Our History

New Edinburgh (satellite view) is a small neighbourhood in OttawaCanada. It is located to the east of the downtown core. It is bordered on the west by the Rideau River, to the north by the Ottawa River, to the south by Beechwood Avenue, to the east the border is less regular but is marked in part by Springfield Drive and Maple Lane. The shape is somewhat irregular, but it can be said to end where the old village of Rockcliffe Park ended.

The area is an older neighbourhood and is fairly affluent, though not to the same degree as neighbouring Rockcliffe. Nonetheless, the Governor General of Canada‘s large residence and ground are located in New Edinburgh, as is 24 Sussex Drive.

The neighbourhood is home to several embassies and consulates, including those of SpainSouth AfricaFrance and India. Civil servants (in particular, employees of the nearby Foreign Affairs Canada and International Trade Canada) compose a fair portion of the population. The neighbourhood is largely English-speaking.


New Edinburgh was founded by Thomas McKay, one of the builders of the Rideau Canal lock system. He bought the land at the junction of the Ottawa and Rideau Rivers in 1829 and created a village named for Edinburgh in his native Scotland. The streets in the neighbourhood were named after McKay’s family. Crichton was his wife’s maiden name, Keefer his son in law, while Thomas, John, and Charles were his sons. The area was originally largely industrial, home to a number of mills using the power of the river. New Edinburgh was incorporated as a village in 1866 by a special act of parliament, but was annexed in 1887 by Ottawa.

[Content provided by Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia]

For a more in-depth look at the history of New Edinburgh, check out this article written by Robert Serré of the Gloucester Historical Society for the December 2009 edition of the New Edinburgh News:


By Robert Serré, President, Gloucester Historical Society

The early history of New Edinburgh is closely connected to that of Ottawa, so much so that the Burgh might well be considered Ottawa’s third neighbourhood after Upper Bytown and Lower Bytown. However, Bytown was located within the township of Nepean, just west of the Rideau River, whereas New Edinburgh was located in the township of Gloucester, just east of the Rideau River. It was only in 1887 that New Edinburgh was annexed to Ottawa. The close connection between New Edinburgh and Bytown, from the very beginning, was due principally to one man, Thomas McKay. [Note: his name is sometimes spelled “MacKay”]

McKay was born in 1792 in Perth, Scotland, and was apprenticed to the mason’s trade. In 1813, he married Ann Crichton and they came to Canada in 1817, settling in Montreal. In the fall of 1826, he was selected by Colonel John By to perform the masonry work on the eight entrance locks of the canal that would link Bytown on the Ottawa River to Kingston on Lake Ontario. As early as 1829, McKay started buying land in the township of Gloucester, where eventually he owned more than eleven hundred acres. He started planning his village in 1830, and by 1832, the year in which the Rideau Canal was opened, McKay had built a saw mill near the Rideau Falls. Soon he added a flour mill, a bakery, a distillery and a cloth factory. The new settlement was laid out into lots around 1834, and McKay invited former canal workers to come and settle there. McKay was also a justice of the peace, and in 1834 he was elected to the House of Assembly for the riding of Russell, which he represented until 1841, when he was appointed to the Legislative Council of United Canada.

McKay’s first home was built near the Rideau River. His second home, located just east of the village, was completed in 1838. It was an eleven-room limestone residence, and local inhabitants called it “McKay’s Castle”. The family simply referred to it as Rideau Hall. Approached through a long avenue of trees, the original Rideau Hall was surrounded by a lawn reputed to be the finest in Canada, and a garden covering several acres abounded in fruits, vegetables and flowers. In 1865, the Canadian government leased Rideau Hall from Thomas McKay’s estate as a residence for the Governor General. There was no finer residence in Ottawa at that time.

McKay was quick to grasp the potential of railroads, and he played an important role in the construction of the Bytown and Prescott Railway. Its charter was granted in 1850, and the company’s president was John McKinnon, a son-in-law of McKay. This 52-mile rail link ran east of the Rideau River, from Prescott on the St. Lawrence River through Gloucester Township to McKay’s mills. The first train arrived in New Edinburgh on Christmas Day, 1854. During the following spring, a bridge over the Rideau River was completed, so that trains could directly enter Bytown, which was now only two hours from Ogdensburg, New York, and less than 24 hours from Boston.

Thomas McKay did not live to see another Christmas. He died of stomach cancer at Rideau Hall on 9 October 1855, and was interred in the private family burial ground at the eastern limit of the village he had founded. His remains and those of other family members were later transferred to Beechwood Cemetery, which was established in 1873. His wife Ann was 85 years old when she died, in Rockcliffe, on 21 August 1879.

For several years, travelling from New Edinburgh to Ottawa was a tricky business that could be made even worse by dust, potholes and mud. Eventually, a horse-drawn railway system was set up to connect New Edinburgh with Ottawa’s city centre. The venture was incorporated as the Ottawa City Passenger Railway Company in 1866, and the line was opened in 1870, at which time the office was in the village, with Thomas Coltrin Keefer as President, and Robert Surtees as Secretary. During the first five years, the street car was controlled by the MacKay estate. Initially, the single track line ran as far as Rideau street in Ottawa, but it was later extended to the Chaudière Falls. When the streetcars first operated in the Burgh, there was no loop, so the end of the line was at Alexander and Ottawa Streets. (Ottawa Street was later renamed Sussex Drive.)

I hope that this brief look at the early history of New Edinburgh will help promote a greater awareness of the men and women who built and developed the communities and neighbourhoods which give Ottawa its own very special character, making it such a beautiful place in which to live.