Ottawa

Ottawa's past in pictures: A fledgling capital comes alive

A glimpse into our visual past reveals a nascent Ottawa very different from the one we know today

With Canadians celebrating a year-long 150th birthday party, CBC Ottawa is digging into the archives — our own and others — for the unusual, the revealing, and the historic images from our city's past.

We'll provide glimpses into the past 150 years in the capital and the enormous changes that have produced the Ottawa of today.

We begin with a look back at the early days of the city from Confederation to the first years of the 20th century, revealing a city of impressive new Parliament Buildings, powerful lumber barons, and fledgling roads where horse-drawn carriages mixed with electric streetcars.

original parliament buildings ottawa circa 1865

With Ottawa named capital of the Province of Canada by Queen Victoria in 1857, construction of the Parliament Buildings' Centre (seen here circa 1865), East, and West blocks began in 1859. They opened in 1866, just a year before Confederation. (Library and Archives Canada/C-003039)

Parliament buildings Ottawa 1884

A view of the Centre Block in 1884, with its centrepiece the 55-metre-high Victoria Tower. After being destroyed by the great fire of 1916, the Centre Block was rebuilt with a newly-designed and taller Peace Tower. (Library and Archives Canada/PA-003340)

1896 Ottawa Police officer 324 Rochester St Ottawa

Ottawa's thin blue line was a lot thinner in 1912, with a much smaller police force for a much smaller municipal population of about 100,000. Back then, bicycles served as equivalent of squad cars. Police officer James Fagan is posing outside C. Poulin's store at 324 Rochester St. (City of Ottawa Archives/CA001216)

Elgin street looking south towards Ottawa City Hall circa 1903

Elgin Street looking south around 1903. The ornate tower seen in the distance is part of Ottawa City Hall, which stood on the present site of the National Arts Centre. The building was destroyed by a fire in 1931. (Library and Archives Canada/PA-011826)

Chaudiere falls ottawa circa 1880

The unspoiled beauty and power of the Chaudière Falls is captured in this circa 1880 photograph. Some ten years later, the construction of dams and power stations would begin to change the appearance of the falls and access to them. Named Akikodjiwan by the Algonquin people, the falls and adjacent islands remain a historic, sacred meeting place for First Nations. (Library and Archives Canada/PA-012547)

Cab driver 1904 Ottawa horse and carriage or buggy

Is the meter running? Long before Blue Line and Uber, this is what a driver-for-hire looked like in Ottawa. This photo taken around 1904 shows a cab driver, described only as a Mr. Reeves, with his horse and buggy on Rideau Street. (City of Ottawa Archives/CA001763)

Ottawa streetcar 1893

Workers at the Ottawa Car Company plant on Slater Street pose with 'Lallah Rookh,' one of the first electric streetcars to ply the streets of Ottawa, in this 1893 photo. The company would go on to build 1,700 streetcar and rail vehicles before closing in 1947. Electric streetcars operated in the capital from June 1891 until May 1959. (City of Ottawa Archives/CA001508)

J.R. Booth timber raft ottawa river 1900 -1905

Timber rafts like this one (circa 1900) along with booms that corralled floating logs were a common sight on the Ottawa River throughout the 19th century and a good part of the 20th. Logs would travel from the forests of the Ottawa Valley downriver to the sawmills of Bytown and later Ottawa, playing a key role in the growth of the city's economy and population. (Library and Archives Canada/PA-008835)

Ottawa home of Henry Franklin Bronson 1882

The home of local tycoon Henry Franklin Bronson photographed in 1882 on what is now Bronson Avenue near Queen Street. Appropriately named, Ottawa's lumber barons lived like nobles, acquiring great wealth and influence by harvesting timber and milling it into lumber. They lived accordingly, occupying expansive homes such as this one. (Library and Archives Canada/PA-026741)

Bank and O'Connor 1909

Still standing. This building at the Corner of Sparks and O'Connor streets remains a fixture of Ottawa's downtown. In this 1909 photograph, it's the site of Poulin's Dry Goods Store. Since then it has been home to other stores, including a Zeller's for many years and, currently, Winners. (Library and Archives Canada/PA-009640)

Alice Steele in Ottawa kitchen 1901

The household kitchens of 1901, such as the one seen here, were a far cry from those of today. Even so, Alice Steele's kitchen seems to be well-equipped for the time, even boasting a sink with running (hand-pumped) water. (Library and Archives/PA-501022)

Ottawa school class room 1899

Immaculately-dressed students in a girls-only classroom practice their penmanship at an unnamed school in this photograph from 1899. (Library and Archives Canada/PA-028094)

Lola Powell portrait 1904

Though many people in 1904 opted for conventional photographic portraits, Lola Powell clearly desired something more classical and whimsical. William James Topley obliged. Topley was one of the city's leading photographers at the time, and left a massive visual record that survives to this day at Library and Archives Canada. (Library and Archives Canada/PA-138386)