

This signature hotel was part of package deal with Union Station, constructed for the Grand Trunk Railway. New York architect Bradford Gilbert, who designed dozens of railway stations, began the work on both projects but clashed with railroad executives and was dismissed. While Ross and Macdonald made significant changes his Union Station across the street, Gilbert’s vision for a French Gothic Châteauesque hotel to complement the nearby Parliament buildings held sway. The two buildings are connected by a tunnel udner the roadway. The Château Laurier was constructed in high-grade Indiana limestone with a copper roof. Ottawa’s grandest hotel, with 429 guest rooms, opened to a low-key reception on April 26, 1912 because Grand Trunk Railway president Charles Melville Hays had perished on the RMS Titanic two weeks before.

Transportation Building
10 Rideau Street

The heir to the fortune of lumber baron J.R. Booth, C. Jackson Booth, was the man behind this Chicago Style office tower in 1916. John Albert Ewart, who worked over a half century in Ottawa, decorated his building with Gothic details; the entire exquisite facade is covered with hand-crafted terra cotta tile. When fire crippled the second Ottawa City Hall in 1931 the government moved here for more than a quarter-century. The 100-year old landmark has now been incorporated into the Rideau Centre shopping plaza. 


Geological Survey of Canada Building National Historic Site
541 Sussex Drive at the northeast corner of George Street

Here is a glimpse into Ottawa’s early days. English-born James Skead sailed to Lower Canada with his family in 1827 when he was ten years old. The Skeads came to Bytown where James made his fortune in the lumber business on the Madawaska River. He segued into politics and erected this three-storey, stone building as a hotel in 1863. In pre-Confederation days the building also did duty as a military barracks for the British Army. In 1879 the government purchased the property and set up an exhibit of the Canadian Academy of the Arts. When the show was over the Geological and Natural History Survey of Canada formed to manage a permanent museum that became the progenitor for all Canadian national museums. The collection was moved to the Victoria Memorial Museum in 1911 and one of Ottawa’s oldest buildings has served various culutral masters since.

Connaught Building
550 Sussex Drive

Chief Dominion Architect David Ewart tapped the ancient Tudor Gothic style with Norman overtones for this Canadian customs office in 1913. He outfitted the massive structure with turrets, buttresses, a crenellated roof and a distinctive ogee-arched main entrance. The castle-like structure is hailed as Ewart’s masterwork and was named for Queen Victoria’s third son, the Duke of Connaught. The interior was altered in the 1970s, sacrificing some of Ewart’s soaring ceiling spaces for additional floor space.

Embassy of the United States
490 Sussex Drive

The neighborly feelings between Canada and the United States are reflected in the prominent location of the American embassy on the western edge of Byward Market. President Bill Clinton was on hand to dedicate the David Childs-designed space in 1999 - the first time an American president personally dedicated a new embassy. The interior is decorated with the works of 59 American artists.

Commercial Building
459 Sussex Drive

This three-storey structure is representative of Sussex Drive and downtown Bytown in the days before Confederation. It is a masonry structure with simple detailing with storefronts on the ground storey and living quarters upstairs.

Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica
385 Sussex Drive at the northeast corner of St. Patrick Street

St. Jacques Church, a modest wooden meetinghouse, was built here in 1832. It was torn down in 1841 to make way for a grander Neoclassical edifice. Politics intervened midway through construction and the final result in 1846 turned out to be Neo-Gothic in style. Most of the ornamentation was reserved for the interior, the twin spires are dressed in tin, a convention of French-Canadian churches. Notre-Dame was designated the Bytown cathedral in 1847 and stands as the oldest and largest church in Ottawa. 


National Gallery of Canada
380 Sussex Drive at the northwest corner of St. Patrick Street

The art collection for the National Gallery of Canada was assembled in 1880 and the museum settled into its first home on Parliament Hill two years later. A peripatetic existence followed that ended here in 1988. Israeli/Canadian/American architect Moshe Safdie, a disciple of Louis Kahn and veteran of many public institutional designs, created a monumental space of granite and glass. Today the collection reflects the Canadian experience through over 1,200 works on display at any one time.


Major’s Hill Park

This was originally the homesite of Lieutenant-Colonel John By, an officer in the Royal Engineers of the British Army who was posted to Canada at the age of 23 in 1802. His orders were to help fortify Quebec City and improve the navigability of the Saint Lawrence River. He came to the Ottawa River Valley in 1826 to build the Rideau Canal, which also necessitated founding a town in the wilderness which became Bytown. By departed with the opening of the canal in 1832. The house burned in 1848 but the open space remained as the town grew up beneath Major’s Hill (By had been replaced by Daniel Bolton who was elevated to the rank of major and “Colonel’s Hill” was similarly promoted). In the 1870s the space became Ottawa’s first park with fountains and a co-ordinated planting of trees. The first statue appeared in 1888, a uniformed guardsman sporting a bearskin hat. A tribute to John By did not arrive until 1971; as depicted by Joseph-Émile Brunet the Colonel stands on a granite plinth surveying his canal.  


Rideau Canal

There was an urgency to the building of the Rideau Canal when work got underway in 1826. The War of 1812 was fresh in the mind of British North America and there was fear that the United States would ultimately attack the British colony of Upper Canada. Lieutenant-Colonel John By of the Royal Engineers was put in charge and he designed a slackwater canal system to provide a navigable water link between the Ottawa River and Lake Ontario at Kingston. The steamboat Rideau (French for “curtain”) puttered the 202-kilometre route in seven days in 1832. By was sent home to England with no formal recognition for creating a viable route through the North American wilderness to allow the British to compete with the Erie Canal in the United States. There were never any American incursions and the Rideau Canal never saw military use. The waterway’s value in opening interior Canada was recognized in 2007 when it was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

There are eight locks between the Ottawa River and Sappers Bridge, a stone marvel built at the same time as the canal. The canal raises vessels an impressive 80 feet (24.4 metres). Most of the construction of the canalworks is original, including the Blacksmith Shop (1829), Lockmaster’s Office (1884) and Commissariat Building (1827) which can be visited via pathways.

In January, when the Rideau Canal freezes over, it becomes the largest skating rink in the world, as certified by Guinness World Records. An estimated 19,000 skaters a day enjoy 7.8 kilometres of the Rideau Canal Skateway - the equivalent of 105 National Hockey League rinks.