Learn about Ottawa’s journey from a violent lumber town to Canada’s stately capital at the Bytown Museum. Housed inside the oldest building in Ottawa, this museum tells the city’s story through displays of weapons, uniforms and other antique artifacts.
Bytown was established in 1826 as a place to house the men building the Rideau Canal. The town was named after its founder, British Lieutenant-Colonel John By, who was supervising the canal’s construction. Admire the grey stone exterior of the historic Commissariat building, which houses the museum. Erected in 1827, it was originally used as a storehouse for materials and equipment used in building the canal and also served as a military depot.
Explore the museum’s first floor, which features an exhibition on the construction of the Rideau Canal. Look for British military uniforms from Lt.-Colonel By’s time. On the second floor, learn about Bytown’s rough days as a lumber village. A town of pubs and street brawls, Bytown earned a reputation as one of the most violent places in Britain’s North American colonies. Explore displays of period weapons, including pistols and rifles.
On the third floor, see how Bytown developed into the respectable capital city of Ottawa. See examples of the luxurious clothing worn by the Ottawan bourgeoisie during the Victorian age. Stop by the gift shop to buy a souvenir of your visit, such as a silk scarf hand-painted by Canadian artists.
Explore the area around the museum to see one of the most picturesque views in Ottawa. Next to the museum, boat locks climb up from the Ottawa River to the Rideau Canal. On either side of the locks, spot two of Ottawa’s landmarks, Parliament Hill and Château Laurier.
Located just next to the political center of Ottawa, the Bytown Museum is easily accessible by bus. During the winter, the museum is closed on Mondays, but it is open daily throughout the rest of the year. The fee for entry includes an audio guide.