6 Things That Surprised Me About Ottawa When I Moved Here From Windsor

I felt pretty extra when I first arrived.🍁

Kayaking on the Ottawa River near Parliament. Right: Biking along the Rideau Canal.
Staff Writer

Kayaking on the Ottawa River near Parliament. Right: Biking along the Rideau Canal.

This Opinion article is part of a Narcity Media series. The views expressed are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Narcity Media.

The city of Ottawa is on every Canadian's radar being the nation's capital, but what do people really know about this city? Moving across the province to Ottawa from Windsor, Ontario might not seem like the biggest move. As someone who didn't even leave Windsor for university, it felt like a huge deal.

I was expecting certain differences moving to a larger city, more than four times the population of Windsor and being outside of my comfort zone, but certain things really surprised me. You wouldn't necessarily expect certain cultural differences within the same province, but Ottawa definitely has a different vibe than what I had grown up around.

The one thing I find Windsor and Ottawa seem to have in common? They are both underrated cities that get a bad rap. I have so much love for both of these places I call home. While you can't take the Windsor out of the girl, you can take the girl out of Windsor and I am a proud Ottawan now. I can't imagine living anywhere else.

If you're born and raised in a city, there are things you likely don't realize about the place. Here is a list of differences that surprised me when moving to the capital city of Ottawa.

Cocktail on La Terrasse patio at Fairmont Chateau Laurier. Cocktail on La Terrasse patio at Fairmont Chateau Laurier. Megan Renaud | Narcity

Ottawa is NOT boring

This is where Ottawa gets a bad rap. I've lost count of the number of times I've heard or read someone calling the capital a 'sleepy government town'. Sure, we may not have the crazy nightlife that you can find in Toronto, but I personally think that would get old if it's all you're doing.

Ottawa is surrounded by beautiful green spaces perfect for endless hikes. This came especially handy when the pandemic hit and there was nothing else we could do. We have magical views of the Ottawa River where locals paddle, swim, raft and kite surf, plus the Rideau Canal, the largest outdoor skating rink in the WORLD. There are so many hidden gems to explore both in the region and the city itself. It always seems like there's a new attraction, event or restaurant to check out.

The drivers are calm

I will preface by saying I am not the most comfortable driver and I found all of the traffic in Ottawa overwhelming when I first moved here. I'll still avoid the highway if I can help it, but that is nothing new.

I remember the first time I ended up in the wrong lane on Carling Avenue and had to merge quickly. I put on my signal during heavy traffic and another driver just slowed down and let me in. I was honestly shocked. If you want to switch lanes during rush hour in Windsor, you'd better be ready to get into a fight. Overall the drivers in Ottawa are slower and calmer than I had grown up driving around, and it's usually not difficult to merge.

View from Eagles Nest Lookout in Calabogie. View from Eagles Nest Lookout in Calabogie. Megan Renaud | Narcity

Allergy season is a nightmare

All of the greenery around the city is beautiful and fun, but allergy season is horrific. I've always had environmental and animal allergies, it escalated once I moved to Ottawa.

When the snow starts to melt every spring it's a period of non-stop coughing or sneezing. During spring and summer, I feel itchier than I have felt in years, and my eczema returned after years and years without the skin condition. It was uncontrollable and is still difficult to manage some days. If I go back down to Windsor for a week or so my skin completely clears, so I can't help but blame the city. I guess I'll just keep taking daily allergy medication... for life?

People are SO active

I had never realized Ottawa was such a biking city before living here. A lot of people hike as well, and it seems like there's a whole community of active people across the city who get together for adventures. Once spring hits, the multi-use pathways are full of locals walking and biking. Tons of kayakers and paddlers hit the river too.

Many people even get outside all through the winter. Sure, many locals hibernate and who could blame them when there are piles of snow and it's negative thirty degrees outside. On any given day, you'll find winter hikers, flat bikers, cross country skiers and snowshoers on paths across the city. There's even a group of kite surfers who fly across the river every season of the year, the windier day the better.

Architecture off of Elgin Street, downtown Ottawa. Architecture off of Elgin Street, downtown Ottawa. Megan Renaud | Narcity

It's very politically correct

I still find it hard to read some Ottawans. I came from an environment where being loud and saying how you feel is the norm, which doesn't feel as accepted here. Maybe it's because Windsor is a smaller city surrounded by rural areas, it has a bunch of automotive factories and blue-collar workers or maybe it's the proximity to the American border. I did spend years working in an assembly plant after all. Whatever the reason, I felt pretty extra when I first started to mingle with Ottawa people.

A lot of the conversation is polite and surface level, something I don't feel particularly good at, *shrugs*. It's not really surprising that my closest friends in Ottawa are either newcomers too or creative types. Certain terms and phrases are more straight to the point. For example, I grew up calling park structures a 'jungle gym' and in Ottawa, even kids call it a 'play structure'... snooze. Even writing this I worry if Ottawa locals will be offended by a sentence, but know if I were to mock Windsor that most Windsorites would just chuckle and nod.

It 'feels' like Canada

I love being Canadian, and I didn't realize how American the city of Windsor feels until I moved to Ottawa. Everyone here actually uses Celsius when checking the weather. In Windsor, it's common to use Celsius when it's cold out and Fahrenheit in the summer, I also grew up using measurements like inches more often.

A lot of people are bilingual in the Ottawa region, whereas the French language isn't used much in the border city. I have a French last name and have been corrected on the pronunciation of my own name since living here... multiple times. Since the province of Quebec is so close we also know what's going on there and are in touch with French culture. A lot of people in Ottawa seem more aware of what's going on in Canada's social climate with the proximity to the government. Winter seems like 'real' winter up here, with all the snow and various activities we can enjoy. Although I will say, it's colder than you think and scraping your car can be a 30-minute job some days.

While I absolutely love Ottawa and everything it has to offer, I'll always be proud of where I come from. I wouldn't be who I am if I wasn't born and raised in Windsor. I would recommend a move to Ottawa to anyone who will listen. It's a fun, diverse city that has much more to offer than outsiders give it credit for.

Megan Johnson
Staff Writer
Megan Johnson was a Staff Writer for Narcity Canada's Ontario Desk focused on new netflix shows in Canada and things to do in Ottawa. She is based in Ottawa, Ontario.