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Our History

Launched to Support Our Rapidly Expanding Lumber Town

In the years between 1832 and 1857, our region was a burgeoning lumber town whose population grew from 4,000 to well over 10,000. During this time, shipments of dry goods, tea, sugar, wines and liquors, salted fish, wheat, flour, beef, pork, oak, iron, and more were arriving via the Rideau Canal.

In 1847, Bytown became a legally designated town and within seven years, in 1854, it was incorporated as a city.

On June 10, 1857, an Act of Parliament launched the Ottawa Board of Trade. The Board’s mandate was to protect and advance economic prosperity, industrial opportunity and quality of life throughout our region.

The association began with 50 members and was led by John Bower Lewis—the second Mayor of Bytown, the first Mayor of Ottawa, and a Member of Parliament from 1872 to 1873.

Forward-Thinking Business Development

From the very beginning, the Ottawa Board of Trade understood that building a thriving community required the utmost dedication, careful planning and active engagement to drive results. As our city’s population continued to grow, new buildings, homes, schools, hospitals, bridges, and roads were constructed.

The Ottawa Board of Trade contributed to improvements such as the first public abattoir and a proper system of garbage collection. By arousing public opinion, the Board facilitated the introduction of tap water to residents via the Thomas C. Keefer plant in 1875.

Into the 20th century and decade by decade, the Ottawa Board of Trade was relentless in its pursuit of opportunities to help our region advance, thrive and grow. Maintaining and expanding railways and highways was a priority, as was the widening, levelling and straightening of existing local roads.

During the 1930s when jobs and money were scarce, the Board launched the Ottawa Junior Board of Trade to develop future leaders aged 20-35.

Turning its attention to public safety, it conducted a survey of traffic and parking conditions, followed by a survey of housing conditions.

Investing in Existing and Future Industries and Businesses

At the municipal level, the Ottawa Board of Trade’s influence grew. In 1954, it helped organize and fund the Eastern Ontario Board of Trade, later renamed the Eastern Ontario Development Association (EODA), whose mandate was to encourage industrial location in Ottawa.

The Board then proposed, successfully, that the City of Ottawa should not only give the association a grant, but also adopt it as its industrial agent. In the years that followed, the Board worked closely with the EODA, the municipal government and many other groups to invest in initiatives that could better attract new industries and businesses.

Adaptable to the Most Pressing Issues of the Day

In an era before Internet searches and digital information, the Ottawa Board of Trade was a magnet for local and foreign enquiries. These included requests for directions to businesses, introductions to potential clients, questions about the costs of housing or schooling, and appeals for advice or assistance to resolve business problems.

There were also requests for contacts in the business world in other cities or countries, and enquiries from tourists who wanted to know what to see, what to do, and where to stay.

The sheer number of committees in earlier years is a testament to how much work was being taken on. These included committees dedicated to:

  • community development
  • industrial exploration
  • agriculture
  • civic affairs
  • traffic
  • tourism
  • fire prevention
  • department stores
  • specialty shops
  • the Public Appeals Review Board
  • special events
  • motor vehicle fleet training
  • provincial affairs
  • national affairs
  • membership
  • forestry (reforestation)

Fast-Forward to the Digital Age and Amalgamation

In 2000, there was an amalgamation of the municipalities of Ottawa, Vanier, Nepean, Kanata, Gloucester and Cumberland; the townships of Rideau, West Carleton, Goulbourn and Osgoode; and the village of Rockcliffe Park.

In 2018, after several attempts since amalgamation of the new City of Ottawa, three Chambers of Commerce consolidated to form the new Ottawa Board of Trade.

In 2019, OBoT staff and volunteer teams worked together to create a governance and organizational structure that would strengthen the voice for business in Ottawa.

In 2020, we named a new President and CEO and designed a plan for growth and impact that would support the Ottawa business community to reach its full potential as a global iconic city.

When COVID-19 struck our local business community in mid-March 2020, we shifted our focus immediately to supporting businesses in our community—with a primary focus on advocacy, collaboration and leadership.

Note: Every attempt has been made to research and present accurate information to tell the Ottawa Board of Trade’s story. Any errors, inaccuracies or omissions are therefore unexpected and unintentional.

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