Moving to Ottawa
Ottawa is one of the four major cities of the Canadian east, lying in the southeast of the province of Ontario and in the corridor between Quebec City and Toronto that is also home to Montreal. This positioning made Ottawa an ideal choice for a national capital - a status that was conferred by Queen Victoria in 1857 and which it today shares with Gatineau, its neighbour across the Ottawa river in Quebec.
Founded as an agricultural community, Ottawa grew on the timber trade, supplying lumber for construction and shipbuilding to North America and Britain. Today the largest employer is the federal government of Canada - the most iconic symbol of which is the Centre Block building on Parliament Hill which bears an uncanny resemblance to Westminster Palace - but there is also a large and growing technology sector. Nortel and Corel were founded in Ottawa while 3M, Adobe Systems and IBM are also large employers.
As the capital Ottawa is tremendously important to the cultural life of the country. With a population of just over 1.2 million it probably has one of the largest number of museums, theatres and heritage sites per capita anywhere in the world and hosts enough festivals to pack the social calendars of any new arrivals.
The Job Market
Ottawa’s unemployment rate has slowly been creeping up. The latest Statistics Canada numbers are pegging the rate at 7.1 percent in Ottawa, vs Canada’s overall rate of 6.8 percent. Reduced federal government hiring is partly to blame for the increase. With the slowdown, less people are moving to Ottawa for work. However, Ottawa still has one of the highest income levels in the country. Combined with the city’s lower cost of living, the area still ranks as one of the best communities in Canada to live in.
The largest employer in Ottawa is still the federal government. Technology firms play an important role in the capital’s economy, with firms like IBM, Shopify and Cisco Systems employing thousands of workers. Tourism is another major contributor in the capital’s economy.
The construction sector is a significant economic industry, as are financials and insurances. The Bank of Canada is located in Ottawa. The health sector employs thousands, with several hospitals and research facilities in the vicinity.
For expats, the main barrier to finding a job is language related. Many of the top paying jobs have a bilingual requirement: French and English. However, this is mainly for public-sector jobs – those seeking positions in the private sector can often work exclusively in English.
Compared to other major cities throughout North America and Europe, Ottawa is quite affordable. The cost of living in the nation’s capital is lower than Toronto or Vancouver in Canada, or London in England. MoneySense magazine, a Canadian publication, rated Ottawa the 4th best place to live in 2014 when measuring the quality of life of 201 Canadian cities. Ottawa took first place several times in previous years.
A meal at an inexpensive restaurant costs about $15, or about $35 for a three-course meal at a mid-range restaurant. A draught at the pub will set you back about $6.25. Canadian grocery prices have gone up significantly in the last few years. One litre of milk now cost about $1.65 in Ottawa. Apples are about $3.48 per kilo, chicken breasts about $10.24 per kilo. Domestic beer averages $1.90 per bottle and wine about $15 for a mid-range bottle. Public transportation is about $100 per month for a pass. Internet costs about $51 monthly for unlimited data. Healthcare is largely covered by the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP). New residents must meet certain requirements before applying for coverage.
Like most large cities, living in the suburbs is generally less expensive than close to the core. Downtown rent and housing prices are at a premium, although some more affordable options are available to students. Since Ottawa is home to many colleges and universities, there are a large number of renters in the area. Detached homes are more often owner occupied; semis and row houses are a mix of renters and homeowners.
If looking to live close to downtown, one bedroom apartments cost on average $ 1,115. Three bedroom apartments rent for about $1,700 per month. Outside of the core, one bedroom units rent for an average cost of $930, or $1,400 for a three bedroom unit.
For new residents who prefer to buy a house, here are the latest average sale prices for Ottawa: $361,572 for all residential properties, $251,666 for condos, and $387,141 for other residential-class properties (Ottawa Real Estate Board, March 2015). Real estate prices have been relatively stable for the past two years, with slight increases year-to-date.
- Downtown: Ottawa’s governmental and financial hub. Parliament Hill lies at its northern edge.
- Byward Market: East of the parliament buildings, Byward Market has many restaurants, clubs and condos.
- Centretown Very urban district of shops, stores, apartments and residences packed together. Bank Street is the city’s main gay neighbourhood.
- The Glebe: Southern district of shops, residences and restaurants. In May the community throws ‘The Great Glebe Bargain Sale’ on their front lawns.
- Old Ottawa South: Antiques row is found here, and Carleton University is not far away.
- Rockcliffe Park: Ottawa’s most exclusive neighbourhood, with the city’s largest residences.
- Chinatown: Ottawa’s Chinatown is just a small strip, with a growing Vietnamese community.
- Westboro: A residential area and up and coming shopping district.
- Wellington West / Island Park: Wellington West is one of Ottawa’s earliest laid streets, with restaurants, furniture stores and and embassies
Cost of Moving
Here are a few estimates for the cost of moving to Ottawa for the average family.
|From London||£4,112 and £4,395|
|From Paris||£4,906 and £5,244|
|From New York City||£2,345 and £2,507|
|From San Francisco||£4,179 and £4,467|
|From Sydney||£6,838 and £7,310|
|From Dubai||£9,413 and £10,062|
|From Beijing||£4,284 and £4,580|
Schools and Education
There are over 300 publicly funded primary and secondary schools in the Ottawa area. The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) is the largest, and offers both English and French Immersion programs. The Ottawa Catholic School Board offers similar programs, but with the addition of religion classes. Francophone students may choose to attend a French language school, where all subjects are taught in French. The exception is English language arts, which starts in grade four.
To earn a high school diploma, students must accumulate 30 credits from grade 9 to grade 12. They must also complete 40 hours of community involvement activities and pass the provincial literacy test. There are a number of private and international schools in Ottawa as well.
Students from all over the world come to Ottawa to attend university. The University of Ottawa is the biggest bilingual university worldwide. It consistently ranks one of Canada’s top universities. According to Maclean’s University Rankings of Canadian schools, the University of Ottawa placed 8th for Medical/Doctoral in 2014 and 11th for Law in 2012. It ranks 218th in the world according to QS World University Rankings.
Carleton University is another well ranked Ottawa post-secondary school. Maclean’s placed it 6th overall in Canada in 2015. It took 501th place in the world in the QS World University Rankings. It’s best known for its journalism, engineering and technology degrees.
As for colleges, Algonquin is the largest in English. La Cité Collégiale is the most populous French language arts and technology college in Ontario.
Rankings against the World
Living in Ottawa has its perks, and the world is starting to notice. Canadian money magazine MoneySense ranked Ottawa as the best city for new immigrants in 2014. The magazine judged cities on unemployment rate, average rent and immigrant population numbers. The Conference Board of Canada also gave Ottawa high marks, ranking it in the top 6 in Canada due in part to its findings about local education, innovation, economy and society.
Ottawa is multicultural, attracting people from all over the world. It is a bilingual city, with English and French being official languages. Many other languages are spoken here, including Spanish, Chinese, Italian and more. Ottawa is quite welcoming to all cultures; neighbourhoods such as Little Italy and Chinatown add to Ottawa’s rich cultural fabric.
A Day in the Life
Start your day with an early morning jog by the Rideau Canal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Surrounded by lush green parks and trees, you might run by a yacht going through the canal system or a family of ducks wading by.
Next, it’s time to grab a latte on your way to work. Stroll by the Parliament buildings on your way; the Peace Tower, a bell and clock tower found in the Centre Block, is a must see. It reaches 92 metres high and is an architectural masterpiece.
Lunch can be enjoyed in the ByWard Market, at one of the area’s numerous outdoor patios. Better yet, eat on the go and explore the boutiques and shops instead. After work, meet some friends downtown and grab a pint or two and some munchies at your favorite pub. Then head on over to the National Arts Centre for a performance by the NAC Orchestra or maybe the latest Broadway musical.