From best-selling authors (Margaret Atwood) to Hollywood actors (Dan Ankroyd) to pop superstars (Alanis Morissette), dozens of famous people (also known as celebrities) have emerged from the capital city. We’ve listed some of them below.
Famous people and celebrities from Ottawa
- Paul Anka was born in Ottawa in 1941, son of Lebanese immigrants. He sang in the St. Elias choir, and his hit song “Diana” was written about his babysitter, Diana Ayoub. There’s a street named after him, off Uplands Drive. You know you’ve made it big time when Ottawa names a strete after you.
Paul Anka discography
- Bryan Adams was born in Kingston, Ontario. He spent a few years in Ottawa as a teenager and went to Colonel By Secondary School. He dropped out at age 15. He also was the first concert headliner at the Palladium, now known as Canadian Tire Centre.
- Dan Aykroyd was born at the Ottawa General Hospital, grew up in the city, and attended Carleton for a few years before moving away to pursue his show business career. He used to go to shows at Le Hibou, which he credits for encouraging his interest in blues music. I wonder if any haunted spots Ottawa inspired him to write Ghostbusters?
- Maher Arar is the Ottawa man who was deported to Syria and imprisoned for 10 months for alleged ties to terrorism. The site includes Arar’s story, proposed terms of reference for a public inquiry, and news releases.
- Margaret Atwood is an “author, poet, critic, essayist, feminist and social campaigner” (so says Wikipedia). She was born in Ottawa and spent part of her childhood here. She’s a best-selling author and winner of multiple literary awards. Margaret Atwood is on Twitter.
- Jon Cassar graduated from Algonquin College, and then went on to win an Emmy Award for his directing work on the tv show 24. Algonquin College is very proud of him.
- Keshia Chanté won a Juno award and has been called the Canadian Princess of Pop, although that’s not a constitutionally recognized title. Also, we heard recently she’s dating Ray Emery.
- Adrienne Clarkson, the former Governor General of Canada and esteemed author and broadcaster. She was born in Hong Kong and came to Canada as a refugee. Their family settled in Ottawa. She went to Lisgar Collegiate.
- Bruce Cockburn is a rock/folk singer/guitarist/songwriter who was born here and spent part of his childhood on a farm near Pembroke. From his official bio: “By the end of 1965, realizing that his destiny was not to become a composer of big-band jazz, Bruce returned to Ottawa and joined The Children. It was during this time that Bruce was encouraged by Ottawa poet and mentor Bill Hawkins to write his own songs. While with The Children Bruce played harmonica with an after-hours blues band called Heavenly Blue at the legendary Ottawa folk venue Le Hibou.”
- Marlen Cowpland Back in the 1990s, Marlen Cowpland was a controversial and entertaining socialite, but it’s been a while since we’ve heard from her. She lives in a gigantic house in Rockliffe with her husband Michael Cowpland. Last we saw Marlen, she dyed her dog fuschia or something.
- Tom Cruise wasn’t born in Ottawa but spent some of his youth in Beacon Hill. While at Henry Munro Middle School, he caught the proverbial acting bug. He also attended Lisgar Collegiate. The family left Ottawa when he was a teenager and before he could get involved in Ottawa’s scientology scene.
- Igor Gouzenko was a cipher clerk at the Soviet Embassy in Ottawa during WWII. On September 5, 1945 he defected, bringing with him documents about Soviet espionage activities in Canada and other western countries. There’s a plaque at Dundonald Park, across from the house on Somerset where he lived. Dressing up as Igor Gouzenko remains a popular Halloween costume in Ottawa to this day. (I’m kidding about that last part.)
- Tom Green got his start on television here in Ottawa as the host of a tv show on Rogers Community 22, where he developed is bizarre brand of humour by pranking his parents and other unsuspecting Ottawans. Tom also performed at the local Yuk Yuk’s doing stand-up, and had a late-night radio show on CHUO. He also used to organize overnight soccer games on the front lawn of Parliament Hill, and rap.
- Lorne Greene was born in Ottawa as Lyon Himan Green, and starred in shows like Bonanza and Battlestar Galactica. His radio worked earned him the nickname “The Voice of Doom”. He also had a #1 hit single with the song “Ringo“, which probably isn’t about the Beatle.
- Kristina Groves is and Olympic speedskater who says her heroes are Terry Fox and Super Grover. She’s won four Olympic medals. Her blog is awesome.
- Elizabeth Hay was born in Owen Sound but has lived in Ottawa since 1992. She is a Giller-prize winning novelist and short story writer. She currently lives in Old Ottawa South.
- Anne Heggtveit was born and raised in Ottawa and graduated from Lisgar High School. She won Canada’s first-ever gold medal in skiing at the 1960 Winter Olympic Games, in alpine skiing.
- Peter Jennings was born in Toronto but moved to Ottawa when his dad was transferred here in the early 1950s. He got his start in Broadcasting on radio in Brockville, and eventually ended up as the top anchor on ABC News.
- Max Keeping isn’t famous at all outside of Ottawa, but he is arguably the most well-known personality in the city. He anchored CJOH/CTV Ottawa news for centuries. He was also known for philanthropy, volunteering and just generally being a great guy in the community. He passed away October 1 2015.
- Dr. Wilbert Keon is now a Canadian Senator, but before that he was the founder of the University of Ottawa Heart Institute and the first Canadian to put an artificial heart into a human being.
- Brian Kilrea is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame in the “Builders” category. He coached the Ottawa 67’s from the 1974 to 2009, and his stats include 2156 games and 1193 wins. He is the all-time winningest coach in junior hockey history.
- Rich Little is a comedian an impressionist often referred to as “The Man of a Thousand Voices”. Although he lives in Las Vegas, he still keeps ties to Ottawa and helped raise money to establish the Rich Little Special Care Nursery at the Civic Hospital.
CD: Rich LIttle’s Dumb-ettes
- Anne Marie MacDonald, author, playwright and former host of CBC’s Doc Zone lived in Beacon Hill and attended Colonel By High in the mid 1970s.
- Norm MacDonald of Saturday Night Live fame is from Ottawa. He got his start in comedy at Yuk Yuk’s on Albert Street. He also was the voice of one of the beavers in Bell Canada’s ads in the mid-2000s.
- Steve MacLean is a Canadian astronaut. He attended Merivale High School, which was far less exciting than travelling in space.
- Les Lye was an actor an comedian, born November 18, 1924. He lived in Ottawa from 1950 until his death in 2009. Famous in radio, television, theatre and teaching at Algonquin College. He was one of the two adults on You Can’t Do That On Television.
- Elizabeth Manley won a silver medal in figure skating at the 1988 Calgary Winter Games. She’s a member of the Order of Canada. She still lives here. She once did a skating routine as a tribute to Brian Smith, the slain CJOH sportscaster.
- Peter Mansbridge attended Glebe Collegiate Institute. He dropped out before graduating. Now he’s the head anchor on CBC News. Stay in school kids.
- Alanis Morissette Arguably the biggest star to be born and raised in Ottawa, Alanis was born in 1974 and raised in the Glebe, and attended Glebe High School. You might remember Alanis as one of the performers on You Can’t Do That on Television as well as for singing the anthem at Ottawa Senators and Ottawa Roughriders games. Alanis discography
- Lynn Nightingale is a 4-time Canadian figure skating champion, an Olympian (1976) and a member of the Ottawa Sports Hall of Fame. Her home club was the Minto Skating Club. Here’s a video of one of her routines from 1973.
- Sandra Oh grew up in Nepean and has won a Golden Globe for her work on Grey’s Anatomy. She went to Sir Robert Borden high school on Greenbank Road, where she:
a) led a campaign against the use of styrofoam cups
b) was elected Student Council President
c) played the flute
(Wikipedia is a fountain of useful info, isn’t it?)
- Jesse Palmer How can we justify adding Jesse Palmer (born in 1978) to this list of celebrities? Well, he did star on ABC’s “The Bachelor”, and he was also a quarterback with the New York Giants. Now he’s a football analyst for TSN. He grew up in Nepean.
- Matthew Perry is a big Sens fan who was raised in Ottawa, attending Rockliffe Park Public School and Ashbury College. Now he’s best known for his portrayal of Chandler Bing on an obscure American network show called “Friends”. His mom was a press agent for Pierre Trudeau. He was the Ottawa Loggers 10th selection in the 1996 RHI (Roller Hockey International) draft. And due to an unfortunate door-shutting accident in nursery school he is missing part of his middle finger on his right hand.
- Princess Margriet of the Netherlands was born in Ottawa in 1940 when her family was living here during the occupation of the Netherlands during WWII. Before she was born, the maternity ward at the Civic Hospital was declared “extraterritorial” so that she could maintain Dutch citizenship. The Dutch royal family was so impressed with Ottawa that they donated tulip bulbs to the city, which led to the establishment of our annual Tulip Festival.
- Shelagh Rogers is a CBC radio broadcaster, and was once the “Head Girl” at Lisgar Collegiate Institute. She played in the Ottawa Youth Orchestra too. Is known for her infectious laugh and being the best fill-in host for Peter Gzowski back in the day.
- Barbara Ann Scott has a hockey rink named after her in Ottawa, and is also the 1948 Olympic figure skating champion.
- Alex Trebek was born in Sudbury but graduated from the University of Ottawa with a degree in philosophy. Later on he worked for the CBC as newreader and sportscaster. It was tempting to phrase this entry in the form of a question.
- Jim Unger is the cartoonist behind Herman. Born in London, England, he lived in Ottawa in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He was a regular at Carlingwood Mall Restaurant, where you can still see his cartoons on the wall. He passed away in May 2012.
- Charlotte Whitton was the first female mayor of a major city in Canada, serving two terms in the 1950s and 1960s. She once said, “Whatever women do, they must do twice as well as men to be half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult.”
- Steve Yzerman grew up in Nepean and is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame. We named the hockey arena at the Nepean Sportsplex in his honour, and his brother Chris is a local sportswriter.
- More famous people from Ottawa (via Wikipedia)