Ottawa was chosen as Canada's capital when Canada was still a British colony in 1857. This, incidentally, was a very clever decision by the Queen Victoria, carefully considered and designed to try and balance the French and British prides and placate the rivalry between Toronto and Montreal (it was only successful as it united both in derision towards Ottawa). Anyway, it was not, as some might lead you to believe, a choice based on Victoria's liking for a romanticised watercolour landscape of the town.
When Canada became a nominally autonomous federal republic in 1867, Ottawa's role as a place that brings the provinces together became even more important. The variety in Canada's provinces is fascinating, and surprising: for a country of only 30 million people, it's not a mean feat to manage both: a creation of a distinct national identity as well as celebration of regional diversity.
Canadians, apart from the Quebecois, don't really talk too much about differences between the provinces, but they exist, and are bigger than one would expect from the short history and small population (much bigger than for example in Australia): from climate to geography, accent to local regulations, ethnic background of the people to attitudes to work, life, politics and environment, Canada's provinces vary quite a lot, and Canada's history can be told in terms of adding the provinces to the federation. This is celebrated in Ottawa in many displays of provincial flags and crests, especially around the Parliament Hill.
But this city is more than just a seat of the federal government, though the administrative rather than just commercial character of Ottawa can be felt in its downtown core, where the atmosphere is less rushed and cut-throat than in Toronto or even Calgary. There is public art everywhere, a lot of it somehow connecting to the ideas of Canadian national identity and the Federation, while the population is multi-ethnic and almost as diverse as in Toronto.
Ottawa feels like a pleasant place to live, though the fact that we had a sunny weather for the two days we spent there probably influenced our impressions. But in addition to the public art and many remarkable public buildings, it has wide, open spaces, squares and parks, boulevards and promenades, and of course it has a river which is a good thing for any city to have as a focus and a breathing space.
The city has a good public transport system, with dedicated roads exclusively used by buses which makes the travel much faster, and well managed, purpose-built interchanges and stops that look more like city train stations than bus stops.
For the visitor, Ottawa has a range of attractions including, as one would expect in the capital city, cultural institutions of national importance, some of them world class.
Every visit to Ottawa should include at least some of the following :
**Parliament Hill with Canada's federal legislature, great views from the riverbank, the Centennial Flame and many monuments.
**Canadian Museum of Civilisation, which has stunning social history and anthropological displays in a magnificent building situated just across the Inter-Provincial Bridge from the Parliament Hill.
**National Gallery of Canada, with many major Old Masters, as well as great collections of Canadian, Asian and indigenous art.
**...and if you arrive in May, catch the Canadian Tulip Festival for which Ottawa is famous.
Other attractions include the Canadian War Museum, Currency Museum, Rideau Canal (with an ice-rink in the winter) and the bustle of the ByWard markets and restaurants.
Canadians often say that Ottawa is boring, but in reality it's a pleasant city to visit and a must for anybody who wants to understand the diversity of the Canadian experience.