While many histories are quick to credit Lt. Col. John By with the founding of Ottawa, another British commander’s role in planning for not only a small settlement, but a future capital city, was equally significant. During his first visit in 1826, Lord Dalhousie, Governor of British North America, explored the proposed canal site and quickly developed a larger vision for the area. Seeing Entrance Valley as an ideal place not only for a military base, but potentially for a seat of government, Dalhousie promptly purchased a large portion of the surrounding land and left specific plans for Lt. Col. By to carry out development. Once Entrance Valley was chosen, By’s task was to plan the physical design of the locks, as well as the layout of the new community that would be necessary to support its construction.

Points of Interest

Map of Bytown showing Barracks Hill, the first eight locks, and Lower TownEnlarge

[Source: ‘Unknown Artist,“Bytown – 1848”, The National Archives of the UK, MPHH1-690 (20)]

Land Ownership

Before the canal project went public, Lord Dalhousie purchased a sizeable amount of land-lots A and B in an area known as concession C in Nepean Township (pictured on the above map)-from Hugh Fraser for a mere £750. The deeds were officially transferred to Lt. Col. By in a letter dated September 26, 1826. Originally intended to be used for military and canal purposes only, this land eventually came to by occupied by Lower Town residents.

Photograph of George Ramsay, 9th Earl of Dalhousie, Governor-in-Chief of Canada 1819-1828  Enlarge

[Source: George, 9th Earl of Dalhousie (1770-1838), Governor-in-Chief of Canada 1819-1828. John Watson Gordon fonds, Library and Archives Canada, accession number 1970-191-1, C-005958]

Plans for Developing Bytown

In a letter dated September 26, 1826-the date often given as the official founding of Bytown-Lord Dalhousie, Governor-in-Chief of Canada, presented his plans for what would eventually become Bytown, and later the city of Ottawa. In this famous letter to Lt. Col. By, Dalhousie delivered orders for how he wanted the recently purchased government land to be developed. He outlined the ideal lot sizes and rent prices, and stipulated that a house must be built within the year. By responded in a letter of his own, dated November 25, 1830, stating that many of Dalhousie’s requests had been successfully completed and that the town was quickly beginning to take shape.


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[Source: Donald Kennedy, “Plan of Bytown with its limits shewing the exact situation of every street & lot”, 1842, Library and Archives Canada, S/440/Ottawa/1842 , NMC 19056; Wellington Street near Bank Street, Ottawa. C. Sedley fonds, Library and Archives Canada, accession number 1992-675-2, C-001548]

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Streets of Bytown

A decade and a half after the inauguration of the small settlement, Bytown was already well on its way to becoming a town of some stature. As noted by one Bytown resident in 1843, the “streets are broad and the houses partly built of stone, brick or wood, are erected with considerable proportion of taste and elegance.” By this time the population of Bytown was over 3,000 residents.

Population Growth» Original Settlements«