“People think of Ottawa first and foremost as the National Capital,” says Laura Byrne Paquet, a freelance writer and author of Secret Ottawa. “When you see Ottawa in the news, it’s always someone in front of Parliament Hill or in front of Sparks Street.”
More often than not, it’s Ottawa as the National Capital of Canada that wins out over the living, breathing city where Ottawans live, which doesn’t carry the same clout, prestige ‘ or tax dollars ‘ as the former.
Kwende Kefentse, a local DJ, thinks we need to take ownership and promote Ottawa’s local identity ourselves. In the media, he says, there is a “popularization of the use of the municipal to represent the federal government. That can be confusing to people outside the city.”
But there is little incentive for citizens to get the word out about the “other Ottawa” while Parliament Hill remains in their backyard.
As Venus Envy owner Shelley Taylor puts it, “Ottawa lives on the fact that it’s the Capital. Ottawans just assume people will come here.”
There also seems to be a bias against local initiatives in favour of national ones. There is a lot happening in Ottawa that doesn’t get support from the media or large granting organizations such as the Canada Council for the Arts, writer rob mclennan says. mclennan says federal, provincial and municipal governments should do more to fund “ground level” artists, arguing funding of larger arts productions doesn’t trickle down to individuals.
“It feels like we’re being mandated out of existence,” he says. He said he read a news article several years ago indicating the CCA avoided funding local artists so it doesn’t risk a perception of favoritism.
The CCA however, says that is incorrect. Council spokesperson Grace Thrasher, said the council funded local arts organizations and individuals in 2010-2011 to the tune of $3.9 million in the Ottawa area. She said the council ensures impartiality in its grant awards by employing a comprehensive peer review system that selects artists of diverse backgrounds from across the country.
Editor’s note: a previous version of this story did not give the CCA an opportunity to respond to mclennan.
Where it’s at
Kwende Kefentse discovered the underground scene through DJing, hanging out in record shops, hopping on buses to explore the city and cocking an ear to catch snippets of conversation. Kefentse’s cool spots:
- Grounded Kitchen and Coffeehouse, 100 Gloucester St.
- Jean Albert’s Soul Food, 495 Somerset St. W. (“I’m a chicken and waffle regular.”)
- Fall Down Gallery, 288 Bank St. (“A new space down at Bank and Somerset that I hang at from time to time.”)
- Timekode ‘ a sweaty dance party in celebration of all things soulful, funky and innovative. It happens on the third Friday of the month at the Eri Café Pan African Social Club, 953 Somerset St. W.
Laura Byrne Paquet came to Ottawa in 1983 to attend Carleton University. She found out a lot about the city when she went to work for Capital Publishers. Byrne Paquet’s cool spots:
- The Buzz restaurant, 374 Bank St. (“Great food, trendy vibe, but not at all pretentious.”)
- Collected Works bookshop, 1242 Wellington St., in Wellington Village. (“Friendly staff, great books.”)
- The garden on the roof of the Rideau Centre. (“No one knows it’s there, and it has a great view.”)
rob mclennan is the Ottawa-born author of more than 20 books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction. He networks relentlessly, meeting other writers, organizing book fairs and reading series. mclennan’s cool spots:
- Carleton Tavern, 223 Armstrong St. (“Formerly known as the Carleton Ugly Club.”)
- The Manx, 370 Elgin St.
- The Elmdale Tavern, 1084 Wellington St. W. (“The Dusty Owl poetry-reading series is held here.”)
- Ottawa International Writers Festival, writersfestival.org.
Shelley Taylor is the owner of what Capital Xtra once called “the small, feminist, queer-friendly sex shop,” Venus Envy, which recently marked its 10th anniversary on Lisgar. Taylor’s cool spots:
- La Petite Mort Gallery, 306 Cumberland St.
- Raw Sugar Cafe, 692 Somerset St. W.
- Octopus Books, 116 Third Ave.
- Galerie SAW Gallery, 67 Nicholas St.
- The Moon Room, 442 Preston St.