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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Vintage Ottawa


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We came across this little gem recently on YouTube — it’s a 1940s newsreel-style trailer, produced for MGM studios, created to show American movie audiences a little-known foreign capital city called Ottawa. The earnest and stilted narration is worth the price of admission by itself (listen for the pronunciation of “Ri-DEAU”) but the most fascinating aspect is just how little “ceremonial” Ottawa – the canal and the parliamentary precinct – have changed in the 70 years since the film was shot. As the narrator says, they are noted for their “picturesqueness”

Of course, the stereotypes come thick and fast; red-suited mounties stride into the frame apropos of nothing, doughty old Queen Victoria gets a plug, and Canada is called “a vast wilderness”, before the audience is assured that despite its differences and French prime ministers, the dearest wish of the Canadian people is to have full and mutually beneficial relations with the United States of America.

One other thing – have a look at about 1.50 for footage of one of Ottawa’s old swimming beaches in action. There’s a huge diving tower well out from the shore of what the narrator says the Ottawa river; it’s a glimpse at how previous generations kept cool in the summer before agricultural run-off spoiled our rivers.



  1. That was great! I think I posted a similar one last year done by the same “Travel Talks” guy.

    The city looked so pristine back then. Must’ve been a Sunday.

  2. Looks like Ottawans made much better use of their waterfront in those days.

  3. What is amazing is seeing the train tracks running right into downtown along the east side of the canal, where Colonel By Drive now passes. What a tragedy that rail travel right into the heart of the city was removed. Thanks for the find.

  4. It’s amazing to see how much has changed, and how much is exactly the same. All of the green space and naturalized shorelines through out the city are gorgeous.

    Today, the NCC is a thorn in the side of most modern ideas – but after viewing this, it is hard to knock the stewardship they have provided to our city over the years.

  5. Great find! They made much better use of the river in those days. Forgive my ignorance, is the large structure with the balcony on the water the Rideau Canoe Club?

  6. Video: fantastic. Analysis of stereotypes: fantastic. Canada + America = Love, even with the French in power. And today just so happens to be Franco-Ontario day!

    And who said MGM was just a “movie company”?