The Ottawa region was home to the Algonquin people, who called the river the Kichi Sibi or Kichissippi, meaning "Great River". The first European settlement in the region was that of Philemon Wright who started a community on the Quebec side of the river in 1800. Wright discovered that transporting timber by river from the Ottawa Valley to Montreal was possible, and the area was soon booming based almost exclusively upon the timber trade. White Pine was common in the Ottawa Valley, and favoured by many European nations for its extremely straight and strong trunk. In the aftermath of the War of 1812 the British government assigned Colonel John By of the Royal Engineers to build the Rideau Canal between the Ottawa area and Kingston as a secure inland water route. A village, named Bytown, was established at the beginning of the canal. In 1855 this village was incorporated as a city and renamed Ottawa.
The British colonies which would eventually become Ontario and Quebec were from 1841 to 1867 known as Province of Canada. Ottawa, an industrial city of 10,000 people, became the capital of this united province in 1858, after the previous capital building in Montreal was burned by an angry mob. In 1859 construction began on the government buildings on Barracks Hill. Fuller and Jones won the contract for a new parliament building with a bid of ₤75,000.In 1867, with the passing of the British North America Act, Ottawa became the capital of the federated provinces of Canada, and Barracks Hill became Parliament Hill.
Bertha Wright, who led a network of single middle class Protestant women in Ottawa, exemplifies women's evangelical action to reform society, especially families, in late 19th-century Canada. Wright was a leader of the Young Woman's Christian Temperance Union (YWCTU) and the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA). Her work is representative of the evangelical response to rapid social change. The Social gospel linked Christian salvation to social responsibility in the face of family breakdown in industrialized cities. Wright's innovative classrooms forecast modern educational methods; her Home for Friendless Women, which she founded and headed during 1887-95, mirrors a gradual historical change in focus for social activists, from moral rescue to social reform. In 1896 Wright married Robert Carr-Harris and other single women took up her cause. A Catholic counterpart was Mère Bruyère (Elisabeth Bruyère) (1818-76), the founder of the Sisters of Charity in Ottawa.
Before 1900 pulp and paper industries dominated the city's economy, making Ottawa a working-class town. The poorest and most densely settled neighborhood was Lowertown, a mostly French Canadian area with a disproportionate share of disease and the city's highest rate of infant deaths. On 26 April 1900, a chimney fire in a thick cluster of wooden houses, fanned by a strong north wind, quickly engulfed and destroyed the city of Hull, a lumber town across the river from Ottawa. When the fire reached Hull's riverside lumber yards it jumped from island to island, soon reaching lumber yards on the Ottawa side. The center of Ottawa, including the Parliament buildings, was spared because of its high location and because the wind died down by dusk. In total over 3,200 buildings were destroyed, some 1,900 in Ottawa and 1,300 in Hull. In Hull all public buildings were gone except for the Roman Catholic Cathedral. Millions of board feet of lumber were lost. In Hull some 5,700 people were left homeless, or 42% of the population; in Ottawa the figure was over 8,300 people, or 14%. The conflagration scorched 716 acres, 440 of them in Ottawa. Damages came to $9.5 million (over $200 million today). It swept away the homes of the poor and burned the mansions of such notables as George Foster, a past and future Conservative cabinet minister, and lumber king J.R. Booth, who lost the great stone mansion he erected in 1875 as well as his lumber yards. 
The Capitol Theatre, a movie palace built in 1920, was a gigantic, extravagantly embellished venue for vaudeville and movies. It was built by American-controlled theatre circuits, designed by American architects, exhibited American movies, and was torn down in 1970 when television made audiences scarce and the overhead for a one-screen theatre was too high.
As wood-based industries moved out, white collar public service, with some 30,000 employees by 1945, became dominant. Prime Minister Mackenzie King planned a worthy capital and, guided by the Gréber Plan of 1950, Ottawa was transformed into a modern city. Business travel and tourism became the second industry. Ottawa in 1950 undertook a large-scale annexation of the suburbs to increase the area of the city over four-fold, to control development and provide land for it.
High tech arrived in the 1960s. The National Research Council and the Defence Research Board were based in the city. Computing Devices was founded and Bell Northern Research (now Nortel) moved its operations to Ottawa. "Silicon Valley North" by 2000 was approaching in size the 70,000 employees of government.
In terms of religion and ethnicity, the city was long divided into Catholic/French and Protestant/English sectors; the school system continues to reflect that division. Immigration early in the 20th century created small Jewish, Italian, Asian, and German communities; they were joined after the 1945 by an Arabic-speaking community and more recently by East African and Vietnamese communities. By 2000 visible minorities represented about 15% of the population. English remains the dominant language at 65%; French, at 15% has slipped behind those who speak neither English nor French, at 19%.
Early urban planning in Ottawa took the form of a piecemeal architectural admixture. On paper there remains a series of largely unrealized proposals designed to promote an image symbolic of national identity. Successive federal and municipal agencies worked to various degrees of success to augment Ottawa's appearance and amenity.
The 1915 Report of the Federal Plan Commission on a General Plan for the Cities of Ottawa and Hull was one of Canada's first comprehensive plans. It was prepared by Edward Bennett, a leading City Beautiful architect, who combined both technical and aesthetic planning. Bennett employed some of the most advanced techniques of the day, similar to the 1909 Plan of Chicago. The 1915 Ottawa-Hull plan is almost unknown in 1998, since it was shelved shortly after it was released. The plan was dogged by a fire in the Parliament Buildings, World War I, war, poor implementation provisions, and reaction against its City Beautiful urban design recommendations. Nevertheless, many of its technical recommendations were implemented by the National Capital Commission over forty years later.
British planner Thomas Adams's departure from, and the subsequent demise of, the Federal Commission of Conservation in the early 1920s marked a low point in efforts to evolve comprehensive planning strategies. The career of Noulan Cauchon, first head of the Ottawa Town Planning Commission, aimed to keep the notion of planning alive in the city. Certain of his little-acknowledged proposals bear remarkable similarity to the pre-World War II planning efforts of Mackenzie King and Jacques Greber. Cauchon's legacy endures in proposals that appear to have been incorporated into federal planning activities during the postwar era.
Critics derided the work of the Ottawa Improvement Commission. Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King began an effort in 1921 to create a capital design independent of imperialistic influence. He recruited Jacques Gréber in 1937 to create a master plan for Ottawa. An architect, planner, and landscape architect, Gréber was considered France's leading planner, having completed plans for the Fairmount Parkway in Philadelphia, and the cities of Lille, Marseilles, and Rouen. Gréber's 1950 "Plan for the National Capital" is one of the most significant documents in Canadian planning history. The plan was the guide for the rapid transformation of Ottawa and neighboring Hull, Quebec, from from two dreary industrial towns into one attractive modern capital. Although delayed by the war, the plan was carried out from 1947 to 1970 at a cost of $243 million. Ironically, Gréber is almost forgotten in his native land, while his legacy is fondly remembered in North America.
The neo-Gothic, High Victorian style reflects a bond between Canadian and British aesthetic values in the mid-19th century rather than the burgeoning unitary spirit of Canadian independence and autonomy that also existed in the years before Confederation. The original Centre Block of the Parliament Buildings (see illustration) was destroyed by fire on February 3, 1916. The House of Commons and Senate were temporarily relocated to the new Victoria Memorial Museum, currently the Canadian Museum of Nature. A new Centre Block was completed in 1922, the centrepiece of which is a dominant Gothic revival styled Peace Tower.
The official residence of the Prime Minister of Canada is 24 Sussex Drive. The official residence of the Governor General of Canada is Rideau Hall. The official residence of the Leader of the Opposition in Canada is called Stornoway.
In addition to being home to much of Canada's Civil Service, Ottawa's economy has a large "high tech" sector.
Ottawa is home to two public universities, Carleton University and the bilingual University of Ottawa. It is also home to two institutions associated with the Roman Catholic church, Saint Paul University which is federated with the University of Ottawa and Dominican University College. Community college instruction is provided by Algonquin College.
Confederation Square was initially planned to be a civic plaza to balance the nearby federal presence of Parliament Hill. A century of federal planning, with the direct involvement of Prime Minister Mackenzie King, repositioned it as a national space in the City Beautiful style. Renovations have improved its pedestrian amenity and restored much of the original plan by French urban designer Jacques Gréber. The square contains the National War Memorial and the National Arts Center yet is a weak public space due to weak edge definition, animation, and spatial enclosure. The war memorial design was selected in a 1925 international competition won by Britain's Vernon March. The Great War monument was not installed until the 1939 royal visit, and Mackenzie King intended that the replanning of the capital would be the World War II memorial. However, the symbolic meaning of the World War II monument gradually expanded to become the place of remembrance for all Canadian war sacrifices. The National War Memorial is more successful as a symbolic object than Confederation Square is as a public space, yet both have evolved into important elements of the Canadian capital's national identity.
Key attractions in the city include the Rideau Canal. The canal was built in 1826 for national defense, linking the Ottawa River with the Great Lakes to provide a safe supply route between Montreal and Kingston, Ontario in the event of a U.S. invasion. Today the canal is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
By 1913 the west bank of the canal was transformed into the Rideau Canal Driveway under the direction of the Ottawa Improvement Commission (OIC). The OIC, established in 1899, had been given a mandate to transform Ottawa into a capital worthy of the country, an initiative that reflected the City Beautiful movement, which was then sweeping North America. Over six kilometers long, the driveway was immediately a popular recreational area. The early, narrow emphasis on gardens was later broadened to a more natural use of the land on the advice of landscape architect Frederick G. Todd. In 1958 the east bank of the canal was redeveloped to mirror the west bank driveway. The Rideau Canal Driveway was one of many processes that have shaped Canada's national capital.
In summer Rideau Canal is a venue for pleasure boating. In the winter, it is the centrepiece of the city's annual Winterlude festival and is claimed to be the world's longest skating rink — a claim now being challenged by Winnipeg.  In springtime the flowerbeds along the canal are planted with tulips for the annual Canadian Tulip Festival.
Colonel By's engineers transformed what was formerly known as Dow's Great Swamp into Dow's Lake. This artificial body of water is used for sailing in the summer and as one of the main venues for the Winterlude festival in the winter.
In 2006, the National Capital Commission completed work on the long-discussed Confederation Boulevard, a ceremonial route linking key attractions in National Capital Region, on both sides of the Ottawa River, in Ottawa as well as Gatineau, Quebec (which since 2002 includes the former city of Hull). 
Key galleries and museums
The Byward Market farmer's market is a popular destination, as is the Sparks Street outdoor pedestrian mall.
Ottawa is the snowiest capital city in the world and the third coldest. The heaviest snow season was 1970-71; the 14 feet recorded in 2007-8 is 7 inches shy of the record (but the snow is still falling in April 2008).
The city and region are served by the Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier International Airport named for Sir John A. Macdonald and Sir George-Étienne Cartier. Public transit in the city of Ottawa is provided by OC Transpo. Passenger trains originally arrived at a Union Station opposite the Chateau Laurier hotel. Passenger trains now stop at a Via Rail terminal outside the downtown area, with the historic old station now serving as a government conference centre.
Ottawa is currently home to one professional sports team, the Ottawa Senators of the National Hockey League, who play their games at Scotiabank Place, formerly known as the Palladium and the Corel Centre. The team and arena are owned by Eugene Melnyk.
For many years Ottawa was home to a Canadian Football League franchise called the Ottawa Rough Riders. The Rough Riders suspended operations following the 1996 season. They were followed, from 2002 to 2006, by the Ottawa Renegades. In an era of growing continental integration, particularly following the enactment of NAFTA, the Canadian Football League became a powerful symbol of Canadian national identity. Thus the decline and demise of the Rough Riders during 1986-96 presented a severe challenge to Canadians' self-image. In response, the media tried to recall a happier time when the team had considerable athletic and business success. This article considers how such nostalgia in sport and elsewhere has been a contested cultural arena, which various powers within society have struggled to control.
Some discussions have taken place to bring a professional football team back to the city, but no team is expected before 2009 at the earliest.
- Hale, James. Frommer's Ottawa (2007) except and text search
- McLennan, Rob. Ottawa: The Unknown City (2007)
- Taylor, John H. Ottawa: An Illustrated History. (1986). 232 pp.
- Woods, Shirley E. Ottawa: The Capital of Canada (1980) 350pp. ISBN 0385147228.
- Population and dwelling counts, for Canada and census subdivisions (municipalities), 2006 and 2001 censuses - 100% data. 2006 Canadian Census. Retrieved on 2007-07-20.
- Walking Tour of Old Montreal. Vehicule Press. Retrieved on 2008-01-30.
- See "Canada by Design: Parliament Hill, Ottawa"; C. C. J. Bond, "The Canadian Government Comes to Ottawa, 1865-66." Ontario History 1963 55(1): 23-34. Issn: 0030-2953
- Sharon Anne Cook, "'A Gallant Little Band': Bertha Wright and the Late Nineteenth-century Evangelical Woman." Journal of the Canadian Church Historical Society 1995 37(1): 3-21. Issn: 0008-3208; Emilien Lamirande, Elisabeth Bruyère: Fondatrice des Soeurs de la Charité d' Ottawa, (Saint-Laurent, Quebec: Bellarmin, 1993)
- F. J. McEvoy, "Fire! Ottawa-Hull, April 1900: 'It Is Not Often That You Have a Chance to See a City Burning at Your Feet.'" Beaver 1996 76(1): 14-21.
- David L. A. Gordon, "A City Beautiful Plan for Canada's Capital: Edward Bennett and the 1915 Plan for Ottawa and Hull." Planning Perspectives 1998 13(3): 275-300.
- Ken Hillis, "A History of Commissions: Threads of an Ottawa Planning History," Urban History Review 1992 21(1): 46-60. ISSN: 0703-0428
- David Gordon, "Weaving a Modern Plan for Canada's Capital: Jacques Greber and the 1950 Plan for the National Capital Region." Urban History Review 2001 29(2): 43-61. Issn: 0703-0428
- Ron Hotchkiss, "'Terrifying and Beautiful': Parliament in Flames, 1916." Beaver 1992 72(2): 6-18. Issn: 0005-7517 Fulltext: Ebsco
- * David L. A. Gordon, and Brian S. Osborne, "Constructing National Identity in Canada's Capital, 1900-2000: Confederation Square and the National War Memorial." Journal of Historical Geography 2004 30(4): 618-642.
- UNESCO Web site. Retrieved on 2008-02-11.
- Linda M. M. Dicaire, "The Rideau Canal Driveway: Founding Element in Ottawa's Evolving Landscape." Ontario History 1997 89(2): 141-159. Issn: 0030-2953
- Rogers, Dave. Winnipeg hopes to edge Ottawa for longest skating rink, Ottawa Citizen, canada.com, 2008-01-13. Retrieved on 2008-02-11.
- Confederation Boulevard, National Capital Commission Web site. Retrieved on 2008-02-11.
- Austen, Ian (31). Tons of Snow Test a Place Where Snow is No Stranger. New York Times. Retrieved on 2008-03-31.
- John Naurightand Phil White, "Mediated Nostalgia, Community and Nation: the Canadian Football League in Crisis and the Demise of the Ottawa Rough Riders, 1986-1996." Sport History Review 2002 33(2): 121-137. Issn: 1087-1659
- Brennan, Don. Time for Hunt's club, Ottawa Sun, Sun Media. Retrieved on 2008-01-31.