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Life in Canada’s capital


My last column in the Weekly was titled “From Ottawa with Love” Just for the record, that title was the work of the editors of the newspaper although I have no objection to it. In fact, outside a preference for my home province, deciding to live in Ottawa 10 years ago was a good decision. Maybe it might be worthwhile that I give a bit of background to Ottawa, since it probably has a bit of a reputation that is far different than you think.

Ottawa is a collection of communities that, under an ambitious amalgamation plan in 2001, lumped 11 municipalities together to make Ottawa what it is today. There are mixed reviews on the wisdom of that decision since the physical footprint of the city is huge. Ottawa at 2,796 sq. km is larger than the cities of Toronto, Montréal, Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton combined. The city’s total land space is 80% rural in character with many working farms. There are many small communities that are not anything like what you see in a major urban setting. Ottawa is therefore pretty diverse and unique.

The city of Ottawa, second largest in Ontario and the fourth largest in the country, is a government town and its media can be dominated by its presence. Parts of the city are controlled by a Nation Capital Region (NCR) arrangement that oversees the many government buildings and land in the cities of both Ottawa and Gatineau, Quebec.

Government agencies, departments and foreign embassies are prominent with many government departments housed in buildings across the Ottawa River in Gatineau. The city of Ottawa is bilingual in character, and bilingualism is a pretty standard requirement if you wish to work here. Some 100,000 public servants work for the federal government, which is about 1 in 5 workers or 20% of Ottawa’s workforce. For many who do not know it, you may be surprised to know Ottawa’s advanced technology sector is one of the largest in North America with an estimated 70,000 jobs.

The typical working patterns of Newfoundlanders over the years saw Toronto and environs as places to work excluded Ottawa as a go-to place for employment. There are lots of us here mainly by virtue of public service employment (and retirement) when transfer from the regions often saw many an aspiring public servant go to Ottawa….but just make sure you are bilingual or ensure that you become so quickly. Unilingual language jobs are in short supply in Ottawa’s federal public service.

City life has its joys even if a furniture purchase may take weeks to deliver or if, in fact, the item has to be made first! Living in Newfoundland the experience is quite different as once an item is purchased delivery is pretty prompt. If you have a truck or that of your neighbour, you took it right away from the store. Waiting for or employing household services can also be mixed. Like anywhere else, the reputation for contractors is best to be checked out thoroughly. Quality and timeliness can be tricky so do your homework and get references. The cheap job is not always the best job.

With my background as a public servant who visited Ottawa often, moving here was not too stressful. Driving in the city is a different story and it took me some time to adjust. I often got the one-finger from an impatient driver who had little tolerance when I went astray. Those polite and compliant public servants can be quite a handful when they are behind the wheel of a car. Maybe the pent-up emotions and constraints of the workplace unleashes an unpleasant side. Look out if someone is unduly held up or they have to make an adjustment out of the ordinary. Dark stares and impatient horn blowing is the result.

All of that said, our experience has been pleasant and when the Ottawa tourism business returns to normal, you may want to come this way and see how much of your tax dollar is spent….museums and attractions galore. There are many who do and I recommend it.

Larry Peckford and his wife have lived in Ottawa for the past 10 years. Dianne LeRiche Peckford was born and educated in Port aux Basques. They have a seasonal residence in the Codroy Valley.

After leaving public service employment, Larry and Dianne had a 6 year stint living in the Northwest Territories. Larry has had a varied career in Newfoundland as a public servant and community volunteer. He is an occasional blogger and writes other pieces of personal interest. You can reach Larry via e-mail at:

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