The National Capital Region contains the cities of Ottawa, Ontario, and Gatineau, Quebec, as well as parts of their surrounding municipalities. In total, the region covers approximately 4,715 km2. While Ottawa is the capital of Canada by law, the National Capital Region is recognized as the seat of the federal government. A federal agency called the National Capital Commission represents the government for most planning matters in the region, in cooperation with provincial and municipal governments. The entire region is located within the traditional and unceded territory of the Algonquin people.
The National Capital Region is expected to reach a population of 1.4 million in 2020. Most of these residents live in Ottawa and Gatineau. The federal government’s presence in the region is evident in the types of jobs that people have. About 30 per cent of the workforce is employed by the federal government. Of these 120,000 federal employees, about 25 per cent work in Gatineau.
The National Capital Commission oversees about 11 per cent of the region’s lands. These lands include Gatineau Park, LeBreton Flats, the National Capital Greenbelt in Ottawa, and many parks and driveways along the region’s waterways in both Ontario and Quebec. The National Capital Region’s hundreds of kilometres of trails and multi-use paths are enjoyed by people who cycle, hike, stroll, ski and snowshoe. The geographic and symbolic heart of the region is Parliament Hill in Ottawa, the location of Canada’s Parliament Buildings.
During most of the 19th century, Ottawa was a rough lumber town. Its transformation to a vibrant, bilingual capital region was the result of purposeful planning. The federal government, the provinces of Ontario and Quebec, and municipalities were all involved in the process. At Confederation and until the early 20th century, all federal government buildings were located in Ottawa. Between 1899 and 1927, the Ottawa Improvement Commission was responsible for projects that would highlight and beautify federal spaces in the capital. In 1927, the organization evolved into the Federal District Commission. Its mandate was similar to that of its predecessor: to improve the appearance of the capital, create places of national interest, and showcase the region’s natural beauty. Also in 1927, Gatineau (then called Hull) was formally included in the boundaries of Canada’s capital area.
The Commission’s work was interrupted by the Second World War. However, in 1950, the Plan for the National Capital was unveiled. The plan was dedicated to “the memory of Canadians who lost their lives in the service of their country during the Second World War.” It was led by French architect Jacques Gréber and directed by William Lyon Mackenzie King.
In 1959, the Federal District Commission was replaced by the National Capital Commission, whose role was to implement the plan. A decade later, Canadian premiers agreed that the core of Canada’s capital should include both Ottawa and Gatineau. By adding more offices in Gatineau and making the capital a more appealing place for French-speakers to live and work, the federal government hoped to increase the use of French as an official language in government.
The National Capital Region is home to many places and events that are important to Canada’s history and heritage. Significant places include the Parliament Buildings, national museums, the Central Experimental Farm, Gatineau Park, and the Rideau Canal. Significant events include Canada Day and Remembrance Day celebrations.
Many of the most important places in the National Capital Region are linked through a network of roads and picturesque parkways planned by the National Capital Commission. Confederation Boulevard, for example, loops through parts of Ottawa and Gatineau to showcase views of Parliament Hill, the Senate of Canada building, the homes of the Prime Minister and the Governor General, foreign missions, museums, scenic lookouts and parks.