Living in Ottawa, Ontario

Living in Ottawa:



Ottawa’s Location – close to Quebec and the USA

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Environment :: Transport :: Where to Live :: Business :: Jobs :: Pros and Cons

In brief, Ottawa:

Is Canada’s capital city.
Has a population of 947,000.
Has a population of 1.5 million in the National Capital Region.
Is not a crowded city.
Sits in a known earthquake zone.
Has hot, humid summers and long, cold winters.
Offers the second highest quality of life of any city in North America.
Is the third cleanest city in the world.
Has the world’s largest ice-skating rink in winter – the Rideau Canal.
Has over one hundred thousand Federal Government employees.
Has 64% of people with mother-tongue English, 15% French, and 21% other languages.
Is officially a bilingual city. Many government jobs require candidates to be bilingual in English and French.

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 about four-and-a-half hours by car from Toronto and two hours from Montreal.

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: Quick Climate Summary

 JFMAMJJASOND
Av. Max. °C -6 -4 2 11 19 24 26 25 20 13 5 -3
Av. Min. °C-15 -13 -7 1 8 13 15 14 10 4 -2 -10

For more climate details see our Ottawa Climate page.

Coldest Capital Myth Busted
Ottawa is not the world’s coldest capital. True, Ottawa’s winters are colder than Moscow’s or Helsinki’s, but Mongolia’s capital, Ulan Bator, has colder winters than Ottawa!

The Climate

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 brief climate details in the table on the left and greater details on our Ottawa Climate page.

Earthquakes?
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.

The People

Crossing the Ottawa River
Crossing the Ottawa River

About one in six of Ottawa’s people are visible minorities; about one in five people were born in countries other than Canada.

These figures are similar to the foreign-born percentages for Calgary, Montreal, and Edmonton, and significantly lower than Toronto (49%) and Vancouver (38%).

Asia is currently the biggest source of immigrants to Ottawa, and China is the biggest current source country of immigrants to Ottawa.

More foreign-born people currently living in Ottawa come from the UK than any other single country.

About one in three people can speak both English and French, with Francophones concentrated on Ottawa’s east side.

Quality of Life

Ice-Skating Rideau Canal
Ice Skating on the Rideau Canal

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 best city. Ottawa scores strongly in most categories and particularly strongly for new car ownership, population growth, low crime, number of doctors, and culture.

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 52.2; the Canadian average is 72.9.

By comparison, some other scores are: Toronto (48.7), Montreal (58.2), Calgary (81.8), Vancouver (88.17), Winnipeg (106.9) and Edmonton (112.34).

Ottawa’s violent crime rate is also lower than average, with 825 violent crimes per 100,000 people in 2017.

By comparison, other city violent crime rates were Toronto (768), Calgary (892), Montreal (918), Vancouver (941), Edmonton (1,194) and Winnipeg (1,328).

You can see more city comparisons here.

Ottawa tree lined street
A typically leafy street in Old Ottawa South
Image by Thorfinn Stainforth

Ottawa’s households have the highest incomes in Canada.

The most recent figures available are for 2016, when the Canadian average household income was $92,764 a year and Ottawa’s was $100,760.

Ottawa’s only below average score was for affordable housing. Despite this, homes in Ottawa are still more affordable than in Calgary, 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.

Clean Machine
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:

City streets are then swept by a flusher truck, which uses water pressure to flush the debris to the side of the curbs.
A vacuum truck then picks up the majority of grit, debris, small particles and dust.
This operation might be repeated several times to ensure a clean surface.
If vehicles are parked on the street, the unswept area is noted and crews will return to sweep that portion.
If you think a street has been missed, please call 3-1-1 or visit serviceottawa.ca to complete an online request form.

Business & Jobs

Parliament
Parliament, home of Canada’s government,
Ottawa’s biggest employer

In the middle of 2018, Ottawa’s unemployment rate was 4.4%, lower than the Canadian average of 5.9%.

According to forecasts, the local economy is expected to grow by 2.1 percent in 2018 and an additional 2 percent in 2019.

Where are the Jobs?
Over 25,600 new jobs were created in Ottawa in the 12 months to June 2018.

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:


Buildings in Kanata Research Park, home
to many of Ottawa’s high-tech firms

Bell Canada,
Calian,
Nokia,
Interset,
IBM,
General Dynamics Canada,
CGI,
Adobe,
Blackberry QNX,
Intouch Insight, and
Corel.

There are currently about 1,800 technology companies in Ottawa, such as Shopify, Solace Systems and Synopsys .

In the 12 months to June 2018, public administration jobs have been lost, however there have been strong job gains for Ottawa in construction and also in transportation & warehousing. 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:

Where to live in Ottawa – Suburban

and

Ottawa: Best Places – Closer to Downtown

Education

University of Ottawa
University of Ottawa Campus,
Tabaret Hall. Image by RobCA

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 2018 Rankings of Universities around the world, The University of Ottawa was placed in band 201st – 250th equal, up a band from the previous year.

In three of the last six 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 15% of its students are international students.

Carleton University with Rideau River and Canal
Carleton University with Rideau River and Canal

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 Concordia University, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Université du Québec and Université de Sherbrooke.

Another angle on university rankings can be found by looking at Macleans, which only considers Canadian universities.

Ottawa’s two main colleges are Algonquin College and the French speaking La Cité collégiale.

Apprenticeships
If you’d like to work in the trades, you can try for an apprenticeship.

School Days

Nepean High School
Nepean High School, Ottawa
Image by Peregrine981

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.

Getting Around


Buses parked at the MacKenzie King Station,
close to the Houses of Parliament.

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 O-Train
An O-Train. Image: Lezumbalaberenjena

Bicycles
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.

Driving
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.

Yoga outside parliament
Yoga outside Parliament. Images: paulmckinnon

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:

Winterlude, Canada’s biggest winter festival, which is held for three weeks in February, with ice sculpture competitions, snow games and skating.
Bluesfest, with ten days in July of blues bands from around the world
Canadian Tulip Festival – two weeks in May – the largest tulip festival in the world
National War Memorial and Chateau Laurier
National War Memorial and Chateau Laurier
Ottawa International Jazz Festival – 10 days in June of jazz performers from around the world
Fringe Festival – 10 days in June of plays and theatre
Folk Music Festival – Four days of folk music acts in September every year
Dragon Boat Festival – Four days of dragon boat racing in June every year
Canada Day July 1 every year

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

PROS

Houses are modestly priced relative to incomes
Rural, suburban, and urban lifestyles all easily obtained
Plenty of nice, leafy, spacious feeling neighbourhoods to choose from
Incomes are the highest in Canada
Low crime rates
Clean
Plenty to do for children and families- cultural, sport and outdoor activities
Close to both Quebec and the USA
People are generally well-mannered and courteous
A highly educated population
Good schools and educational opportunities
Quick and easy access to the great outdoors

CONS

Too hot/humid in summer for some
Winter too long and too cold for some
Biting insects can be trying in summer
No city-wide light rail (or subway) for really fast commutes – traffic moves slowly in rush hour
Go to Toronto or Montreal for more exciting night life and fashions

PRO or CON

Ottawa is the city of government – fluent bilingualism is required for the best government jobs.


Comments

  1. Ottawa was nice when I moved here 5 years ago. It now is not a nice or safe place to live. I dont like some of the cultures here. There is too much crime and its not safe if u dont drive. Its very very pricey to live and rents are too much. I will be leaving in the new year to a much better place!

    • Hmm, I had the exact opposite feeling when I lived there for 3 months last fall.. I’m a little “scared” person myself and worry about neighborhoods that aren’t safe etc. I come from a small town in Finland and thus was a bit suspicious about moving in Ottawa as I didn’t know anything about the city. But I felt really safe there pretty much all the time, well excluding a few exceptions, but for the most part I felt it was pretty safe. 🙂 I lived in downtown at Laurier Street so maybe that plays a part too, I guess it’s a bit safer in downtown than on some other areas..? I have to say I still miss Ottawa a lot and would want to come back!!
      Where did you go if I may ask?

    • I would have to disagree with this as well. Sure there are some areas that are a bit rough around the edges, but all big cities have this. I think crime rates in Ottawa as a whole are fairly low.

  2. I generally agree with the sentiments expressed about Ottawa on this page. Very clean, safe, good for children. However for someone my age (late 20s), I find that these family-friendly traits equate to a very boring and homogenous life. If you like any edge or spontaneity or subculture with your city, absolutely do not come here.

  3. I am a former resident of Ottawa who moved to Toronto after graduating from Carleton University. I agree that the city has far less of an edge and frantic energy than Toronto and even Montreal, but makes up for it in the overall quality of life – the amount of outdoor activity that’s available, scenery, good places to work, public transit, bike paths, educational institutions, and culture. The Quebec side offers nightlife. It’s just a matter of what you prefer in choosing a city.

  4. Fred Pacilli says:

    I’m a Canadian who was born and raised in Toronto, lived 10 years in Chicago, another 10 in Boston and 5 years in Orlando. My American wife and I shall be moving to Ottawa. Toronto would have been our second choice and then Montreal. I agree with the description of Ottawa. As far as immigrants are concerned…. gone were the days when regional facial and custom features were never changing. And that is for the better.

  5. Ivette Anderson says:

    How’s Ottawa for Retired People who received Social Security (From USA). I live in the Caribbean were Hurrica Maria devastate Puerto Rico. A really one or 2 bedroom for me and my 2 cats.

    About my cats, how is thecarea, they’re indoors.

    Really want quality life at slow paced style life

  6. Jerome J. Castonguay says:

    Our family has traveled the world and Ottawa is the most beautiful, safe, friendly and clean city we have ever visited and now we live here. The city s social programs help all walks of life able to succeed. It is next to Gatineau a vibrant city in Quebec.

  7. I was raised in Ottawa and hated the weather but loved the calm, safe city,

    I now live in Victoria, BC. I did not enjoy the humid summers, the freezing winters, and the increasing immigrant population in Ottawa since many were third world refugees whose values were opposite my own. They didn’t contribute to the culture as much as segregate themselves and take. It felt like a divided city. It felt like no one got to know each other. Very serious and slightly boring. But it does have more jobs, more diverse ones.

    Vancouver and Victoria however have excellent weather, are extremely expensive since it rarely snows, are beautiful beyond compare, and have a predominantly Asian immigrant population, especially in Richmond. Caucasians are the minotority and signs are often only in mandarin, not English. I enjoy the rich contributions they bring to the city, their culture appeals to me from food to cultural values. Their belief system meshes more closely to my own than many other immigrant populations. The women in those cultures have rights and they’re beliefs include the value of hard work. They add much, much more than take from Canada.

    The East Indian culture also adds wonderful things to Canada’s mosaic. That culture segregates around Surrey and have an organized crime ring that causes most of the violence in the area. Still, they are respectful and kind and hard working. Their colorful traditions and strong family values are amazing to be a part of (many of my friends are East Indian).

    Ottawa’s immigrant population is more diversified, which can be good, but it also contains many more immigrants from East African third world countries whose beliefs counter Canada’s – deny women any rights, seek to mutilate their young girls, and don’t value hard work as much as resourceful ways to do anything to stay alive. They have no ethical qualms about living off the system. Children are a way to collect money. The men do not talk to other women. We are beneath them. It is disheartening to see the growth of those kinds of interactions and situations. This may seem racist, but it is not, it’s cultural dissonance. I don’t value or appreciate any culture that promotes hatred, sloth and scamming, violence, is against women having rights, and multilates young girls. Culture is important in determining where to live and I appreciate diversity but not when it clashes with my values overly much.

    Housing costs in Vancouver are crazy expensive so there isn’t much diversity in terms of socio economic status. Poor people can not afford to live in Vancouver or Victoria for the most part.

  8. I have lived in Ottawa for 14 years.
    I totally hate living here.
    Currently saving up to move , If I remain in Canada I would move to Vancouver or Victoria BC.
    I have had attempted break ins , Landlord stealing, Nearly been mugged 5 times.
    Ottawa is not always the safe place people portray it to be.
    My apartment in Ottawa has 24 hour alarm , 24 hour CCTV inside and outside apartment , & window bars. These are now the safety measures I take living in Ottawa.
    Also I do not go out often do not wish to be mugged.

  9. Unless you are bilingual, you will likely struggle to find work – even with professional qualifications, great references and significant experience in your field. And once you do find work, you will be trapped regardless of how bad the workplace gets – simply because you do not have french and english language skills required for most jobs in the city. Roughly 82% of Canadians only speak one language – it is very unfortunate that they are essentially shut out of working in their country’s capital.
    Apart from the whole earning a salary thing, Ottawa is a great city.

  10. Hello – I’m an American from Colorado temporarily working in Ottawa. I found reasonable rent in the Byward Market area and walk everywhere freely and without fear. Gotta say I really love this city and cannot wait to bring my wife and daughters here for a long weekend sometime soon. Great dining, pubs, breweries – and (as I mentioned above) just a wonderful walking city. People are courteous and friendly. I walk with a limp (old ski accident) and I have never had so many people ask me how I was / if I was getting along OK. Embarrassing, but quite nice at the same time. I drive to KRH for work but I should probably take the bus… parking down on the riverfront is tough. My hometown is Colorado Springs and I love it, but must admit that Ottawa is a much nicer, cleaner, more alluring city. Good luck!

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