The 2011 census had the city's population as 883,391, and the metropolitan population as 1,236,324.Mercer ranks Ottawa with the second highest quality of living of any large city in the Americas, and 14th highest in the world. It is also rated the second cleanest city in Canada, and third cleanest city in the world.
Founded in 1826 as Bytown and incorporated as "Ottawa" in 1855, the city has evolved into a political and technological center of Canada. Its original boundaries were expanded through numerous minor annexations and ultimately replaced by a new city incorporation and major amalgamation in 2001 which significantly increased its land area.
The name "Ottawa" is derived from the Algonquin word adawe, meaning "to trade". Ottawa and the Ottawa Valley was home to the Algonquin people prior to the arrival of Europeans during the fur and subsequent lumber trade eras. Initially an Irish and French Christian settlement, Ottawa has become a multicultural - bilingual city with a diverse population
Étienne Brûlé, the first European to travel up the Ottawa River, passed by Ottawa in 1610 on his way to the Great Lakes. Samuel de Champlain three years later on his trip wrote about the waterfalls of the area, and about his encounters with the Algonquins, a people who have been using the Ottawa River for centuries. They called the river Kichi Sibi or Kichissippi' meaning "Great River" or "Grand River". These early explorers were later followed by many missionaries.
Philemon Wright, a New Englander, created the first settlement in the area on March 7, 1800, on the north side of the river, across from Ottawa in Hull. He, with five other families and twenty-five labourers, set about to create an agricultural community called Wrightsville and Wright pioneered the Ottawa Valley timber trade (soon to be the most significant economic activity) by transporting timber by river from the Ottawa Valley to Quebec City.
Bytown (Ottawa's early name) came about because of the Rideau Canal, on which preliminary work began in 1826, the year of Bytown's founding. Its construction was overseen by Colonel John By, and was intended to provide a secure route between Montreal and Kingston on Lake Ontario, bypassing the stretch of the St. Lawrence River bordering New York State.Colonel By set up a military barracks on the site of today's Parliament Hill. He also laid out the streets of town with its "Upper Town" and "Lower Town" separated by the canal. Bytown's population grew to 1,000 as the Rideau Canal was being completed in 1832. Bytown was renamed Ottawa in 1855, when it was incorporated as a city.
On December 31, 1857, Queen Victoria was asked to choose a common capital for the Province of Canada and chose Ottawa.The Queen's advisers suggested she pick Ottawa for several reasons: Ottawa's position in the back country made it more defensible, while still allowing easy transportation over the Ottawa River. Ottawa was at a point nearly exactly midway between Toronto and Quebec City (500 kilometres (310 mi)),and that the smaller size of the town made it less likely that politically motivated mobs could go on a rampage and destroy government buildings, as had happened in the previous Canadian capitals.
Starting in the 1850s large sawmills began to be erected by entrepreneurs, known as lumber barons, and would become some of the largest in the world. Rail lines erected in 1854 connected Ottawa to areas south, and to the transcontinental rail network via Hull and Lachute, Quebec in 1886. Between 1910 and 1912, the Chateau Laurier, and a downtown Union Station would be constructed. Public transportation began in 1870 with a horsecar system., overtaken in the 1890s by a vast electric streetcar system that would last until 1959. The Hull-Ottawa fire of 1900 destroyed two thirds of Hull, including 40 per cent of its residential buildings and most of its largest employers along the waterfront. The fire also spread across the Ottawa River and destroyed about one fifth of Ottawa from the Lebreton Flats south to Booth Street and down to Dow's Lake.The Centre Block of the Parliament buildings were destroyed by fire on February 3, 1916. The House of Commons and Senate were temporarily relocated to the recently constructed Victoria Memorial Museum, now the Canadian Museum of Nature until the completion of the new Centre Block in 1922, the centrepiece of which is a dominant Gothic revival styled structure known as the Peace Tower.
Urban planner Jacques Greber was hired in the 1940s to work on a master plan for the National Capital Region (the Greber Plan). Jacques Greber was the creator of the National Capital Greenbelt, the Parkway System, as well as many other projects throughout the NCR. He was also responsible for the removal of the streetcar system and closing down historic downtown Union Station (now Government Conference Centre) in favour of a suburban station several kilometres to the east. In the 1960s through 1980s, the National Capital Region experienced a building boom. This was followed by large growth in the high-tech industry during the 1990s and 2000s. In 2001, in an amalgamation legislated by the Province, all twelve existing municipalities in the area were terminated and replaced by a new incorporation of the City of Ottawa.
Ottawa is situated on the south bank of the Ottawa River, and contains the mouths of the Rideau River and Rideau Canal. The older part of the city (including what remains of Bytown) is known as Lower Town, and occupies an area between the canal and the rivers. Across the canal to the west lies Centretown and Downtown Ottawa, which is the city's financial and commercial hub. As of June 29, 2007, the Rideau Canal, which stretches 202 km (126 mi) to Kingston, Fort Henry and four Martello towers in the Kingston area was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Located on a major, yet mostly dormant fault line, Ottawa is occasionally struck by earthquakes. Examples include a magnitude 5.2 earthquake on January 1, 2000, a magnitude 4.5 earthquake on February 24, 2006, a magnitude 5.0 earthquake on June 23, 2010.
Across the Ottawa River, which forms the border between Ontario and Quebec, lies the city of Gatineau, itself the result of amalgamation of the former Quebec cities of Hull and Aylmer together with Gatineau. Although formally and administratively separate cities in two separate provinces, Ottawa and Gatineau (along with a number of nearby municipalities) collectively constitute the National Capital Region, with a combined population exceeding one million residents, which is considered a single metropolitan area. One federal crown corporation (the National Capital Commission, or NCC) has significant land holdings in both cities, including sites of historical and touristic importance. The NCC, through its responsibility for planning and development of these lands, is an important contributor to both cities. Around the main urban area is an extensive greenbelt, administered by the National Capital Commission for conservation and leisure, and comprising mostly forest, farmland and marshland.