Ottawa: The inside scoop on studying in Canada's capital


University of Ottawa

Julien Procuta, 20
History and Political Science

At first glance, the University of Ottawa seemed as cold as the city’s winters proved to be. I was put off by its brutalist architecture and endless parking lots, which seemed worlds apart from the verdant campus I had envisioned. But I soon became part of a vibrant community that made up for the warmth it lacked aesthetically.

Since I come from a francophone family in the anglophone city of Toronto, U of O’s celebrated bilingualism—the deciding factor for me—made me feel at home, while the chance to grow intellectually in both languages, surrounded by multicultural peers, made me feel Canadian.

I sometimes still feel lost here in the sea of 42,000 students. The buildings are bulging at the seams—getting a treadmill at the gym is challenging, and scoring a seat at the library, cutthroat—which must be addressed if the university wants to fulfill its ambitious strategic plan, Destination 2020.

Traditional campus happenings (pub nights, football parties, etc.) seem to reign supreme, forcing me to dig deeper to find the cultural niche I sought. The student-led mentoring centre pointed me to everything from world music at the graduate house to conferences on global issues.

The U of O is not as distinguished a university as its counterparts in Montreal, Kingston, Toronto and Vancouver, but it doesn’t claim to be—nor should it. It still offers a top-flight undergraduate experience and an internationally recognized co-op program in the heart of the nation’s capital, with all the advantages that confers.

The university’s extracurricular program reflects a high regard for culture. Venture down to the University Centre to partake in everything from salsa lessons to Aboriginal art exhibits and Middle Eastern cook-offs. A plethora of political activities—from a Model UN club to the student Marxist party—are a reminder that we are a stone’s throw from Parliament Hill, while our two standout quidditch teams are set to represent the university at the world cup in North Myrtle Beach, S.C.

City Vibe
Although the university is right next to the iconic ByWard Market, you must forgo the usual haunts to get a feel for what the city has to offer. Ottawa is shedding its bureaucratic skin, with vibrant foodie and coffee scenes, a shop-local mentality and live music in hip pockets such as Centretown and Hintonburg, which are short bus rides from campus. With cultural staples such as the National Arts Centre and the National Gallery within walking distance, Ottawa’s offerings go beyond those of a typical university town. The more outdoorsy take advantage of its extensive cycling infrastructure, while some students skate to school on the frozen Rideau Canal or explore the trails in Gatineau Park, a 15-minute drive from campus.

The Skinny
Check out the blog for the most comprehensive guide to city life, culture and all things Ottawa.