Creating a Capital
Bytown was officially incorporated as a town on January 1, 1850. It was renamed Ottawa (derived from “Odawa,” a common word to many First Nations tribes, meaning “traders”) when it obtained city status in 1855. As the population grew, so too did employment opportunities and a diverse array of public and religious institutions. As a result, Ottawa finally achieved some measure of social stability after decades of ethnic, religious, and political unrest. Its flourishing lumber industry, scenic hilltop setting on the Ottawa River, and geographical location put Ottawa back in the running for the seat of national government, which still needed a permanent home. Governor General Sir Edmund Head wrote to Queen Victoria outlining Ottawa’s virtues, and the queen had a letter sent on her behalf proclaiming Ottawa the national capital on the last day of 1857. Ottawa was selected as the capital of Canada in part because of its location: it was in the interior of the province and far enough from American threats, while simultaneously being connected to major waterways, thanks in large part to the Rideau Canal. The city’s location also brought together the very different cultures of Upper and Lower Canada, and the city of Ottawa already had a well-established mix of religions and ethnicities.