Downtown is bordered by the Ottawa River on the north, Bronson Avenue on the west, Albert Street on the south and the Rideau Canal on the east. While the western boundary for downtown is typically Bronson Avenue, we have included Zibi and LeBreton Flats as part of downtown, extending the western boundary to the O-Train line.
Downtown Ottawa’s modern roots go back to 1823, when Irish settler Nicholas Sparks bought 200 acres north of today’s Laurier Avenue. That tract later evolved into Upper Town, the main bastion of the city’s Anglo-Protestant settlement (French and Irish Catholics generally gravitated to Lower Town).
Ottawa’s first city hall opened on Elgin Street in 1849, but development of Upper Town was relatively slow until the Parliament Buildings opened in 1866. Other institutions followed, churches and hotels opened or expanded, and government offices sprang up beyond Parliament Hill. The area continued to grow as a commercial and entertainment hub, with attractions such as the now-vanished 2,530-seat Capitol Cinema, built at the corner of Queen and Bank streets in 1920, and the National Arts Centre, which opened in 1969. The downtown area is now seeing condo construction.
LeBreton Flats, north of Albert Street and west of Bronson, has a fraught history. A mixed community in the 19th century, it was devastated by the Great Fire of 1900 and rebuilt as a vibrant working-class neighbourhood. The area was expropriated for redevelopment in the 1960s but then sat vacant for decades, until the Canadian War Museum was built in 2005 and some condos sprang up. A grand plan for redevelopment, including a new Ottawa Senators’ hockey arena, fell apart in 2019 amid lawsuits and insults. LeBreton Flats continues to host Bluesfest each July.
Zibi is a new, ultra-green 34-acre community being built on the former Domtar industrial site on the Ottawa River. The project has had its own controversies, principally over the use of lands that First Nations people consider sacred. Despite this opposition, the project is well underway and includes the refurbishing and repurposing of industrial buildings as well as construction of condos and townhomes.
Claim to fame
Parliament Hill with its fine Gothic revival buildings is both the centre of Canada’s government and a gorgeous landmark with expanses of lawn in front and a commanding view of the Ottawa River behind. The original Centre Block was destroyed by fire in 1916 and its soaring replacement completed in 1927. Despite increased security over the past several years, Parliament Hill remains an accessible public space enjoyed by tourists and residents alike. It’s also the site of several important monuments, including the centrally located Centennial Flame, dedicated by then-Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson in 1967 to mark Canada’s centennial.
The Rideau Canal is another of downtown Ottawa’s claims to fame. Built under the supervision of Lieutenant-Colonel John By as a precaution in case of war with the United States, it opened in 1832. The 202-kilometre canal bisects the downtown area and is popular among Ottawa residents and visitors in both summer and winter, when it is open to skating.
Who’s building where
In the area
Downtown Ottawa abounds with national attractions, shopping and more, including:
- Rideau Canal
- Parliament Hill
- National Arts Centre
- Canadian War Museum
- Bank of Canada Museum
- Diverse retailers
- Multiple hotels
There are none in Ottawa’s downtown, but there are nearby schools:
- English public: Ottawa Carleton District School Board school locator
- English Catholic: Ottawa Catholic School Board school locator
- French public: Conseil des écoles publiques de l’Est de l’Ontario school locator
- French Catholic: Conseil des écoles catholiques du Centre-Est school locator
There are many independent and chain shops and restaurants in downtown. They include:
- Ottawa Insectarium
- Presse Cafe
- The Royal Oak
- Mill Street Brew Pub
- Nate’s Deli
Downtown brims with amenities for every taste and interest, including:
- Ottawa Public Library (Main branch)
- Sparks Street Mall
- 240 Sparks (retail mall)
- Confederation Park (home of the Ottawa Jazz Festival)
- LeBreton Flats Park
- Garden of the Provinces and Territories
- Tech Wall Dog Park
Downtown services range from salons, spas and gyms to dental and other medical offices, multiple banks, language schools, churches, and a car wash.
The Transitway runs along Albert and Slater streets, offering buses to just about every part of the city. The LRT (light rail transit) Confederation Line includes two downtown stations in the downtown (Parliament and Lyon).
The Queensway is two kilometres from downtown. Running beside the Rideau Canal, the scenic Queen Elizabeth Drive (“the Driveway”) and the recreational pathway beside it connect to Dow’s Lake and elsewhere. Bronson Avenue becomes the Airport Parkway south of Carleton University and goes to Ottawa International Airport.