Living in the National Capital Region: Ottawa or Gatineau?

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Gatineau or Ottawa? Quebec or Ontario?

Prospective immigrants interested in moving in the National Capital Region (NCR) often ask whether they should settle in Ottawa or in Gatineau. This is a rather big decision to make, because even though the two cities are very close geographically speaking, they are located in two different provinces, with the Ottawa River as a boundary.

I live in Ottawa and I don’t go to Gatineau often because I don’t need to—that said, a lot of my friends and acquaintances chose to live in Quebec for various reasons. There is no “good” or “bad” place to live: both Ottawa and Gatineau have their strengths and weaknesses, as the article will highlight.

What is the National Capital Region?

The term “National Capital Region” or “NCR” is used to describe the Ottawa-Gatineau area.

The National Capital Region is an official federal designation for Ottawa, Ontario; the neighbouring city of Gatineau, Quebec; and surrounding urban and rural communities such a Nepean, Kanata, Barrhaven, etc.

The National Capital Region in Numbers

  • Area: 4,715 km2 (1,820 sq mi)
  • Population: 1,451,415 (Ottawa 883,391 and Gatineau 265,349)
  • Phone area codes: 613, 819, 343, 873
  • English as a mother tongue: 501,870 (Ottawa) vs. 25,365 (Gatineau)
  • Language spoken most often at home: English in Ottawa (by 606,535 people) and French in Gatineau (by 193,685 people)
  • Language most often used at work: English in Ottawa (by 441,285 people) and French in Gatineau (by 89,540 people)
  • Population of immigrants: 178,545 in Ottawa and 20,780 in Gatineau

Other interesting facts, numbers and stats are available in the Ottawa community profile and in the Gatineau community profile.

Living in Ottawa or in Gatineau… what’s the big deal?

The region falls into two provinces—that’s the “big deal”—or rather the biggest deal. Indeed, Canada is a federation with two distinct jurisdictions of political authority: the country-wide federal government and the ten regionally-based provincial governments.

For residents, this means that a number of matters are the responsibility of the province they live in, the Government of Ontario for Ottawa and the Government of Quebec for Gatineau. The following areas fall into the provincial responsibility:

  • Healthcare
  • Education
  • Administration of justice
  • Natural resources and the environment
  • Vehicle drivers and vehicle use (driver licenses, winter tire use; seat belt and child seat use)
  • Welfare

To give you a few examples of practical differences between Quebec and Ontario:

  • In Quebec, the legal drinking age is 18 but in Ontario it’s 19 (yes, a lot of 18 years old Ontarians go to bars in Quebec!). Beside, in Ontario, you can only buy alcohol at the LCBO or Beer Store, but in Quebec it is sold in supermarket and convenience stores.
  • Ontario/Canada income tax is significantly lower than Quebec’s. The sales tax is also higher in Quebec: in Ontario, the HST (Harmonized Sales Tax) is 13%, in Quebec it is 14.5%.
  • In Gatineau, parents can benefit from $7/day daycare services, subject to availability (and the waiting list is long!). Childcare services are much less subsidized in Ottawa, and will cost more.

Of course, Ottawa and Gatineau are also two distinct municipalities so there are a number of differences here. Garbage collection and waste management are municipal responsibility, and so are municipal services such as fire, emergency medical services, police, parks, roads, sidewalks, drinking water, stormwater, etc.

For instance, in Ottawa, the local bus system is operated by OCTranspo, and there is also a small light-rail service, the OTrain. Gatineau residents rely on the Société de transport de l’Outaouais (STO), the local bus network. Some buses do operate between Gatineau and Ottawa.

What are the pros and cons of living in Ottawa? How about Gatineau?

  Ottawa
Advantages
Potential issues
  • Real estate is more expensive in Ottawa, both renting and buying.
  • Higher property taxes.
  • Childcare services are more expensive.
  • Rush hour can be brutal to and from popular suburbs such as Kanata or Barrhaven, especially when the weather is bad. And if you live close to Scotiabank Place, the hockey arena, expect traffic during the NHL season!
  Gatineau
Advantages
  • Cheaper real estate.
  • Cheaper car insurance and electricity.
  • Exposure to a unique culture, Quebec really is a distinct society.
  • A chance to learn French, or to practice the language on a daily basis.
  • Two great attractions nearby: the Museum of Civilization and Gatineau Park for outdoor activities. Okay, make it three with the Casino du Lac-Leamy.
Potential issues
  • French is the main language, you may feel uncomfortable if you only speak English.
  • If you work in Ottawa and have regular office hours (roughly 9-5), expect a lot of traffic, especially crossing the bridges from/to Gatineau.
  • Income taxes are higher than in Ontario.
  • Potential issues with the healthcare system: finding a doctor in Quebec is harder than in Ontario, and there are long waiting lists for many specific healthcare needs.

 

What would you recommend?

It really depends on what you are looking for. This is the general trend I observed:

  • Young adults tend to live in Ottawa, especially in the downtown core, for easy access to the two main universities (University of Ottawa and Carleton University) and the nightlife.
  • Working couples without kids also often stay in Ottawa, generally in the suburb (in places like Kanata, Nepean, Orleans, Barrhaven, South Keys, etc.) because they are closer to work (assuming they are working in Ottawa) and pay less income taxes in Ontario than in Quebec.
  • Working couples with kids tend to live in Gatineau because real estate is cheaper, houses are bigger and childcare services are subsidized (which explains higher income taxes). Some English-speaking couples also want their kids to learn French early and take advantage of living in a French-speaking community.

Both communities, Ottawa and Gatineau, are nice—the decision of where to live mostly depends on what you are looking for.

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About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.

17 Comments

  1. I have 2 sets of French friends that moved to Ottawa a few years ago. Both sets of couples moved to Ottawa with the idea of improving their English.

    The first couple moved to Gatineau and second couple moved to Ottawa, not far from the downtown area.

    The first couple spent their entire time in “Ottawa” speaking French and never practiced their English. The second couple enjoyed using speaking both English and French on a daily basis.

    Just food for thought for any French people thinking of moving to the Ottawa region.

    I have a question, please excuse my ignorance, but if a person is accepted as an immigrant by Québec, can they live and work in Ottawa? My gut is tell me no, but what about if they live in Ottawa and work on the Québec side?

    • Anyone who immigrate to Canada through the Quebec immigration program must sign a paper saying they plan to settle in Quebec, but the paper has no legal value so as permanent residents, they can live anywhere in Canada. Some Québécois find it very offensive to see immigrants “using” their system (used to be the fastest to move to Canada for French-speakers) but Quebec is not a country but a province, so landed immigrants can effectively move outside Quebec whenever they feel like.

      Note that the opposite isn’t true. Landed immigrants must have a Certificat de Sélection du Québec in order to work in the province. For instance, I immigrated to Ontario, so I do not have a CSQ. Therefore, before I became a Canadian citizen, I wasn’t able to work in Quebec as a permanent resident–I would have had to apply for a CSQ and start a part of the immigration process all over again.

  2. I’m surprised to hear that you can’t just go to Québec and work there if you are a PR from another province. The CIC website says

    As a permanent resident, you and your dependants have the right:
    […]
    •To live, work or study anywhere in Canada.
    […]

    I understand that you may not be eligible for certain assistances from the government if you did not specifically apply for PR in Québec, but I thought you can simply move to any place in Canada. Have they changed that since you immigrated?

    • No, I don’t think it changed–it’s a bit of a grey area really. In theory, you CAN work and live in Quebec even though you immigrated through the federal program, but since you need to get a CSQ it complicates things (and adds $$$ to the move as well).

      • I’m not sure about this piece of info, im only talking from experience, but when you get a job employers don’t ask for the CSQ. However, you can’t acces the health system and if you want to study you will pay the Canadian fees (more expensive than the ones for Quebec residents).

  3. I’d rather live in Ottawa, but as for now, it’s easier for me and my boyfriend to live in Gatineau. He doesn’t feel ready to live in an English-speaking city. I’m sure he’ll change his mind within a few years 🙂

  4. I am a new landed immigrant of Gatineau looking for a job in Ottawa, it really bothers me since many immigrant programs are provided to the Ontario residents only. So I am thinking of finding a friend in Ottawa who would provide me a address to prove me a Ontario resident. I wonder if this is legal and what the potential problems would arise. Thanks!!And Btw, my husband works in Gatineau and we live together.

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