In 1857, Ottawa was nothing more than a small city known for its lumber industry. In fact, it had only been incorporated as an official city two years prior. By most measures, this new city seemed to be an unlikely choice to become Canada’s capital city. It did not have a lot of land, or other industries, or people for that matter. And compared to some bigger Canadian cities, like Montreal or Toronto, Ottawa seemed fairly unremarkable.
Why, then, did Queen Victoria choose Ottawa as Canada’s capital city?
At first glance the decision seemed arbitrary. Some said she simply put her hat-pin on a map somewhere between Toronto and Montreal and happened to land on Ottawa. Others claimed she had seen a painting of Ottawa’s landscape and thought it would make a beautiful capital.
But there may have been more rationale for her decision than Queen Victoria was given credit for.
For one, Ottawa was the centre of (what was) Canada at the time. When she was asked to pick a capital, Canada’s only provinces were (what is now) Quebec and Ontario. Ottawa is situated right on the Ottawa River which separates the two provinces. So, selecting Ottawa created a central capital for the small Canadian nation.
Similarly, picking Ottawa was an attempt to favour neither Ontario nor Quebec. The history between the traditionally English Ontario and French Quebec was turbulent to say the least. Picking a capital easily accessible by both the English and French speaking Canadians was a step towards mitigating tensions between the two provinces and cultures.
Finally, Ottawa was far enough away from the American boarder to be safe from attack. The War of 1812, in which Americans attempted to invade what was then British North America (now Canada) several times, was still fresh in the minds of many Canadians. So, the choice was also a strategic military move to position Canada’s capital far from the American reach. One American news paper claimed that Ottawa was safe from invasion as the US military would get lost in the woods if they tried to attack the new capital.
But all this history aside, since 1857 Ottawa has flourished into a beautiful city that our nation can be proud to call the capital. Ottawa is now a bustling international hub of industry, politics, sports, culture… and of course home to Justin Trudeau, the hottest head of state and one of Vogue’s sexiest men alive. This year Ottawa is ground zero for the Canada’s 150th anniversary celebrations and has even more on the go than ever. So be sure to consult our calendar of events to check out everything Ottawa has to offer.
Seems like Queen Victoria’s choice for Canada’s capital city made sense after all!
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