History As Canada’s capital and its fourth largest city, Ottawa offers a uniquely Canadian experience to visitors from around the world.

A traditional meeting place for the First Nations communities in the area - Ottawa comes from the Algonquin word Odawa, meaning “to trade” - the settlement began in earnest in 1826 when Lt. Col. John By of the Royal Engineers came to town to build the Rideau Canal.

Colonel By and his English sappers, Scottish stonemasons, and Irish, French Canadian and Aboriginal labourers, completed the impressive engineering feat, stretching 202km (126 miles), in six years.

The Rideau Canal is Ontario’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site and though built for a military purpose, has only been used for trade and recreation. In winter, 7.8km (4.8 miles) of its length through downtown Ottawa freezes and becomes the world’s largest naturally frozen outdoor skating rink.

After the Rideau Canal construction, forestry became a major employer, and the small settlement known as Bytown was a lumber town. In 1855, Bytown incorporated as the city of Ottawa and just two years later, it was chosen as the capital of Canada, in part because of its English and French heritage.

Portrait Since the 1850s, Ottawa has evolved as a G8 capital, offering impressive cultural amenities expected by the diplomatic crowd, while maintaining the friendliness and ease of access of a much smaller centre. You’ll still hear English and French spoken on the streets and you’ll also find a thriving high technology and entrepreneurial community that is bolstered by two major universities and three community colleges.

As the capital, Ottawa is home to institutions like Parliament Hill (the meeting place for elected representatives), the Supreme Court of Canada, Rideau Hall (the home of the Governor General), the Royal Canadian Mint and the major national museums, which have evolved to offer a more hands-on and immersive experience than ever before. They all offer impressive family-oriented programming as well, meaning children interact with the exhibits in unique ways - such as creating artworks at the National Gallery of Canada, naming the newborn animals each spring at the Canada Agriculture Museum, or examining the “creepy critters” like beetles and snakes at the Canadian Museum of Nature.

For adults, there are immersive experiences as well. Imagine taking an open-cockpit biplane ride at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum or walking through a recreated World War I trench at the Canadian War Museum. You can learn more about Canada’s First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples in the striking First Peoples Hall at the Canadian Museum of History (formerly Canadian Museum of Civilization) or explore the science behind everyday life at the Canada Science and Technology Museum.

Lovers of the outdoors will find easy access, even from downtown Ottawa—whether it’s cycling along the Rideau Canal or myriad other pathways, or hiking or camping in nearby Gatineau Park. Golfers will enjoy dozens and dozens of courses within an easy drive of downtown. Meanwhile, just 90 minutes’ drive west of Ottawa, you’ll find some of the best whitewater rafting and paddling opportunities anywhere on the planet along the mighty Ottawa River.

The culinary scene has exploded in recent years, due in no small part to Le Cordon Bleu Ottawa Culinary Arts Institute. Their graduates have filled local kitchens and raised the level of quality to impressive new heights. Chef-owned restaurants are the norm, many of which belong to Savour Ottawa, a movement to encourage and promote locally grown and raised foods. The year-round ByWard Market is a particular hotspot - not just the name of one of Canada’s oldest and largest farmers’ markets but also the name of the surrounding neighbourhood. You’ll find 120 places to eat and drink within a four-block radius - a foodies’ paradise.

The festival scene is also of note, with music festivals like the RBC Royal Bank Ottawa Bluesfest attracting hundreds of thousands for fun in the summer sun each July. The TD Ottawa International Jazz Festival leads into the biggest and best Canada Day (1 July) party in the country. The Ottawa Chamberfest fills downtown churches and concert halls with beautiful chamber music while the Ottawa Folk Festival allows everyone an end-of-summer breather. The Writers Festival, Animation Festival, Winterlude (winter activities), Canadian Tulip Festival and dozens more animate almost every weekend throughout the year.

Sights • Parliament of Canada • Canadian Museum of History • National Gallery of Canada • ByWard Market neighbourhood • National Arts Centre

Football With a thriving soccer culture offering leagues for players of all ages and skill levels, the beautiful game has deep roots in the Ottawa area.

Sixty-four Ottawa clubs are part of the Eastern Ontario District Soccer Association (EODSA), which represents more than 50,000 players The EODSA is strengthening the women’s game with the establishment of a new women’s committee. The committee has a set five objectives to reach by 2015: to increase the number of girls playing soccer, to retain the number of girls playing soccer after the age of 15, to have more women coaching and refereeing and finally, to have more women on soccer boards.

Ottawa is a hotbed for the new Ontario Player Development League, with four clubs participating: Nepean Hotspurs, Ottawa Fury FC, Ottawa South United and West Ottawa Soccer Association.

Through its USL W-League successes, the Ottawa Fury FC women’s senior team has built an international reputation. A streak of eight consecutive division titles culminated in a Championship Final win in 2012. Several Fury players have gone on to join the Canada women’s national team, including Rhian Wilkinson, Robyn Gayle, Diana Matheson and Christina Julien.

Ottawa is home to some outstanding educational institutions with competitive soccer teams that are receiving national attention. The Algonquin College women’s varsity team won the 2013-14 Ontario Colleges Athletic Association championship. As well, University of Ottawa defender Gillian Baggot was recognized as the 2012 Canadian Interuniversity Sport Player of the Year.

Players from neighbouring Gatineau, Québec compete in l’Association régionale de soccer de l’Outaouais (ARSO), which has 16 clubs.

The professional men’s game arrived in Ottawa in 2014 with Ottawa Fury FC joining the North American Soccer League. Fans have been thrilled with the high calibre of play. The team has three boisterous supporters clubs: Bytown Boys SC, Stony Monday Riot and Fury Ultras.