35+ Fun and Interesting Facts About Ottawa

Cycle on either side of the canal
Cycle on either side of the canal

I grew up in Ottawa, a city that offers a great mix of culture and recreation. Its home to the National Arts Center which always offers something interesting for the right side of your brain, but it’s the easy access to the outdoor life where Ottawa really shines. In winter you can skate on the Rideau Canal or cross-country ski in Gatineau Park. In the summer, you’re never far from cottage country and the cycling is excellent. Ottawa was a bike-friendly city well before it became trendy to embrace bikes. Enjoy these 35 fun, weird, interesting facts about Ottawa.

35 Fun, Weird and Interesting Facts About Ottawa
Get a selfie shot at the Ottawa sign in the Byward Market

Ottawa is the capital of Canada. It was chosen by Queen Victoria in 1857.

Ottawa is the fourth largest city in Canada by population and the second largest city in Ontario by population.

Ottawa was originally called Bytown named for Colonel John By, the engineer who oversaw construction of the Rideau Canal.  In 1855 Bytown was incorporated and became Ottawa.

The name Ottawa comes from the Algonquin word adawe – which means to trade.

Ottawa is located on the banks of the Ottawa, Rideau and Gatineau Rivers.

Ottawa boasts a UNESCO World heritage site – the Rideau Canal. It is the best preserved example of a slackwater canal built in North America. It remains operational along its’ original line with most of the structures from the early nineteenth century still intact.

Ottawa's version of 'Love Locks' seen while biking in Ottawa
Ottawa’s version of ‘Love Locks’ seen while biking along the Rideau Canal

In 1970-71 a record 444.1 cm (174 inches) of snow fell over the winter in Ottawa. The average annual snowfall in Ottawa is 236 cm (92.8 inches). One of the interesting facts about Ottawa – at least to me – is that I lived there the year that happened. My mother hated that winter!

Ottawa is the seventh coldest capital in the world. Others that are colder include in order of coldest first are Ulaan-Baatar in Mongolia, Astana in Kazakhastan, Moscow, Helsinki in Finland, Reykjavik, Iceland and Tallinn in Estonia.

The hottest day on record in Ottawa was 37.8 °C (100 °F) though humidex readings often go above 40°C.

The lowest temperature ever recorded in Ottawa was -36.1 °C (-33°F) on February 15, 1943.

Ottawa receives an average of 2,061 hours of bright sunshine a year. Compare that to Calgary that gets 2,405 hours of sunshine per year – the highest of any major Canadian city.

On the summer solstice the sun rises at 5:14 AM and sets at 8:54 PM. On the winter solstice the sun rises at 7:39 AM and sets at 4:23 PM.

"My street in the winter of 1971"
Incredible snowbanks along my street in 1971 (Photo credit: My neighbour – Mike Ratz)

Interesting facts about the people of Ottawa

The metro Ottawa area population is 1,437,000 as of 2023. Of those, 920,000 live on the Ontario side of the river.

About 25% of Ottawa residents were born outside of Canada.

In 2016 the median age of the population was 40.1 – making it one of the younger cities in the country.

Ottawa is a multilingual city. Approximately 62.4% of people consider English to be their mother tongue while 14.2% count French as their mother tongue. Other languages spoken include Chinese, Arabic, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese.

Ottawa has more scientists, engineers and PhD’s per capita than any other city in Canada. In 2021, the city climbed into the top 10 position for ranking of North American talent hubs.

There are 35 major festivals in Ottawa. The Canadian Tulip Festival, held every May, is one of the most famous.

The tulips are near their peak in Ottawa in mid-May
The tulips are near their peak in Ottawa in mid-May

The Ottawa Capital region welcomes more than 7.3 million visitors annually.

Ottawa ranks as the most educated city in the country.

Ottawa is the fourth cleanest city out of 300 major cities ranked around the world – at least according to Forbes.

Moneysense ranked Ottawa for the third consecutive year as the best city in Canada to live in.

View of the Byward Market and the Parliament Buildings from the Andaz Hotel
View of the Byward Market and the Parliament Buildings from the Andaz Hotel

The Federal Government is the city’s largest employer.

Ottawa is the agricultural center of eastern Ontario and has more farmland than any other city in Canada.

Ottawa is home to over 1,800 technology companies – employing more than 76,000 people.

There are four universities (Carleton, University of Ottawa, Ottawa University and Dominican University College) along with several colleges including Algonquin.

The Rideau Canal becomes a 7.8 kilometre (4.7 miles) skating rink as it winds its way through downtown Ottawa. Rent skates, and pick up hot drinks and beavertails along the route. One of the best times to go is during Ottawa’s annual Winterlude Festival.

Ottawa has 247 neighbourhood outdoor skating rinks – one of the interesting facts about Ottawa.

Skating the Rideau Canal in Ottawa
Lots of people skating on the Rideau Canal on a Monday afternoon

Every Sunday morning – from 9 AM until 1 PM – in the summer only, the Capital area parkways are closed to cars. You can run, walk, cycle or skate. On the Gatineau Parkways you can do the same thing from 6 AM until noon. This has been going on for as long as I can remember and well before it became trendy for cities to embrace the biking culture. All told there are now 65 kilometres of car free roads available on a Sunday morning.

There are seven downhill ski resorts within easy driving distance of Ottawa.

35 Fun, Weird and Interesting Facts About Ottawa
Looking down the Rideau Canal towards the Ottawa River

Ottawa is home to 14 National Museums

These include the Canadian Museum of History, Canadian Children’s Museum, Canadian Postal Museum, The National Gallery of Canada, Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography, Laurier House, Royal Canadian Mint, Library and Archives Canada, Currency Museum of the Bank of Canada, Canadian Museum of Nature, Canadian War Museum, Canadian Science and Technology Museum, and the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum.

The Canadian Museum of Civilization is the most visited museum in Canada.

Walking towards the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa
Walking towards the Parliament Buildings in downtown Ottawa
Canadian Museum of Nature
Seen at the Canadian Museum of Nature – where you could easily lose yourself for an entire day

Famous people from Ottawa include Paul Anka, Lorne Greene, Alanis Morissette, Dan Ankroyd, Adrienne Clarkson, Tom Green, Peter Jennings, Rich Little, Sandra Oh, Matthew Perry, Shelagh Rogers (who was head girl at Lisgar Collegiate when I was there) and even Tom Cruise  – who went to my high school – but only for a while.

35 Fun, Weird and Interesting Facts About Ottawa
The Canadian Museum of History is one of the most visited museums in Canada – one of the interesting facts about Ottawa

Random facts about Ottawa

The Ottawa Little Theater is Canada’s oldest amateur theatrical group. It started out as the Ottawa Drama League in 1913.

The handsome Fairmont Château Laurier Hotel is reportedly haunted by the ghost of Charles Melville Hays, the company president that built the hotel. Hays died on the Titanic, twelve days before the hotel’s opening.

The first BeaverTails hut opened in 1980 in Ottawa though now you’ll find them across the country. You’ll find the hut in the historic Byward Market and along the Rideau Canal in winter. It always seems to be busy, no matter when you visit.  today you’ll find it crowded with long lines for these delicious pastries.

Forget counting calories and just enjoy a BeaverTail when you're in Ottawa
Forget counting calories and just enjoy a BeaverTail when you’re in Ottawa

Have you been to Ottawa? Have you got any more interesting facts you’d like to share?

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35+ fun and interesting facts about Ottawa

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