I grew up in Ottawa and went to the University of Ottawa. In the winters, Ottawa is cold and gets a lot of snow. It is in a snow belt. You can drive an hour south to Cornwall and there could be 3 feet less snow there. The last winter I spent in Ottawa (1994), the temperature got no higher than -13 for nearly six weeks. Calgary can get colder, but also can be much warmer with the Chinook's (warm air cascading down from the mountains). Calgary gets several Chinook's each year, making many winter days quite pleasant. Of course, when it is -40 and the wind is blowing snow over the highway, Chinooks are long forgotten!
Regarding the comment about all the buildings at the University of Ottawa being interconnected, this is not true. While some of the main buildings are interconnected, many are not. I remember many days trekking from one building to the next in blowing snow or freezing rain. The campus is relatively compact downtown though, so you are not out for more than a few minutes typically, unless you walk from one end of the campus to the next. Uof O is in a great location, right on the Rideau Canal, where you can skate in the winter. It is also near the Rideau Centre Shopping Mall and the Byward Market.
I currently live in Chilliwack, BC and my parents live in Edmonton Alberta. I used to live in Montreal and Quebec City. I have a good knowledge on many weather realities in Canada. The BC Lower Mainland definitely has the most temperate climate. Chilliwack actually has the warmest average spring temperatures in Canada. In winters, it might snow 3 or 4 times, with snow rarely staying on the ground for more than a few days. We make this up by having lots of rain, especially from the beginning of November until late January. In Chilliwack, even in winter, you can golf one day and snow ski the next.
Fondest memory: My fondest memory of Ottawa was playing outdoor hockey in the winter with my friends. Where I live now, we can't do that.
I've talked to many people who have been to Ottawa in the winter, and have had nothing but bad things to say about it, mainly because of the weather. Yes, it's *very* cold in the capital in the winter. Winter in Ottawa lasts between four and five months, and it won't be above 0C that entire time. But if you just look at it with a good attitude, dress warmly, and go play in the snow from time to time, you'll have an awesome experience!
Fondest memory: Watching my friend Rob jump from the roof of a building, land in a pile of snow, and make drunken snow angels..
Even though Ottawa is the second coldest captial in the world, the winter really isn't that bad here.. People just dress a little warmer, cuddle up a little closer, and head off to the bars whenever they are lonely.. You can't do much outside in the winter, but you can definitely make up for it in nightclubs, restaurants and bars..
Fondest memory: There is so much to do in Ottawa in the WInter.. the Rideau Canal freezes over, and turns into the world's longest (11km) skating ring, complete with vendors.. Around February, Ottawa has the big Winterlude event, which is a week of ice sculptures and special outdoor parties..
Favorite thing: Weather is a major part of Canada. The near Arctic conditions at times can certainly kill a person without the skills and protection to withstand that kind of battering. Canadians long ago learned how to cope with this side of Mother Nature, and take the weather in stride. That’s probably why I love Canada so much. I’ve always admired people who can stalemate Mother Nature when she’s out for blood.