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SFU Co-op Student

Ottawa during sunset
Change has the potential to create lasting memories, relationships and a career that may inspire you to grow in new ways and embrace new perspectives.

Numerous thoughts flashed across my mind as I applied to the Junior Economist position at Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Do I really want to move all the way to Ottawa? Could I stand being gone so long from my family and friends?

I had anxiety about moving across the country, but I’m glad I made the move. I had the opportunity to work on international trade files and attend a conference on the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) as well as research new market opportunities for Canadian fish and seafood exporters with some of my analyses being used by senior management. These included a collection of trade profiles of different countries that were used to inform officials travelling to or communicating with these countries and OECD working paper interventions that were presented by a delegate representing Canada at an OECD roundtable meeting in Paris.

Not only did I move to Ottawa last year for a four-month work term that eventually extended to eight months, I was offered an opportunity to come back again this summer! At the federal level, there is a wide range of diverse work opportunities including the ability to work on international-level projects. Once you complete a co-op work term with the federal government, you are also eligible for the Bridging-In program where a manager can hire you directly into a permanent position after school bypassing a competitive application process. However, my work experience was only one part of what made me return.

Ottawa is a great place to live and learn with a friendly atmosphere, countless festivals and incredible architecture. Below, I’ve listed some steps you can take that I hope will allow you to experience all that Ottawa has to offer.

Parliament in Ottawa
Step 1: Love Your Neighbour

It is important to choose a neighbourhood that fits your needs. Below, I’ve described the different neighbourhoods to choose from. These are, for the most part, walking distance to the downtown core where most of the government offices are located.

  • Centretown is close to Parliament, the Museum of Nature, bigger dance clubs (Babylon and Barrymore’s) and many restaurants.

  • Byward Market remains the hub of pubs and patios and the shopping centre of Ottawa. It tends to be bustling during the day and alive past midnight as well as close to Parliament, the National Art Gallery and the Museum of Civilization across the Alexandria Bridge in Gatineau, Quebec.

  • Sandy Hill is a quieter residential area next to the Market and the University of Ottawa where you will probably meet many other students and still be close to the Byward Market.

  • The Glebe is quiet and laidback, but it’s further from the museums and nightlife. However, it is close to the Lansdowne plaza where you can find a cluster of great eateries and the Cineplex theatre.

  • Gatineau on the Quebec side has attractive rental rates, but it is further away from downtown Ottawa and may require purchasing a bike or bus pass for transportation. However, here you can find the Museum of Civilization and be closer to Gatineau Park.

Step 2: Become an Explorer

There are too many attractions to list them all, but below I have highlighted some of my best experiences.


During the summer, there are weekly festivals in Ottawa-Gatineau to make up for hibernating during the harsh winter. Free festivities with concerts, food and attractions include Ribfest, Glowfair, the Dragonboat Festival and Poutine Festivals where you’ll undoubtedly try some of the best poutine Canada has to offer. Other ticketed festivals include Jazzfest, Bluesfest, Carivibe and Festibiere where well-known musicians come to perform. You may also want to see one of the many free outdoor movies held at various locations.

There are many outdoor activities in the winter as well. You can skate on the Rideau Canal, the longest ice-skating rink in the world, and buy a Beavertail or some iced maple syrup to feel very Canadian while you’re at it. Winterlude, an ice sculpture exhibit with performances is held in February around the City Hall area as well. You can also try out skiing or snowshoeing in Gatineau Park.

In Gatineau Park, there are many lakes, hiking trails and beaches to swim at as well as Lusk Cave next to Lac Phillippe where you can rent kayaks. You may also want to check out nearby Morrison’s Quarry where you can swim in green-blue water, scuba dive and bungee-jump or the town of Wakefield with many quaint shops and restaurants. In Ottawa itself, places to soak up the sun include Britannia Beach, Mooney’s Bay, Westboro Beach and Petrie Island.

Nearby Cities

The big three are Montreal, Toronto and Quebec City with Montreal being the closest. Montreal has some of the largest music festivals such as Osheaga and numerous special events. Quebec City has historical architecture reminiscent of Europe and Toronto has unique festivals to experience such as Caribbana and Pride, which are the largest Caribbean and pride events in the country. Rideshares are available on and are the cheapest transportation option followed by Greyhound and the train, respectively.

flaylay of map, Canadian passport, camera, backpack
Step 3: Connect the Dots

Use your co-op opportunity to make connections with your colleagues as they may connect you with future job opportunities after graduation. In the federal government, some opportunities to take advantage of include networking events and workshops organized by the Canada School of Public Service, joining groups such as a Young Professional’s Network (YPN) in your department, and attending Lunch and Learn talks your department may hold. Moreover, you can reach out to other co-op students working in your department to build your social network as students come to Ottawa from across Canada to work for federal departments. Do not hesitate to ask your manager for developmental opportunities as it can indicate your interest in career advancement in the Public Service.

Outside of work, you can volunteer for local non-profit organizations or join a sports or outdoor club to meet others that have the same interests. I volunteered at Ecology Ottawa where I met new friends and other public servants, and it is just one of many NGOs to choose from.

You can also connect with other students or alumni through your Co-op Advisor and by attending SFU alumni events that are held in Ottawa. Aside from these, you may end up making the most friends and connections through stepping outside of your comfort zone and going out on your own in Byward Market or to social events. The uniqueness of Ottawa is that people are very friendly and welcoming, making it easy to start new conversations and, eventually, build long-lasting friendships.

Making the Move

I hope these steps help illustrate the experiences Ottawa has in store for you and help you decide to make the move. Everyone has different personal preferences and desires in life so it may be a leap of faith making the decision to relocate. However, this change has the potential to create lasting memories, relationships and a career that may inspire you to grow in new ways and embrace new perspectives. My chance to work on internationally important projects and in an intellectually stimulating workplace inspired me to create new academic and career goals. I am now planning on applying to environmental programs for graduate school instead of a traditional economic program, and focusing my career on resource and environmental management. My expanded professional network also provides me more job opportunities after graduation and an easier route into a public service career. However, choosing the right neighbourhood to move to and pushing myself to explore the region, participate in activities and make connections were essential to my inspiration and desire to live in Ottawa. By capitalizing on the capital, you may find out more about yourself than you ever knew.

Beyond the Blog

  • Visit the FASS Co-op homepage for more information on opportunities like Melissa's!
SFU Co-op Student
Connect with Melissa on LinkedIn. 
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Jan 6, 2017

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