Established as The Bytown Packet in 1845 by William Harris, it was renamed the Citizen in 1851. The newspaper's original motto, which has recently been returned to the editorial page, was Fair play and Day-Light. Distribution of the Citizen includes home delivery, retail stores and boxes and ottawacitizen.com, a 24-hour, up-to-the-minute breaking news and information website. Combined, this aggregated audience reaches half a million residents of Canada's capital each week.
The paper has been through a number of owners. In 1846, Harris sold the paper to John Bell and Henry J. Friel. Robert Bell brought the paper in 1849. In 1877, Charles Herbert Mackintosh, the editor under Robert Bell, became publisher. In 1879, it became one of several papers owned by the Southam family. It remained under Southam until Southam itself was purchased by Conrad Black's Hollinger Inc. In 2000, Black sold most of his Canadian holdings to CanWest Global. In July 2010, the Citizen became part of the newly-formed Postmedia Network Inc., which is led by Paul Godfrey and backed by U.S. private-equity player Golden Tree Asset Management among other investors.