On January 27, 1858, it was officially announced that Ottawa would be the capital of Canada, which then consisted of Ontario and Quebec. The choice was made by Queen Victoria after the Legislative Council had refused to vote money to build a Parliament at Quebec. The matter was referred to her in March 1857 by Prime Minister John A. Macdonald, and she announced her decision on December 31.
There was consternation in Quebec, Montreal, Kingston and Toronto when her choice became known. They had all been vying for the honour, and little consideration had been given to Ottawa. One critic described Ottawa as “a sub-Arctic lumber village converted by royal mandate into a political cockpit.”
There is a story that Queen Victoria had been influenced by a painting that had been sent to her by Lady Head, who was an amateur painter, captured some of the beauty of the area on canvas when she was taken on a picnic at what is now Major’s Hill Park, where the Rideau River flows into the Ottawa River.
However, there is little doubt that Queen Victoria’s decision was influenced by military authorities including the Duke of Wellington, who had earlier drawn attention to the strategic advantages of Ottawa. It was far enough from the United States border to be protected; it had good water transportation routes connecting the St. Lawrence and the Great Lakes; and it was on the Ontario-Quebec border.
Even so, after the Queen had chosen Ottawa, there was doubt that the capital really would stay there. When the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII, laid the cornerstone of the original Parliament Building on September 1, 1860, the inscription read, “cornerstone of the building intended to receive the legislature of Canada.”
- Queen Victoria’s Private Diaries Now Available Online (eogn.com)
- Stalking Queen Victoria (drvitelli.typepad.com)