Living in Ottawa:
Environment :: Transport :: Where to Live :: Business :: Jobs :: Pros and Cons
In brief, Ottawa:
Where is Ottawa?
Ottawa is in eastern Ontario, on the Quebec border. You can see in the interactive Google Map that Ottawa sits on the south side of a large river – the Ottawa River. Ottawa is also cut in half by the Rideau River.
Ottawa covers a large area: 2,779 square km, while the National Capital Region’s is 4,715 square km.
On the north side of the Ottawa River is the mainly French-speaking city of Gatineau, Quebec.
Ottawa is a one hour drive from the USA border, where you can cross the St. Lawrence river into New York State. You can drive to Lake Placid (US Winter Olympics Venue) in about three hours from Ottawa.
Ottawa has a sunny climate, with colder winters than Toronto.
Snow deeper than 1 cm is seen on about 120 days a year in Ottawa compared with about 65 days in Toronto. Over 2 metres of snow falls in a typical Ottawa winter.
Ottawa can have big temperature swings in spring and autumn, with warm weather one day, followed by snow the next.
Ottawa can have some smoggy days, mainly in summer, but less so than southern Ontario cities like Toronto.
You can see the climate in more detail on our Ottawa Climate page.
The Ottawa River is an earthquake sub-zone.
The most recent significant earthquake was in 2010, when there was a Magnitude 5.0 shake centred 55 km (35 miles) North East of Ottawa. Damaging quakes are rare in the region.
About one in five people were born in countries other than Canada.
Asia is currently the biggest source of immigrants to Ottawa, and the Philippines is the biggest source country of recent immigrants to Ottawa, followed by China.
More foreign-born people currently living in Ottawa come from the China than any other single country, followed by Lebanon.
About 40% of people can speak both English and French, with Francophones concentrated on Ottawa’s east side.
Quality of Life
Ottawa performs well in ‘quality of life’ type surveys.
It has a reputation for being a quiet, reserved, family oriented city, where people are laid back, more into sport than nightlife.
Mercer ranks Ottawa as the third best city in the Americas, behind Vancouver and Toronto, and nineteenth best in the world.
The Economist Intelligence Unit, who also do this type of survey, did not include Ottawa in their city rankings.
The Canadian Magazine MoneySense rates Ottawa as Canada’s second best city. Ottawa scores strongly in most categories and particularly strongly for amenities, wealth and economy, commuting and health.
Healthcare in Ottawa is high quality. It may be difficult when you first arrive to get a family doctor in Ottawa. Fortunately, there are walk-in medical clinics where you will be seen reasonably promptly.
Ottawa’s crime rates are low compared with other Canadian cities.
Canada’s police forces use a Crime Severity Index to measure reported crimes. This takes into account both the number of offences and their severity.
The lower the index, the better; Ottawa scores 54.9; the Canadian average is 75.0.
By comparison, some other scores are: Toronto (53.6), Montreal (58.2), Vancouver (84.37), Calgary (88.1), Edmonton (114.9) and Winnipeg (119.4).
Ottawa’s violent crime rate is also lower than average, with 858 violent crimes per 100,000 people in 2018.
By comparison, other city violent crime rates were Toronto (818), Montreal (933), Vancouver (972), Calgary (999), Edmonton (1,189) and Winnipeg (1,358).
You can see more city comparisons here.
Ottawa’s households have the highest incomes in Canada.
The most recent figures available are for 2018, when the Canadian average household income was $89,900 a year and Ottawa’s was $105,460.
Ottawa’s only below average score was for affordable housing. Despite this, homes in Ottawa are still more affordable than in Toronto, and Vancouver.
Ottawa’s average house prices are similar to/a bit higher than Montreal’s and Edmonton’s, but incomes in Ottawa are much higher.
Mercer rated Ottawa as Canada’s second cleanest city, and third cleanest worldwide. Forbes Magazine ranked Ottawa as fourth cleanest out of 300 cities they looked at worldwide.
This quote from the City of Ottawa’s pages gives you an idea of how dedicated they are to keeping the streets clean:
Business & Jobs
Ottawa is currently suffering the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and in the May 2020, Ottawa’s unemployment rate was 8.4%, lower than the Canadian average of 11.5%.
According to forecasts, the local economy is expected to contract by 2.4 percent in 2020. This compares with an average annual growth of 2.7% over the last five years.
Growth is expected to return at the end of 2020 with a forecast of 4.9% growth for 2021.
Where are the Jobs?
47,000 jobs were lost in Ottawa in the 12 months May 2020, the vast majority from the service sector. The accommodation and food service industry was the worst affected with over 23,000 fewer positions.
By far the biggest employer is the Federal Government, with 135,000 employees, including the military.
The local council employs about 20,000 people, and there are the usual jobs in hospitals, schools, universities, tourism, and shops that you would expect from a capital city.
Ottawa has sometimes been called “Silicon Valley North” because of the number of high-tech companies located there including:
In the 12 months to May 2020, although jobs have been lost, there have been job gains for Ottawa in agriculture, public administration, educational services and also in healthcare & social assistance.
Projects such as Ottawa Light Rail Transit expansion Stage 2 and the rehabilitation of the parliamentary precinct are expected to create more construction jobs in the near future.
Best Places to Live in Ottawa
We’ve picked nine great places to live in Ottawa, where you can find the type of neighbourhood you’re seeking, whether that’s rural, suburban, or downtown, mostly with very low crime rates, AND your kids will get a great education in a top ranking public school.
We have quite a lot to say, so we need new pages to say it on:
Ottawa has a very highly educated workforce. Over half of its people are graduates, and Ottawa has the highest concentration of scientists, engineers and PhDs in Canada.
The city has two main universities: University of Ottawa and Carleton University.
The University of Ottawa is a bilingual university with about 35,000 undergraduate and over 6,000 post-graduate students.
It advertises a 97% employment rate for its graduates, and it has Canada’s largest law school.
In the Times Higher Education 2020 Rankings of Universities around the world, The University of Ottawa was placed 141st, up from 176th the previous year.
In two of the last four years, Ottawa has made it into the world top 200. It ranked seventh among Canadian universities.
Ottawa offers over 450 courses and programmes covering Arts, Education, Engineering, Health Sciences, Medicine, Science, Social Science, Civil Law, Common Law and the Telfer School of Management.
Around 19% of its students are international students.
Carleton University has about 23,000 undergraduate and 3,500 post-graduate students.
In the Times Higher Education rankings Carleton placed 501 to 600 equal.
Other Canadian universities scoring the same as Carleton are University of Guelph and Memorial University of Newfoundland.
Another angle on university rankings can be found by looking at Macleans, which only considers Canadian universities.
If you’d like to work in the trades, you can try for an apprenticeship.
All children between ages 6 and 18 must go to school.
You’ll need to decide whether you would like your children educated in English or French.
Having decided on language, you then need to choose between a non-Catholic or Catholic school.
Your choices will determine which public school board to enrol your children with: English (68,000 enrolled), English-Catholic (41,000 enrolled), French (12,000 enrolled), or French-Catholic (17,000 students).
If you opt for an English speaking school, you will have the option for your children to follow a French immersion syllabus, where a portion of their classes are taught in French rather than English. If your children grow up bilingual, it will help them get better paying government jobs.
Alternatively, Ottawa has a wide range of private schools catering for a variety of preferences and religions.
The Fraser Institute Ranks Schools in Ottawa and other parts of Canada by academic performance.
We use these rankings on our Where to live in Ottawa page to help you find a good place to live in the capital.
Public transport coverage is good, reasonably efficient, and is used by 350,000 people a day. For most people in Ottawa, public transport means a bus, although the O-Train is good for people on its north-south route.
Buses run east and west from downtown Ottawa using the Transitway. For most of its length, the Transitway is separate from the city’s public roads. When the Transitway merges with public roads, it becomes a dedicated buslane.
The Transitway is a great way to get into downtown Ottawa in the morning and away again in the afternoon, avoiding most of the rush hour traffic jams. Buses can be slowed, however, where the Transitway intersects with public streets.
Park and Ride is available with over 3,000 free car parking spaces. At busier stations, you will need to pay to park your car.
OC Transpo is responsible for Ottawa’s public transport and their website has fares, timetables, and travel planners.
Ottawa has over 170 km of bicycle paths. Many buses have bicycle racks if you want to mix cycle travel with bus travel, and you can take your bike on the O-Train too.
Ottawa’s roads are not as congested as Toronto’s, and outside of rush hour you can get from one side of the city to the other or from downtown into the surrounding countryside in 20 – 30 minutes or so.
What to do in Ottawa
There’s always a lot to do in Ottawa. It’s a city where people are generally more oriented to sports than nightlife.
Ottawa’s nightlife is quieter and more laid back than you’ll find in Toronto or Montreal. If you do want nightlife, there’s plenty available in the Byward Market area, especially at weekends.
Most areas of the city aren’t far from good restaurants.
There are a great many ways to get involved in sports in Ottawa, such as yoga, cross-country skiing, downhill skiing, horseback riding, rock climbing, snowshoeing, tobogganing, skating, cycling, sailing, soccer, kayaking, fishing, hockey (ice), hiking, and plenty of clubs you can join to get together with like-minded enthusiasts.
You can enjoy Ottawa all year round if you make the most of winter by taking up skiing or skating.
Ottawa holds many festivals every year, including:
You can also take in some of culture the capital has to offer by visiting: The Canadian Museum of History (Gatineau),
The National Arts Centre,
The Canadian War Museum,
The Canadian Museum of Nature,
Canada Agriculture and Food Museum,
The Aviation and Space Museum, and
The Science and Technology Museum.
Ottawa Summary – Pros and Cons
PRO or CON