The Contemporary Capital

Three maps showing urban growth in the National Capital Region.

Three maps showing urban growth in the National Capital Region.

Since the NCC published the last Plan for Canada’s Capital in 1999, the National Capital Region has undergone significant governance changes. The role of the region’s municipal governments has evolved and increased in prominence, in part as a result of the amalgamation of smaller municipalities into the City of Ottawa and Ville de Gatineau. Almost two thirds of the Capital Region’s land mass and approximately 95 percent of its population are located within the municipal boundaries of Ottawa and Gatineau.

According to the 2011 census, the census metropolitan area of Ottawa–Gatineau had a total population of 1.23 million. The population projection, estimated at 1.8 million for 2050, may grow beyond 2.3 million by 2067.

The Capital has a relatively dense urban core, and urbanized areas radiate up to 20 kilometres outward. The urbanized area is slightly elongated along the axis of the Ottawa River. On the Ontario side, the Greenbelt provides a physical distinction between the inner and outer urban areas of Ottawa.

The Capital has undergone significant demographic changes, as well. Immigration has become an important contributor to population growth, while enriching the cultural diversity of the Capital. In 1941, 98 percent of residents were of European origin, whereas today new immigrants to the Capital Region are just as likely to hail from Asia, the Americas and Africa (40 percent, 17 percent and 14 percent of total immigrant population, respectively). One out of every five residents of the Capital Region is a first-generation immigrant, according to the 2011 National Household Survey of Canada.

Today, approximately three quarters of the region’s population live in Ontario, while one quarter live in Quebec. Federal employment maintains a similar distribution.

Another distinctive feature is the wide use of both official languages. A 2015 report from the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages found that knowledge of both official languages has increased steadily in the region since 1981. The vast majority of workers use their mother tongue (English or French) at work.

The region’s growing population has required extensive investments in transportation infrastructure. The number of motor vehicles owned by residents increased dramatically from 40,000 in 1947 to over 680,000 in 2016. Increasing economic activity and commuting between Ottawa and Gatineau mean that interprovincial transportation is critical to the regional transportation network. The federal government owns, maintains and operates five interprovincial bridges in the heart of the Capital. The construction and future extension of Ottawa’s Confederation and Trillium rail lines, as well as Gatineau’s Rapibus system, represent significant contributions to urban mobility in the Capital.

The two municipalities at the centre of the urban region, Ottawa and Gatineau, continue to invest in public transit—often with provincial and federal financial support—to improve the efficiency of the network and provide additional mobility options. In fact, investments in dedicated pedestrian and cycling infrastructure have helped to achieve a safer and more sustainable transportation network. For its part, the NCC has contributed significantly to enhancing the Capital’s recreational pathway network, which now includes 250 kilometres of NCC-owned and -managed pathways. With a focus on increasing the sustainability and accessibility of the transportation network, planners now encourage efficient and compact urban developments, thereby protecting natural and green spaces, agricultural lands, and cultural heritage features.