Canada’s Capitals – Ottawa and Kingston, Present and Past

Sitting high above Ottawa River on the edge of a limestone cliff, Canada’s Parliament buildings in Ottawa have a regal look. Many visitors to Canada include a visit to Ottawa to see these impressive heritage buildings in person.

After driving through Northern Ontario’s lake country we continued east on the Trans-Canada Highway to reach Ottawa. Between Sudbury and Ottawa the highway runs through thick boreal forests as it passes Algonquin Provincial Park. When we drove this stretch of the highway on Our Great Canadian Roadtrip the weather was not the best. We had a mix of rain and fog but in some areas the small lakes took on a mystical feel as they were shrouded in fog.

Overall, it’s a peaceful drive, much quieter than taking the southern route on busy Highways 400 and 401.

Ottawa was selected to be the permanent capital of Canada in 1857 partly because of the protection offered by the steep cliffs above Ottawa River. Before that, the capital had been located in Kingston, Montreal, Quebec City and Toronto. This cliff side location is now called Parliament Hill and houses Canada’s Parliament buildings. Unfortunately, the buildings are undergoing major renovations that aren’t expected to be completed until 2028. When we visited all of the buidings except West Block were behind construction walls and surrounded by cranes.

Beside Parliament is the stately-looking hotel Fairmont Chateau Laurier. It is one of the many palace-like hotels built by competing railway companies in Canada in the early 1900s. The hotels were built to encourage tourists to travel across Canada on their passenger trains. Chateau Laurier was built to compliment the neighbouring Parliament buildings and together these buildings add grandeur to the street.

Between Chateau Laurier and Parliament Hill are the locks of Rideau Canal. Eight locks connect Rideau Canal to the Ottawa River, an impressive 24 m (80 ft) below. Viewing from Pedestrian Bridge you can overlook the locks, but to appreciate the height difference there is a better vantage point. Alexandra Bridge has a pedestrian corridor and allows great views of the locks, Parliament Hill and Chateau Laurier.

Not far from Parliament Hill are a few other notable buildings. Notre-Dame Bascilica with its towering twin spires stands a block away from the castle-like building of the Royal Canadian Mint. On the other side of the Parliament Buildings are the equally impressive Confederation Buildings.

South of Ottawa is the original capital of Canada. Located at the beginning of the St. Lawrence River, Kingston is steeped in history. Originally settled by the French as a fort, Kingston was named the first capital of the United Province of Canada by the British in 1841. Its time as capital was short lived, only 3 years, but the history of this city can easily be seen.

The streets of downtown Kingston are dominated by wonderfully restored 19th century brick and limestone buildings. This vibrant area is a great spot to spend an afternoon wandering the streets and admiring the lovely old buildings that are now shops and cafes.

The streets of historic downtown lead to Kingston City Hall. It is a beautiful old limestone building located across from a small harbour on Lake Ontario. In between the sailboats and tour boats in the harbour is a reminder of Kingston’s history. Shoal Tower was once used by the British to protect Kingston and its harbour. Now it stands idle among modern boats.

A few blocks away from downtown is Queen’s University. It’s not a typical tourist site, but we stopped to look at a few of its many heritage buildings.

Tips for visiting Ottawa and Kingston

  • The most difficult part in visiting both cities is parking. Both have street parking as well as public and private lots, but since they are busy tourist sites there seems to be more cars than parking spots. You can check on both the cities’ websites for up to date information. Wear comfortable shoes because you’ll likely have to walk a few blocks.
  • Getting into either city by plane is easy. Ottawa has an international airport and Kingston has a regional one. But they’re also easy to reach by car. Ottawa is on the Trans-Canada Highway and Kingston is near the 401 in southern Ontario.
  • Ontario has HST (Harmonized Sales Tax). Therefore an additional 13% will be charged to most items in addition to the ticket price.

Coming Next – The Charming Old Towns of Montréal and Québec

For more pictures from our travels around the world visit Gallery on monkeystale.ca

To read stories from other parts of the world visit Destinations.

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53 comments

  • What a lovely post, Maggie, and what an amazing adventure 🙂 I have to say that parts of Ottawa look really beautiful, especially the Parliament Buildings, the Rivers and Canal are all stunning. It would be a fun thing to do include taking a Rideau Canal cruise aboard one of the many tour boats that ply the water there. It must be a wonderful winter destination, too, I guess – you just have to bundle up in a proper coat and winter attire. Thanks for sharing and have a nice day 🙂 Aiva xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Aiva, it is a nice looking capital city. In winter the Rideau becomes the longest skating rink in the world. I haven’t seen it but would love to one day. Maggie

      Liked by 1 person

  • Good review of historic Canada locations Maggie. We were lucky to travel across Canada in 2018 and visited both cities. We have good friends in Kingston who have shown us around over the years. Have a great week. Allan

    Liked by 1 person

  • I remember reading my best friend’s old post about Ottawa and I was particularly impressed by his photos of the parliament buildings. It’s nice to see them from different angles in this post — your photo of Chateau Laurier, Rideau Locks, and Parliament Hill is my favorite. I wish our capital city was as pretty as yours. I appreciate that you also include Kingston here due to its significance in the history of Canada. It does look like a really charming small city.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Bama, I have to agree Ottawa is a very pretty capital. It will be even better when the construction is done, we didn’t show those pictures. Kingston too is a cute city with a lot of history and a nice waterfront. Thanks for reading! Maggie

      Liked by 1 person

  • When my Mum took me to Canada when I was 7, we actually took a train from Montreal to Ottawa. We only spent a day there. It was more about seeing a family friend of ours than it was about seeing sites. I think another trip to Ottawa is due and not just for seeing my family friend!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Another trip is definitly due! Ottawa is a great city, beyond the Parliament buildings, it has a lot of great sites. We didn’t spend much time there on this trip either, but I’ve been a few times and it’s one of my favourite Ontario cities 🙂 Maggie

      Liked by 1 person

  • Beautiful photos Maggie! I love that architecture. It looks very European and impressive and yet quaint at the same time. Looks like you had a very stunning road trip!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks! The architectures is definitely influenced by the Eurpeans and a few places have managed to keep them in good condition. Thanks for reading! Maggie

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  • That was so enlightening. My knowledge of Canada is dominated by the dramatic and beautiful scenery that expats miss so much, hence the pictures they share. I loved this focus on historical towns and buildings, although they wouldn’t be usual draw card. You photograph brilliantly to complement your narrative. Great start to my day.

    Liked by 1 person

  • This was fun for me to relive my trip to Ottawa a few years back; we stopped at many of the same places. On the other hand, we didn’t visit Kingston so that was neat to learn more about the city and see the architecture. The buildings of Kings College and downtown especially are so beautiful!

    Liked by 1 person

  • Such beautiful buildings. I was reminded of Big Ben and a fairy castle, to name a few. We drove through Ottawa and spent an hour or two, but didn’t get a chance to see all those historic buildings. I’m a little confused when you say “Northern Ontario.” Your map seems to show you driving through southern Ontario, and Ottawa seems to be in the southeast portion of the province. I must be missing something… But I guess, on second look, to someone in Toronto and parts south, Ottawa would be considered north. A hard-to-directionalize (I just made that word up) province, to be sure.

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    • It’s a really nice city especially the waterfront and the few streets with heritage buildings that are just up from the water. Theybhave a very long pathway along the waterfront.Great to spend an afternoon. Maggie

      Liked by 1 person

  • I like your post, I have been to the same places several times and like you I have been interested in the same things. I know it’s hard to list everything in one post, but I would add a suggestion to Kingston, it would be to visit Fort Henry. There is an interesting recreation of the living conditions of the time, the officers and soldiers.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We didn’t have enough time in Kingston to go to Fort Henry unfortunately. Our main goal was to get to the Maritimes so we just made short stops in main centres along the way. Our trip was already over 40 days. Maybe next time 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  • I heard that there’s a river in Ontario that you can canoe to Hudson Bay and then put the canoe on a train and go back south. Do you know anything about that? I imagine that traveling to the far north in Ontario is not that easy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I didn’t mean to send that message yet. Anyway the canoe trips I’ve heard about are through Manitoba on the Churchill River or up from Lake Winnipeg and going to Churchill in Manitoba. Then take the train back to Winnipeg. I haven’t heard of a trip through Ontario but it’s probably possible. I think all of the routes are very challenging with many portages, difficult rivers ad large lakes. I think they’re beyond my canoeing abilities 😊

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  • Beautiful photos of Ottawa. I always like visiting this lovely city. It’s just about the perfect size city for me and some wonderful nature close by. OMG, I’m embarrassed though that I did not know about Kingston being Canada’s first capital. I have not spent any time there except for pit stops driving between Toronto and Montreal. It looks very pretty.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re right I hadn’t thought of it but it’s also the size of Ottawa that makes it more enjoyable. I knew Kingston was capital but I didn’t know that after there it bounced around between Montreal , Quebec City and Toronto. Kingston’s downtown is very cute and well taken care of. It’s worth a stop next time.

      Liked by 1 person

  • Love it! The parliament looks better than London’s, it feels… I don’t know, less unbalanced. Houses of Parliament has that massive tower on the west and then just poor little Big Ben on the east side…

    Anyway, had to have a chuckle at the names. Kingston, Sudbury… somebody must’ve come from Middlesex! They’re both ex villages (now parts of London) around Heathrow.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have to admit our Parliament Buildings are very nice and their location above the river tops it off. Funny about the city names, if you looked at a map of Canada you’d find hundreds of cities and towns named after places in the UK, we even have a London 😊 Thans for reading! Maggie

      Liked by 1 person

  • You really have such gorgeous buildings in Ottawa! I have to agree with others here, your parliament buildings are truly beautiful – love the tower that reminds a bit of Big Ben 😉. But hey, I’m no city girl because if I have to choose a favourite picture(s), it will be those of the Deux Rivieres!

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    • We were told the drive was very boring and mostly it is with tall pine trees on both sides of the highway. But once jn a while we were treated to these cute spots. Maggie

      Liked by 1 person

  • U;m generally not drawn much to city visits, but your Parliament Hill is simply astonishing. Like some fairy castle. Your photos are superb and avoiding all those cranes must have been quite an accomplishment.

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