A View From Here

Ottawa, Ontario

Photo: Katherine Palumbo

Photo: Katherine Palumbo

If you listen to the news, it can be hard to separate 'Ottawa the City' from 'Ottawa the Government.' As the nation's capital, Ottawa inherently holds the burden of politics.

It is the focus of protests and debates, home to imposing government buildings and changing government policy.

But if you take the time to dig beneath the surface, to really get to know the people who make this place their home, what you'll find is a city with a huge amount of creativity and plenty of soul.

What makes a city great is a matter of opinion. But we believe you can't really get to know a place unless you spend time with its people.

In this series, A View From Here, we visit cities and communities around the country to hear the tales from those who live there.

These are the stories of Ottawa.

Photo: Tourism Ottawa/Alen Palander

Photo: Tourism Ottawa/Alen Palander

Meet Flavia Anoeta

Hanging out with Flavia in Ottawa's historic ByWard Market is like being with a local celebrity.

She waves, smiles, hugs, and laughs as we make our way through the market. 

Flavia works as a guide with C'est Bon Ottawa, a popular local food tour company and cooking school. The company's mission is to help people discover the richness of the region's terroir through its food producers and Flavia is an excellent ambassador for that goal.

When we meet on a chilly evening in late November, she takes me to all her favourite places.

"These are the places I come to even when I'm not working," she says.

ByWard Market is the oldest market in Ottawa and the heart of the city. We go into the Pavilion, which was rebuilt several times over the last 200 years due to fires. The main level is filled with food and craft vendors and the top level has art galleries, she tells me.

Flavia, who is originally from Spain, has been living in Ottawa for several years. She loves coming to the ByWard Market for its energy, its people, and its amazing shops.

Let's explore some of them.

Photo: Destination Ontario

Photo: Destination Ontario

SHAFALI BAZAAR

For nearly 30 years, the Shafali name has adorned restaurants in Ottawa, serving authentic Bengali dishes. Named after Shahab Uddin mother (Shafali means flower in Bengali), the restaurant is a popular stop for locals and tourists.

Ask Shahab and he will happily tell you how he was approached more than two decades ago and asked to be a vendor at the then-struggling ByWard Market Pavilion. He says he refused several times before finally agreeing to try it out. The rest is history.

What Shahab won't tell you (even with frequent requests, confirms Flavia) is the unique blend of spices that goes into his secret sauce. It adorns his most popular dish, his famous Chicken Tikka Wrap, which comes wrapped in Tandoori bread straight from the traditional clay oven he has onsite.

CORAZON DE MAIZ

Behind the counter are Daniela and Ronald, creating amazing Mexican food even as the market is about to close. But the heart and soul of Corazon de Maiz are owners Mariana Torio and Erick Igari.

"Mariana is here every morning," Flavia tells me. She makes all her own salsas — seven different flavours! — and spices and braises the meat for hours in the oven until it falls apart. The taco I try is delicious. As is the cold glass of Horchata, a spiced tiger nut milk beverage also made onsite.

Mariana is even responsible for all the artwork in the restaurant, Flavia says.

The Mexican spot is well-loved by locals and has been in the ByWard Market for over a decade.

Adaawewigamig

Adaawewigamig, which means place of trade in Anishinaabemowin, is a shop that sells Indigenous-made goods to support the ongoing social and community work of the Assembly of Seven Generations (A7G).

The shop carries goods from brands such as MINI TIPI and Uasau Soap, among many others.

A7G is a powerful non-profit movement led by Indigenous youth for Indigenous youth. Learn more about A7G's mission from co-founder and co-CEO Gabrielle Fayant in this video:

Eclection

Klea Scott showing off one of her mom's handmade hats. The shop is owned by Khalia and Sue Scott.

Klea Scott showing off one of her mom's handmade hats. The shop is owned by Khalia and Sue Scott.

I was drawn into Eclection by its incredible displays of hats and was thrilled to get to know Canadian actor Klea Scott. The shop, Eclection, it turns out is owned by her mother Sue Scott, and her sister Khalia Scott.

Sue is the textile master behind the one-of-a-kind hats (her large-scale textile work is even archived in the Museum of Civilization) and Khalia is a jewelry maker.

The creative mother-and-daughter team went into business together in 1985 and eventually opened the ByWard Market shop, expanding to sell goods from other local artists.

Everything in the delightful shop is handmade and one-of-a-kind.

"It's a living Etsy," Klea says.

But beyond just the dizzying array of eclectic goods is a palpable spirit of family and of artists supporting each other.

Ottawa may be well known for its ByWard Market but a lesser-known side of the city is its hip hop music scene. An exhibit at the Ottawa Art Gallery is trying to change that. '83 to Infinity showcases the evolution of hip hop in the Ottawa-Gatineau area from the founding of the Canadian Floor Masters in 1983 to the present day.

I was lucky enough to have Vladimir Jean-Gilles as my tour guide through the exhibit. Vladimir works as Manager of Travel Media Relations for Tourism Ottawa, but is also a film critic and culture writer at shiftermagazine.com and is featured in the exhibit.

Vladimir showing off his picture in the exhibit

Vladimir showing off his picture in the exhibit

The exhibit showcases posters, photographs, and news articles from key moments in the growth of the hip hop scene.

Hear Vladimir explain how it started for him as a radio host playing local Ottawa hip hop at a time when it wasn't being aired anywhere.

The exhibit highlights yet another layer of creativity and culture in this unassuming city.

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Getting to Ottawa

Canada's Capital City is easily accessible by air, rail, road and water. I arrived from Toronto by VIA Rail; the journey took just over five hours.

To fly from Toronto to Ottawa takes approximately one hour. From Vancouver, the flight time is under 5 hours, and it is less than 2.5 hours from Halifax.

Upon arrival at the train station or Ottawa International Airport, you can easily hop on local transit. For transit schedules, you can visit here.

Arriving at the Ottawa International Airport or the train station also gives you access to car rentals, taxis, and ride-share options, such as Uber.

Ottawa Reads

I visited Perfect Books, a local independent bookstore while in the city and spoke to store manager Michael Varty.

For those looking to read stories about Ottawa, Michael recommended visitors come in and browse the store's local interest section & Indigenous section.

Michael did recommend ByTown 1847 by Michael McBane, which can be purchased from Perfect Books here.

Perfect Books is located at 258A Elgin St. in Ottawa

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