neighbourhood watch

A few days ago while returning home from our neighbourhood library (Support your local library, people!) I was pleasantly surprised to discover evidence of a renowned area that has successfully maintained a surprisingly low profile here in Capital City for eons. Hyde Park Way, the street sign proudly proclaimed. Suitably awed, I spent several minutes combing nearby greenspace in search of Hyde Park. After all, here in the Commonwealth perhaps no park is better known. And here is was, hiding in the west end of Canada’s capital.

Funny thing, though. No sign of said park. Indeed the only park in the vicinity is the considerably less historic Centrepointe Park. True, Centrepointe was once home to Nepean’s City Hall, which ain’t nothing (but it’s close). Surely Hyde Park Way requires a Hyde Park, no?

Safely home again in Old Ottawa (i.e., north of Baseline Road) I wasted little time in delving into this nominal mystery in the manner that befits the intrepid reporter of today: by prostrating myself before the Google. Again, nothing. Or, should I say, something, in the form of a Hyde Park in Richmond. That Hyde Park, however, is under construction — not a phrase one normally associates with city parks, but there you are. Also, there appears to be no Buckingham Palace in Richmond; though, there may be ducks. Which is nice, as in this case Hyde Park is in effect a seniors’ residence. Not unlike Buckingham Palace, some might note.
Still, the fact remains that tourists in search of Hyde Park need not venture across the pond to the UK. Only to the exotic land that is Richmond, Ont.

Ottawa has its share of historic neighbourhoods, from Rockcliffe to The Glebe to Vanier. (Sorry, realtors have evidently renamed Vanier “The French Quarter.” Of course, realtors likely also refer to Ottawa itself as “Scarborough East.”) I am nonetheless reminded of a conversation I once had with a few pals at Ottawa original English pub, Alfie’s. (Pity poor Alfie’s.) Discussing the heritage status of some of the 100-year-old buildings in Lowertown, we were interrupted by a perplexed Dutch acquaintance. “You give heritage status to 100-year-old houses?” the perplexed Netherlander exclaimed, failing to fully suppress a laugh at our expense.

Well, sorry our nation is not brimming with grand thousand-year old stone churches. A thousand years ago, people here were more concerned with matters such as ensuring the entire community had a sufficient amount of food and clothing. (Thank Christ we’ve moved beyond that, eh?) The sort of great thinkers responsible for beautifying our land with architectural wonders like the Strandherd-Armstrong Bridge, the revamped Frank Clair Stadium and those awesome condos at LeBreton Flats would not arrive until some years later.

We have to take heritage where we find it. And purely from a marketing perspective (Welcome, China!) I submit we should play up the historic neighourhoods in our midst. Not just the ones we know, but also shiny new historic neighbourhoods. For, as I discovered this week, there are more of them here than you’d think.

So, for those considering a move to Ottawa — or just a visit (maybe you took a wrong turn off the 401) — I present the following guide to lesser known renowned neighbourhoods in Canada’s capital. Perhaps you’ve heard of them — even though, like Hyde Park, many are still under construction. Full of surprises, this city. Like, you know, announcing massive expansion of our nonexistent light-rail system, based on no fixed source of funding from any level of government. Ottawa. We make history.

The Bowery

I, too, had no idea Ottawa even housed a Bowery district. But tune into AM radio (no time to explain what AM radio is here) and you’ll hear tourist-friendly ads extolling the virtues of this previously unheralded part of the city. Evidently, the Bowery is an area boasting “a distinctly New York vibe.” Long reputed internationally for its seedy nightlife, questionable activities and flophouses, New York’s Bowery is today known for offering not enough parking, cramped quarters and residents packing heat. Ottawa’s Bowery vibe may differ. Mind you, residents can at least expect a 24-hour deli or several to be just around the corner from their condos. Of course, it’s not specified that the promise is of a New York City vibe, so it’s possible that life at the Bowery is not unlike a night in Potsdam.

SoHo

The name SoHo is of course derived from South of Houston. Curiously, Ottawa’s SoHo is over 700 kilometres north of New York City’s Houston Street, and a whopping 2,900 km (as the crow drives) northeast of Houston, Texas. Moreover, even locally there seems to be some confusion over the exact location of the SoHo neighbourhood, as developers have spread its mighty condos across the city. We do know that SoHo is “hip, happening and fun,” its residents noted for “living life at warp speed.” Needless to say, that should account for a rather high turnover in occupancy. But then, locals do boast of “hotel inspired living,” so that fits. Hotel living. At warp speed. SoHo.

Ottawa loves New York

Central Park (though, like Hyde Park, there seems to be no actual park), Times Square, Tribeca, Park Place. You’ll find it all here in Capital City. A distinctly New York vibe? Just ask the folks at Central Park, which in Ottawa is less a massive city park than it is a retirement residence. As is Park Place. But hey, that’s what living life at warp speed will do. At least, in this climate.

The Distillery District

A tricky one, this. A local developer has been hyping Distillery Warehouse Lofts around Bank Street and Walkley Road. Meanwhile, some have championed the notion of creating a Distillery District in the vicinity of LeBreton Flats. Both areas might bring to mind Toronto’s Distillery District, but visitors are advised that Ottawa’s unique Distillery District differs from Toronto’s in at least one interesting and important respect. Toronto’s neighbourhood, you see, takes its name from the fact that it was once home to the world’s largest distillery. Ottawa’s in-flux district, on the contrary, takes it name from, uh… um… the fact that neither “district” housed a distillery at any point in its history. Pretty cool, eh? I mean, who wouldn’t want to live in a neighbourhood with such a rich non-history?

But then, that’s life at warp speed in a city poised for eventual light rail, ever-larger imported American chain-stores and a new historic neighbourhood seemingly popping up on a monthly basis. Can New York compete with that?

I thought not.

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