In 1857, Queen Victoria was asked to choose a new capital for its growing Canadian colonies, and was originally given a choice between Toronto, Montreal, Quebec City or Kingston. Ottawa's location on the border between Upper and Lower Canada, the area's bilingual nature, and the availability of plenty of land for government buildings, made it the eventual favourite of the Queen. Construction of the new parliament buildings began at that time, even before the historic Charlottetown Conference which led to Confederation and the proclamation of the British North America Act ("BNA Act") in 1867.
In 1867, Ottawa had a population of 18,000 and covered 760 hectares, There were few stone buildings other than the Parliament Buildings, and the riverbanks and canals were lined with sawmills paper mills and factories. It was not until 1899 that the new prime minister, Sir Wilfred Laurier started the Ottawa Improvement Commission to begin the city's beautification, to transform it into a world class capital city.
In the early part of the century, the Ottawa River was increasingly dammed for hydro-electric power. This also had he added benefit of controlling (somewhat) the spring floods that hit Ottawa. Because of the length of the river with its northern extremes reaching 1000 km north into the Canadian Shield, the city encounters two flood seasons, one in late April, and a second in mid-June. Today, the combined capacity of all the power generating stations along the length of the Ottawa River (including its tributaries) exceeds 4 million horsepower.
The first project of the CIC was clearing industrial buildings away from the Rideau Canal; and constructing the (now called) Queen Elizabeth Driveway, the city's first scenic drive. The Montreal architect Frederick G. Todd in 1903 designed an impressive boulevard connecting Rideau Hall (the Governor General's residence in Rockcliffe) to the Parliament Buildings. He designed much of the parkland that now adjoins Sussex Drive and also recommended conservation of the Gatineau forest land on the Quebec side.
Following the 1922 Cauchon Report, the city began rationalizing the many railway lines in and around the city, and led to the creation of the Federal District Commission in 1927. This led to improvements around Dow's Lake, the Champlain Bridge at the west end of town, the development of Jacques-Cartier and Brébeuf parks. In 1937, the War Memorial was built at Confederation Square on Elgin Street, to be unveiled just before war clouds were looming in Europe.
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