January 9, 2012
September 21, 2011
The pent-up of frustration appears to be mounting.
In recent weeks, newspaper columnists have dedicated their spaces to discuss the unmet potential of Canada's capital and the apparent lack of ambition among citizens and city leaders alike to take action. Instead writing my own piece on the subject, I will point you to two articles that I think articulate this revealed repressed resentment well.
Andrew Cohen writes in the Ottawa Citizen
Opinion: The trouble with Ottawa is Ottawans
A united vision needed to ignite Ottawa’s world-class ambitions
August 9, 2011
Enough is enough. How can people here just sit on their hands while mediocre food trucks and food stands in this city sully the reputation of the urban street food industry? We need to take action.
Just look around, and you will be hard-pressed to find a vendor who sells anything besides hamburgers, hot dogs, poutine, and shawarma. If you are lucky however, you may come across the exceptionally creative gourmand who serves a delectable bowl of hamburger and shawarma poutine. De-licious.
Ottawa is ripe for a gastronomical renaissance (I’m coining this phrase). After all, it has a rich legacy of street food. Unfortunately the decrepitude of this legacy can be seen on display at any of its storied Chipwagon locations. While the Chipwagons across the city have been an iconic staple on Ottawa’s urban landscape for generations, they have lost their collective lustre.
The state of the Chipwagon was illustrated to me quite clearly one evening as I passed by the yellow truck parked on the corner of Bank Street and Sunnyside. I saw a man who appeared to be homeless emerge from behind the truck. His hands were visibly dirty, his clothes were in tatters, and his hair was disheveled. I then noticed him adjusting his pants and zipping up his fly. He then proceeded to enter the ‘wagon’ and serve the next customer.
People in this city deserve better.
Yet for some reason Ottawa has been deaf to the collective cries for it to join the emerging industry of gourmet street food found in cities such as New York, Washington D.C., Vancouver, Seattle, Portland and San Francisco, where vendors serve meals that are fresh, diverse, creative and even healthy.
This clip from a Food Network show called Eat St. shows you exactly what people in Ottawa could be enjoying:
Complicating matters further is the city’s indefensible policy that unintentionally insulates existing street food business owners from any competition. The city of Ottawa has not issued a single new licence to sell food on its streets in 15 years! This may have been in response to the fact that in 1996, before the bylaw, Ottawa’s streets were teeming with nearly 100 hot dog carts and chip wagons in the downtown core and as a result of poor regulation, spots were unassigned, and vendors would fight incessantly over them. Since the bylaw was enacted, Ottawa’s street food business has seen a precipitous decline. The fleet of 32 ageing food trucks and food stands presently in the downtown core (compare that to 600 in Portland) is now lifeless and is in dire need of fresh blood.
There are promising signs though.
The city of Calgary, a street food laggard for decades, has recently changed its rules governing mobile food vendors and has launched the Food Truck Pilot project. The initiative has local restaurant owners salivating at the chance to participate. The food selection in Calgary will go beyond the traditional grilled beef and fried potatoes found in Ottawa and will include gourmet perogies, gelato, Southern barbeque, pizza, and tacos.
There are rumours saying that Ottawa will soon follow Calgary’s example by launching its very own pilot project in the spring of 2012. Details of such a plan are still unclear. Here’s hoping Mayor Watson will follow Mayor Nenshi’s example.
However, if no action is taken, it will be a missed opportunity that will have negative repercussions for yet another decade. By allowing the status quo to continue, the city is not taking advantage of Ottawa’s burgeoning food scene, which features a panoply of culinary flavours that reflect the diversity of the people in this city.
There is so much creativity in Ottawa. I cannot emphasize this point enough. It is simply that the institutions designed to channel this creativity have become ineffectual over the years due to poor decisions made by previous local governments. In this case, entrepreneurs wishing to serve fresh flavourful food fast to a desperate clientele have been consistently and systematically constricted by impenetrable barriers to entry.
Just imagine what introducing a vibrant assortment of street cuisine choices would do for the economy, tourism, culture, and health in Ottawa. Just imagine.
In the meantime, you can add your name to a petition on the subject started by a fellow Ottawa blogger.
June 24, 2011
That was 162 years ago.
But hey, who knows? I can only imagine what would follow if they cancelled Bluesfest…
February 27, 2011
It is no secret that Ottawa is one of the world’s coldest capitals. It is right up there with the centres of government in countries like Mongolia, Russia, and Kazakhstan.
The climate in Ottawa is a bit puzzling. Due to its geography, Ottawa experiences extreme temperatures, both in the winter and in the summer. During the height of the summer, you can expect the humidity to force your clothes to stick to your body closer than the copper sticks to the top of the Peace Tower. Whereas in the winter, I can often hear the voice of Louis Black replaying in my mind:
“Nobody should have to live like this! [...] I have not had one thought. I have not been able to complete a sentence in my own head! I find myself walking around going, ‘you know what I should really... [EXPLETIVE] IT’S COLD!”
...while the frigid air makes its way up my nostrils.
But I cannot claim that this type of weather is unique to Ottawa.
In fact, Ottawa shares this distinct weather pattern (humid continental climate, dfb subtype) with much of the rest of Canada. I am not going to pretend that Ottawa has it worse than other cities – its winter is not nearly as bad as that of Winnipeg, Edmonton, and Iqaluit. Or at least I am told. Certainly, I would much rather live in Ottawa than Ulaanbaatar, one of its colder capital city cousins.
However, the winter in Ottawa is unrelenting. It bites. It dries the skin. It forces you to wear extra layers of clothing on top of other layers. It slows traffic. It freezes the moisture under pavement, thereby sowing the seeds for kilometres of potholes for all to enjoy after the spring thaw. It necessitates street cleaners to douse roads with salt, which eventually makes its way to the bottom half of every pair of pants you own. Worst of all, it persists.
Despite the incredible beauty of the winter in Ottawa and the wonderful activities it enables (see previous post), the long period of cold weather in this city is simply dreadful. It is something that I detest. I guess you could even say, I HATE it.
January 31, 2011
“Canada in the winter: it is a wonderful, stunning, terrible place; but we adapt, we are resilient. Canadians celebrate the winter. In fact, I've done the math, for every twelve Canadians there are three winter festivals featuring frostbite, tears, and hot chocolate for the kids.” – Rick Mercer
Where is the epicenter of these quintessential Canadian winter experiences, you ask?
Ottawa’s Rideau Canal
As mentioned in a previous post, Lieutenant-Colonel By was quite the visionary. Not only was he the founder of Bytown, the antecedent to the city of Ottawa, but he was also the chief architect behind the construction of the Rideau Canal in 1832 – a waterway built to connect the British naval base in Kingston to Montreal – as a precaution in case of war with the United States.
In the decades following its opening, the canal emerged as a premier route for commerce: connecting formerly isolated communities to powerful economic opportunities involving resources such as timber, minerals, and grain. Today, it is the cultural heart of the national capital, serving as a destination for unique recreational opportunities. The locks, whose cranks are still operated by hand, continue to captivate and attract visitors as they assist countless pleasure boats each year in their journeys through the difficult terrain.
In the winter, naturally, the waterway freezes over. Yet, it wasn’t until the winter of 1971 that the Rideau Canal was officially opened for public skating. Genius!
At 7.8 kilometres, it is no longer the longest outdoor skate way (that distinction is now held by the 8.5-kilometre Assiniboine River trail in Winnipeg), but with the surface area of ninety international ice rinks (saying ‘Olympic ice rink’ would be inaccurate, since the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games featured NHL-sized ice surfaces), the Rideau Canal holds the title of the world’s largest skate way. And with Beavertails and hot chocolate stands set up at nearly every bend, how can one resist its charm?
The Rideau Canal is a marvel. Anything named a UNESCO World Heritage site must be a marvel. It is cherished for its beauty and valued for its simple yet practical adaptability. It is an example of how a little creativity can transform existing infrastructure into genuine public spaces. It also demonstrates the power of such spaces in bringing people together in a fun and active manner.
And even though one might have to endure the occasional frostbite at the annual Winterlude festival held on the canal during the worst part of Ottawa’s insufferable coldest season, anyone who has experienced the beauty of Canada’s winter will tell you that it is well worth it.