Ottawa is the capital of Canada. The city is located on the south bank of the Ottawa River in southeastern Ontario. Ottawa borders Gatineau (once known as the City of Hull), Quebec, located on the north bank of the river; together they form the National Capital Region.
The Rideau River and the Rideau Canal both flow from the south through the outlying townships/suburbs and then through the centre of Ottawa and into the Ottawa River. The construction of the Rideau Canal was significant in the growth of Bytown into Ottawa in the middle of the 19th century.
Étienne Brûlé, the first European to travel up the Ottawa River, passed by Ottawa in 1610 on his way to the Great Lakes. Three years later, Samuel de Champlain wrote about the waterfalls of the area and about his encounters with the Algonquins, who had previously been using the Ottawa River for centuries. The Algonquins called the river Kichi Sibi or Kichissippi' meaning "Great River" or "Grand River". These early explorers were later followed by many missionaries.
Philemon Wright, a New Englander, created the first settlement in the area on March 7, 1800 on the north side of the river, across from Ottawa in Hull. He, with five other families and twenty-five labourers, set about to create an agricultural community called Wrightsville. Wright pioneered the Ottawa Valley timber trade (soon to be the area's most significant economic activity) by transporting timber by river from the Ottawa Valley to Quebec City.
Bytown, Ottawa's early name, was founded in 1826 because of preliminary work on the Rideau Canal. Its construction was overseen by Colonel John By, and the canal was intended to provide a secure route between Montreal and Kingston on Lake Ontario by bypassing the stretch of the St. Lawrence River bordering New York State. Colonel By set up military barracks on the site of today's Parliament Hill. He also laid out the streets of town with its "Upper Town" and "Lower Town" separated by the canal. Bytown's population grew to 1,000 as the Rideau Canal was being completed in 1832. Bytown saw some trouble in its early days, first with the Shiners' War from 1835 to 1845 and the Stony Monday Riot in 1849. Bytown was renamed Ottawa in 1855, when it was incorporated as a city.
On December 31, 1857, Queen Victoria was asked to choose a common capital for the Province of Canada, and she chose Ottawa. The Queen's advisers suggested she pick Ottawa for several reasons: Ottawa's position in the back country made it more defensible, while still allowing easy transportation over the Ottawa River. Ottawa was at a point nearly exactly midway between Toronto and Quebec City. The smaller size of the town also made it less prone to rampaging politically motivated mobs, as had happened in the previous Canadian capitals.
Urban planner Jacques Greber was hired in the 1940s to work on a master plan for the National Capital Region. Greber's plan included the creation of the National Capital Greenbelt and the Parkway System, and it also developed many other projects throughout the NCR. He was also responsible for the removal of the streetcar system and closing down historic downtown Union Station (now the Government Conference Centre) in favour of a suburban station several kilometres to the east. From the 1960s until the 1980s, the National Capital Region experienced a building boom. This was followed by large growth in the high-tech industry during the 1990s and 2000s. In 2001, in an amalgamation legislated by the Province, all twelve existing municipalities in the area were terminated and replaced by a new incorporation of the City of Ottawa.
The primary source for basic documents (vital statistics, land records, wills) for people who lived in the Province of Ontario is the Archives of Ontario, 134 Ian Macdonald Blvd, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M7A 2C5.
Civil registration did not begin in the province until 1869. Before then there may be church records of baptisms and burials. For the most part these are still held by the denomination who recorded them. Copies of marriage records made pre-1869 had to be sent by individual clergymen to the registrar of the county in which the marriage took place. These marriage records are available through Ontario Archives, on micorfilm through LDS libraries, and on paid and unpaid websites, but because they were copied at the registrars' offices, they cannot be considered a primary source.
Vital Records after 1869
Birth, marriage and death registrations are not open to the public until a specific number of years after the event occurred. Births to 1914 are now available [October 2012]; dates for marriages and deaths are later. Birth and death registration was not universally carried out in the early years after its adoption. Deaths were more apt to be reported than births for several years. The more rural the area, the less likely it would be that these happenings were reported to the authorities.
Land Records and Wills
Information on how to access land records and wills is best sought on the Archives of Ontario website. An ancestor's land holding might be found on Canadian County Atlas Digital Project if he was in occupancy circa 1878.
Association for the Preservation of Ontario Land Registry Office Documents (APOLROD). A list of Land Registry Offices for all Counties of Ontario.
The original censuses are in the hands of Library and Archives Canada. All of the original census (1851-1911) images are online with the exception of that for 1861. Not all of them are indexed. Later censuses are not yet available. Census divisions were redrawn as the population increased and more land was inhabited.
E-books and Books
Researching in Eastern Ontario
The website of the Ottawa Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society offers a number of search engines for databases of material they maintain:
The Society covers the counties of Carleton (combined with the city of Ottawa), Lanark, Renfrew, Prescott and Russell. There is a note on the website that the URL will be changing soon (Jun 2012). It may be best to “google” the Ottawa Branch of OGS.
NOTE: Hintonburgh and Mechanicsville (mentioned in the Family History Library Catalog) were neighbourhoods within Ottawa in the late 19th century.