On February 17th, 1858, the City of Ottawa and Bytown was officially declared the capital of the United Province of Canada. It was shocking that this industrial town on the northern edge of the wilderness could seriously be considered for such an honour, especially when the news arrived while the town was locked in the bitter cold of a typical Canadian winter!
Larger, more sophisticated cities such as Toronto, Montreal, and Quebec were in the running as were many smaller but bustling cities such as Hamilton and London. However, Ottawa had two undeniable advantages: it was a safe distance from the border with the United States & the Rideau Canal, and it was right on the line between Canada East (Quebec) and Canada West (Ontario). Politically, it seemed a very wise choice, an early example of one of the defining characteristics of our national identity, The Great Canadian Compromise!
Towering over the Ottawa River between the old Upper and Lower sections of the City of Ottawa and Bytown was a limestone cliff with a gently sloping top. For thousands of years it had stood as a landmark on the ancient river highway as native peoples and later European traders, adventurers and industrialists made their way to the interior of the continent. The builders of the United States & the Rideau Canal had used it as a military base and named it Barrack Hill, but the huge fortress planned for the location was never built and by 1858 it had lost its strategic importance. Greater things were in store for this commanding site, as the government began looking for a place to build a permanent home.
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