What is it like living in Ottawa? How do living costs in Ottawa compare with other Canadian cities? We help you address some of the questions about Ottawa as you prepare to move to Canada’s capital city.
Where is Ottawa?
Ottawa is found in the Eastern part of Southern Ontario, straddling the Quebec border. It is about a five-hour drive from Toronto and two hours from Montreal. It stands on the south bank of the Ottawa River.
The United States border is about a one hour drive south. The closest border crossing is at Prescott–Ogdensburg.
Ottawa borders Gatineau, Quebec, and together they form the National Capital Region (NCR). Founded in 1826 as Bytown and incorporated as “Ottawa” in 1855, the city has evolved into a political and technological centre of Canada. Initially an Irish and French Christian settlement, Ottawa has become a multicultural city with a diverse population.
The 2016 census had the city’s population as 934,243, with a Census Metropolitan Area (CMA) population of 1,323,783. Mercer ranks Ottawa with the second highest quality of living of any large city in the Americas, and 14th highest in the world. Living in Ottawa also means that you’ll be living in the second cleanest city in Canada, and the third cleanest city in the world. In 2017, the city was ranked by MoneySense as the best community in Canada in which to live.
Ottawa is a vibrant and youthful city, with two large universities dominating the city centre: University of Ottawa and Carleton University. As the capital city, it boasts beautiful architecture, a bustling downtown core, and a diverse range of interesting neighborhoods.
Weather in Ottawa
Dealing with, or embracing, the local climate is a big part of living in Ottawa.
Ottawa has four distinct seasons, with the winter much colder than what many immigrants may be accostomed to. Cold snaps occur from November onward, with snow falling from December to March, and sometimes into April. Cold weather can be expected to last until April, and dressing accordingly is an essential lesson to learn for any new immigrant. The average January minimum temperature is -14.8°C (5.4°F).
The spring is short and fresh, with some rain showers and fair, mild weather, and usually lasts from April to May.
Summer is a scorcher, and lasts from June to September. Daytime temperatures of 30°C (86°F) or higher are commonplace, and humidity can rise significantly throughout the summer.
Fall (Autumn) typicall lasts from September to November, and can provide some of the most beautiful scenes in the country.
One of the great things about living in Ottawa is that the city is commendable in the fact that it suits each season to a tee, and life continues with no difficulty despite winter lows and summer highs. Winter in Ottawa is a particular delight, with the Rideau Canal transforming into the longest skating rink in the world, and winter activities easily accessible — skiing and snowshoeing being available within about 20 minutes of the city centre. Ottawa has many public parks and green areas to enjoy the summer, and festivals run routinely while the sun shines. Spring and Fall are ideal times to picnic or hike in local parks, Gatineau Park on the Quebec side being a well known example.
Cost of living in Ottawa
Ottawa is a safe, clean and welcoming city, but does have an above average, yet still affordable, cost of living. Depending on your location, renting an apartment can range from $700-1400 per month or higher. Again, this depends on preference, number of people, and certain criteria. However, cheaper housing can be found, largely due to the presence of local universities. Household utilities — internet, electricity, refuse — are often included in the rent.
Groceries and eating out, however, can be expensive more expensive for people living in Ottawa. A pint of beer can be bought for as little as $6, but foreign imports can be as expensive as $9 in more touristy and popular areas. Tipping is standard practice (15-20% for good service), and the local sales tax rate is 13 percent (federal and provincial taxes combined).
Things you may notice about Ottawa
Living in Ottawa means that you will setting up base in a clean and green city. The Rideau Canal runs throughout the city, offering beautiful and scenic trails, walkways, running paths and bike lanes all the way through. The canal is world renowned due to its conversion into the world’s longest skating rink in the winter months. The canal is a major tourist attraction, as well as a place to go for people living in Ottawa.
Ottawa is bike-friendly, with many of the main roads having specific bike lanes so cyclists can enjoy traffic-free commutes, and the “Capital Pathway”, a 220 kilometre route that it shares with Gatineau. Many Ottawa natives enjoy a healthy lifestyle, and can be seen jogging, cycling, or skating at all hours of the day.
Living in Ottawa means living in the heart of Canadian political life. Ottawa is the capital city and centre of government. Many of its citizens work with the government in the civil service, and many bars and restaurants are known for having a political clientele. Canada’s politics can be interesting and varied, and is an easy conversation starter when out and about. Don’t be afraid of expressing your opinion and opening discussion.
The French connection
Ottawa is officially a bilingual city, and many of its services – including all civil services, some educational services, and many tourist services – are offered in both English and French. Living in Ottawa is made easy for anglophones and francophones alike.
French can be heard spoken on the streets, and many cafes and bars have a definite French feel. English is understood by nearly all of the population, so although an attempt at French would be welcome in certain places, it is not necessary.
Ottawa has some of Canada’s oldest and most beautiful buildings, and many are a masterclass in design in themselves. Taking a stroll along Sparks Street or Wellington Street in front of the Parliament building can be breathtaking, and make sure to enjoy the free tour of Parliament to see a panoramic view of Ottawa and Gatineau, the city across the river in Quebec.
Ottawa was originally an Irish and French settlement, and this influence can be seen today. There are many Irish names and Irish establishments.