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PROFILE OF OTTAWA By Suzanne Fortey (Article)

Suzanne Fortey
ne ForteyOttawa in Profile

Ottawa, for most Canadians, conjures up images of Parliament buildings, of the longest skating rink in the world, of the site of many of our national institutions such as the Supreme Court of Canada, the National Gallery and foreign embassies. Visitors to the Capital region are also impressed by its beautiful natural setting with the Ottawa, Rideau and Gatineau rivers flowing through it against the backdrop of the Gatineau Hills. Plenty of parklands, waterways and greenspace adorn it, with extensive walking and bike paths. In Ottawa, the two founding cultures of Canada meet and interact, contributing to the making of a vibrant community. Formerly known as a government town, it is now also known as a high tech centre with the number of technology workers rivaling that of the government sector. All of these factors play a part in making Ottawa a great place to live.

Ottawa is ranked as the sixth in the world for quality of life by Corporate Resources Group, a Swiss based Management firm. In a recent report by Research Worldwide, a global commercial real estate company, Ottawa ranked number one out of the twenty best cities to live in for expatriate workers.

This series of articles will look at some of the elements that contribute to the quality of life in Ottawa. Among some of the key factors are cost of living, work opportunities, access to education, issues relating to health and public safety, recreation.

Series 1 - Population Profile

The focus of this first article in the series is focused on an overview of the population and its characteristics. With a population of over a million people, Ottawa is Canada's fourth largest urban area, after Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, with Calgary not far behind. The focus of the population series will be directed at how Ottawa compares to these four urban centres.

Population Growth

In 2004, there were over a million people in the Ottawa-Gatineau area, a growth of about 6% since 2000. Its growing at about the same rate as Vancouver, but significantly behind Toronto and Calgary. If we were to exclude the Quebec portion of the Ottawa Metropolitan area and look only at the Ontario portion, the growth rate rises to 7.2 % between 1996 and 2001, which would still fall short of that achieved by Toronto and Calgary. If Toronto continued to grow at the same rate, it would take not much more than 10 years to double its population, while the Ottawa-Gatineau Metropolitan area would double in closer to twenty years.

Population and growth

[row] [col class="span3"]2000[/col] [col class="span3"]2004[/col] [/row] [row] [col class="span3"]In thousands[/col] [col class="span3"]change[/col] [/row]

Ottawa-Gatineau 1,078.5 1,142.7 5.7
Toronto 4,747.2 5,203.6 9.4
Montreal 3,471.3 3,607.2 3.8
Vancouver 2,040.3 2,160.0 5.8
Calgary 952.5 1,037.1 8.6

Source: Statistics Canada, derived from CANSIM table 051-0034 & cat. Nos 91-213 XIB &XPB

Population of Ottawa Census Metropolitan Area, Ontario portion

1996 2001

In thousands Percent change

Ottawa, Ontario part 751.646 806,096 7.2

Source: Statistics Canada, Population Statistics, Community Profiles

Population Density

Canada's larger urban centers have a greater concentration of people per kilometre of space, but Vancouver and Montreal have a much greater density in part because of geographic restrictions.

Even though Vancouver had a population of 1.9 million in 2001, less than half of Ottawa, it had a population density more than three times that of Ottawa. Montreal had a population a little over three times as much as Ottawa in 2001, but with a density four times greater than Ottawa.

Population density, 2001

Population Density per square kilometre

Ottawa-Hull 1,063,664 200.
Toronto 4,682,897 793.3
Vancouver 1,986,965 690.3
Montreal 3,426,350 846.6
Calgary 951,395 187.2

Source: Statistics Canada, Population Statistics, Community Profiles


Immigration plays an important part in population growth in some of Canada's major centers. This is more particularly so in Toronto and Vancouver than it is in Ottawa.

Proportion of foreign-born population* in selected Census Metropolitan areas

1991 2001

% Percent change

Ottawa-Gatineau 14.7 17.6 2.9
Toronto 38.0 43.7 5.7
Montreal 16.4 18.4 2.0
Vancouver 30.1 37.5 7.4
Calgary 20.3 20.9 0.6

* Foreign born population is defined as those who are or once were landed immigrants and does not include non-permanent residents, refugee claimants, or persons in Canada on employment or student authorizations. It also excludes Canadian citizens at birth who were born outside Canada.

Source: Statistics Canada, Canadian Statistics, Population and Demography, Immigration


We are a nation of movers and in most cities the proportion of people who had moved between 1996 and 2001 was high.. In Ottawa, nearly half the population 5years old and over moved between 1996 and 2001. While most moved from within the same Census community, about 20% had come from outside the area. Most of these were relocating within the province. The pattern varied in the other Canadian urban areas. In Calgary for example, more than half the population 5 years old and over had moved and the proportion of movers originating from other provinces is greater than the movers from within the province. In Montreal and more particularly in Vancouver and Toronto, the number of movers from outside the country exceeds considerably those who moved from other provinces

Percentage of Population 5 years and over by mobility*, 2001

  Ottawa-Gatineau Toronto Vancouver Calgary Montreal
Non-movers 54 54.6 52.1 45.4 56.7
Movers within the CMA 26.3 24.1 23.2 32.5 22.1
Movers within province 9.2 10.7 12 6.4 16.6
Movers from other prov 6.1 2 3.6 10.9 1.0
Movers from other country 4.4 8.6 9 4.8 3.6

*Mobility, place of residence 5 years ago. Non-movers: persons who on Census Day were living at the same address as five years earlier. Movers within the CMS: persons who were living at a different address but in the same Census Metropolitan area. Movers within the province: persons who had moved from another area outside the Census Metropolitan area but within the province.

Source: Statistics Canada, Canadian Statistics, Population and Demography, Population components and Characteristics.

Age distribution

The age distribution of a community impacts greatly on the services needed and the tax base to draw from. For example a population curve skewed towards the elderly will mean more pressure on the health care system, while a young population will mean more demands on the education system. Also a larger proportion of dependant people at either end of the age spectrum poses a greater burden on those of working age who bear the greatest cost of funding the services through their taxes. In Canada's large urban center the age proportions are very similar but Calgary has a the highest proportion of young people and the smallest proportion aged 65 and over.

The median age of the population has risen in all of the five urban areas over the period between 1996 and 2001. The Ottawa area showed the biggest increase in median age at 1.8 years. In 1996 Ottawa's population had a younger median age than Toronto, but in 2001, the position was reversed and now Toronto's population has a younger median age. The median age at 36.6 places Ottawa in the middle of the group of large urban areas, in 2001.

Age distribution, 2001

  Total population Age 0-24 Age 25-64 Age 65+
Ottawa - Hull 1,063,665 32.6 56.6 10.8
Toronto 4,682,895 32.6 56.1 11.3
Vancouver 1,986,965 30.8 57.0 12.2
Montreal 3,426,350 31.1 56.0 12.9
Calgary 951,395 34.0 57.0 9.0

Source: Statistics Canada, Community Profiles

Median Age, 1996 and 2001

1996 2001

Ottawa-Gatineau 34.8 36.6
Toronto 35.2 36.2
Vancouver 36.2 37.4
Montreal 36.3 37.9
Calgary 33.6 34.9

Source: Statistics Canada, Community Profiles 1996.

Cultural diversity

What makes one city more vibrant than another? Cultural diversity plays an important role in making some cities more interesting, with increased exposure to diverse cultural activities and cuisine. While English and French count among the main cultural groups for all of the large urban areas, a different mix of other groups figure among the six largest ethnic group in each of the cities.

Six largest ethnic groups, excluding Canadian, 2001

  Ottawa-Gatineau Toronto Montreal Vancouver Calgary
French 272,085   900,485   10,420
English 200,900 783,770 134,115 475,075 50,435
Irish 183,130 487,210 161,235 234,680 15,810
Scottish 152,215 517,115 94705 311,940 24,105
German 63,290     187,410 34,080
Italian 37,435 429,380 224,460    
Chinese   435,685   347,985  
East Indian   345,855   142,060  
Ukrainian         65,040
Jewish     80,390    

Source: Statistics Canada, Canadian Statistics, Population and Demography, Ethnic Origin

Suzanne Fortey

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