This past week marked the third anniversary of my move to Ottawa. It feels like my wife and I have been here much longer.
Although the city has grown so much since our move, one thing that we've been missing is Caribbean culture. Yes, there are people from the Caribbean in Ottawa, but obviously not on the level of Toronto. Every once in a while we encounter some expression of Caribbean culture that makes us feel at home, but those experiences are few and far between.
So it was very exciting to hear from my son's daycare teacher that a new Caribbean restaurant had opened up in Orleans at Trim Road and Innes Road.
Friday night we were driving around the city looking for something to eat so we decided to give the new Caribbean restaurant a try. We pulled up and saw the bright yellow sign marked "Bananas".
My wife ordered a stew chicken meal and a glass of mauby while I ordered a chicken roti and ginger beer. Little did we know one of the co-owners' fathers made their drinks from scratch.
I joked with one of the co-owners that they should offer sorrel, typically a Christmas drink, later in the year. Little did I know they'd be offering sorrel all year-round and they had some in the back. I left with a free sample of the festive drink.
The next day I took a friend there to get some food and was welcomed by a steelband and a fairly large crowd. As we entered a DJ was playing reggae music and the place was packed. We ended up not staying to eat because of the crowd, but the whole thing was a welcomed sight.
There are other Caribbean restaurants in the city, but unfortunately Caribbean establishments are typically known for poor customer service and subpar dining facilities. Bananas gets top grades for each. Do they have the best food? It's good, but I've tasted some superb West Indian food that they haven't toppped yet. But they're definitely on the right track; it's easier to make changes to a recipe than to cultivate a culture of quality and professionalism. The overall experience at Bananas, including the authentic drinks, decor, and service, is far better than anything I've experienced at a Caribbean restaurant in Ottawa (or Toronto for that matter).
I have to say I'm also quite impressed with the ownership. I don't know them personally, but from my brief interaction with one of them they appear to be capable business people so far.
The opening of this restaurant sends a clear message that Ottawa is changing and becoming increasingly multicultural. It may seem like a small matter, but something like this helps us Caribbean folk to feel just a little more at home in the capital.
I recommend taking the trip to Orleans and taking in what Bananas has to offer, from the food to the authentic drinks. You won't regret it.
My wife and I recently took some time off work so we decided to visit our families in Toronto. We went to Caribana and celebrated our Caribbean heritage, but the highlight for me was our walk and drive through downtown.
We walked up and down Yonge Street between Yonge-Dundas Square and Front Street and took in the busyness of the men and women in suits rushing home after a day at the office.
One of the things I've disliked about Toronto was how many old buildings they've torn down. There are websites dedicated to the lost buildings of Toronto. Personally, I love modernism and tall buildings, but I also love history and that includes heritage buildings. Modernism and heritage work together to tell the story of where a city has been and where it's going. To my surprise, during our walk and drive I noticed more than ever how many old buildings Toronto still has.
Our drive started along Queen's Quay on the waterfront. I turned right onto Spadina and ended up at a red light at Bremner Avenue. As I looked up at the condos that surrounded me, I couldn't help but think the Dow's Lake area would look like that in a few years.
To the right I noticed a building the City of Ottawa used as an example for the Somerset and Scott Street bridges in the Carling-Bayview LRT Corridor CDP video.
I then ventured past the shops on Queen Street and made a right onto John Street into the entertainment district (this area brought back some memories).
What stood out to me at this point was the number of cultural attractions in downtown Toronto including the Royal Alexandra and Princess of Wales theatres. I then made a right onto King Street West past the Bell TIFF Lightbox and into the Fashion District.
At this point my wife and son were sleeping; that allowed me to drive in silence and really take in what I was seeing (sorry I don't have any pictures- I was driving).
What I noticed the most on King Street West and in the surrounding area was how one-storey retail buildings co-existed with eight to eighteen storey condos (in Ottawa we don't seem to believe they can actually work together without destroying a neighbourhood).
Eventually our drive took us back onto Queen Street past the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, home of the National Ballet of Canada and the Canadian Opera Company, and down Front Street, past the Sony Centre, the Canadian Stage Company, and the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts.
I marvelled at the concentration of artistic attractions in such a small area of downtown Toronto, as well as the amount of national performing arts institutions that aren't in the capital.
I left Toronto convinced more than ever about the important role the arts plays in local and national identity, economic development, and the vibrancy of downtowns. I left Toronto challenged.
I felt that Ottawa could really do with more cultural attractions in its downtown and surrounding urban areas. I felt that Ottawa had the potential to be more of a significant cultural centre in Canada. More than any other city in Canada, we could tack on "national" onto anything we do and it would be appropriate. Also, unlike Toronto and Montreal which are uniligual cities, Ottawa could appeal to both Anglophone and Francophone audiences.
I began to think about the artistic events and initiatives founded in our city over the past few years- Ottawa Fashion Week, the Ottawa International Film Festival, and now Nuit Blanche. I began to think about the redevelopment of the Arts Court and Ottawa Art Gallery (if it ever gets off the ground). I began to think about the urban growth coming our way with all the high-density development and LRT.
Although I've returned to Ottawa to see headlines of people opposing change, and change appears to be happening slowly, I believe we're headed in the right direction as an urban and cultural centre. The future is full of potential, whether we'll do something with it is yet to be seen.
I just realized how long it's been since I last wrote a blog post. Two months!
There are a few reasons why. First, photography has become my new outlet. Since buying my camera we've become inseparable. I use it to enhance some of my other interests like real estate development. I use it for work. I've even been asked to shoot engagement pictures, weddings, and events. Who would of thought? I have no desire to be a full-time photographer, but I enjoy finding new ways to communicate and tell a story.
The second reason for my hibernation is my load at work. There are specific aspects of the city's growth that I want to capture, and that not many people are writing about, but I really don't have the time since it would mean starting a whole new website. Since my job allows me to focus full-time on writing and design among many other things, in the long run it will help my craft.
The final reason I've been away is because I haven't had anything to say. I try to only write when I have something worth sharing and I just haven't had any convictions strong enough to warrant sitting down and writing.
So what else have I been up to?
Oddly enough I've found some old friends from Toronto, Mississauga to be exact, who now live in Ottawa. Some have been here for one year and another has been here for 12 years. I'm talking about people I've known since middle school. It's been amazing to catch up with people I haven't seen in over a decade.
In general, all of us GTA natives came to the same conclusions about Ottawa:
Ottawans are sceptical about people from Toronto
Ottawa is slower to embrace change
Ottawa is a better place to raise a family
Ottawans are a lot more engaged in public affairs
We now enjoy a better quality of life
I already felt at home in Ottawa, like I've been here for 5 or 10 years, but having some familiar faces has been the icing on the cake.
Of all my discussions with my old friends, the most interesting was with one friend who has been here for 12 years. He talked about a culture of complacency in this city because people are doing pretty well here; change isn't life or death like in other cities. One of his final comments was that in five years I wouldn't give a s*%# anymore, implying that eventually I would become complacent like everyone else.
I examined my heart to see if I've already been lulled into complacency. Perhaps that was why I haven't written a blog post in a while.
My conclusion was that I'm not there yet, nor do I ever want to be.
I never want to be somebody that lets complacency or frustation with this city get the best of me (and I've had my share of frustration). I always want to be somebody that challenges the status quo and that believes anything is possible.
I continue to believe that Ottawa can and will be a world-class city that is known all over the world. There's no other alternative but to believe.
I just saw this cool YouTube video of these guys doing soccer tricks all over Ottawa. For tourists and fans of all things Ottawa, it's a pretty good tour of the city. For sports nuts the tricks are pretty awesome. Enjoy!
When I first moved to Ottawa one of the things I noticed was how many people ride their bikes. It's enough to make you become what I've heard some Ottawans refer to as "those Lance Armstrong wannabees". You know. The ones in those spandex suits.
Although I don't cycle yet, I'm intrigued by bike-share programs and what they do for cities. In looking at the programs of different cities it's amazing to see how small Ottawa's bike-share program is compared to those in other cities. Then again, our city is a lot smaller.
So I began to think of what could make the Capitale BIXI program more attractive to residents. I'm not a transportation expert, but my thought was that bike-share stations should be located at major transit stations to become a viable transportation option.
A few weeks ago I came across this article on StreetsBlog.com called "Bike-Share Is Going to Be Huge at NYC Transit Hubs". The article talks about the bike-transit connection and asks the question, "How is the NYC bike share system going to handle New York City’s biggest commuter
hubs: Penn Station, Grand Central and the Port Authority Bus Terminal?"
The plan for the Citibank sponsored Citi Bike program to be launched this Summer is to have 180 docks at Penn Station and 140 docks at the Port Authority (together that's more bikes than Ottawa and Gatineau have in their whole system).
The NYC program will be impressive. With 600 stations and 10,000 bikes in Manhattan and Brooklyn, it will be the largest bike-share program in North America. It will be privately sponsored, privately launched and privately operated, with no public funding.
What I like is their focus on integrating the service with transit and catering the service to residents.
"It’s more than just a different way to get to work. 54% of all trips New Yorkers make are less than two miles. Bike share will make these trips cheap, easy, efficient and fast. Bike share also leverages the city's great mass transit system, extending the reach of transit into areas which aren't easily accessed. Sustainable, convenient, expeditious and safe – Citi Bike will benefit you and your community."
The NYC Department of Transportation also refers to the program as "NYC's new transit option"; clearly their focus is on residents.
The StreetsBlog article also says Washington DC's Capital Bikeshare, currently the largest in the United States, has 23 docks in front of Union Station and the same number at another station close by.
Boston’s North and South Stations have 45 docks each.
Lately I've been using my lunch breaks to take walks down McLeod Street past the Museum of Nature towards Elgin Street, and every time the StreetsBlog article comes back to my mind. When you pass a BIXI station at the Museum of Nature and then pass another one at the McLeod-Elgin intersection a few minutes later, I wonder whether they were placed properly. Again, I'm not a transportation expert or an avid cyclist, but it just seems odd to me considering there are no BIXI stations serving Little Italy, Chinatown, the Glebe, Wellington West, or Westboro, or even our transit hubs like the train and bus stations.
Perhaps the NCC and our municipalities are waiting for the new LRT and Rapibus lines to be completed to connect our transit system and bike-share program and truly make it a part of the city. Until then, subscribing to this tourist-centered service is not even an option for this Ottawa resident.