Since recently moving to Vanier my wife and I have been leaving our car at home and walking downtown just about every day. It’s not an environmental or health decision but an economic decision; we want to save money. We use our car for longer trips or if we’re really tired. It’s a pretty good lifestyle.
One of the most interesting, but not necessarily enjoyable, parts of our walk is Rideau Street east of King Edward. I’ve always known it was a centre for ethnic businesses, especially restaurants, but on my daily walks this has become more and more apparent.
My wife and I felt this strip of Rideau Street was familiar and realized it reminded us of Eglinton Avenue West in Toronto. My wife lived in the Eglinton-Marlee area for most of her life and we both worked and went to church at Eglinton and Dufferin. Having visited the area at least once per week since we were born, yes I’ve known my wife that long, we’ve seen the changes on that strip over decades.
As a centre for West Indian and Italian businesses, years ago they made Eglinton Avenue West between Winona Drive/Marlee Avenue and Dufferin Street into Toronto’s International Market. As my wife and I walked down Rideau Street east of King Edward and saw the Korean, Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Persian, Lebanese, Italian, African, Ethiopian and Indian restaurants I couldn’t help but wonder if this strip should be Ottawa’s International Market or International Village especially considering the roadwork and redesign this strip will be getting in 2012 and 2013. Other establishments include various ethnic food markets, Place de la Francophonie, the African Heritage Centre, and a Rastafarian centre. I’ve yet to see any other street in Ottawa with that kind of mix of ethnic businesses. This portion of Rideau Street could be rebuilt and beautified around an international theme.
It would be a shame if the new roadwork and beautification on Rideau Street leads to gentrification, eventually kicking out these ethnic businesses. I love what’s happening in areas like Westboro, but in this case a bunch of trendy shops would take away from the character of the street which is very international. Closer to Charlotte Street we already see old buildings, the former home of ethnic businesses like Cajun and Middle Eastern restaurants and an African market, abandoned and soon-to-be demolished. Calling this strip an International Market or International Village would help to preserve what’s been accomplished there and would create a unique space in Ottawa. It would even provide a good compliment to the growing arts/theatre district on the other side of King Edward making Rideau Street even more of a destination “where culture lives”.
I picture a space as distinct as Chinatown and Little Italy with special street signs, benches, banners and flags, public art, and lighting, and perhaps even gateways marking the entry ways into the strip. I could even picture a “Taste of Rideau East” or “Tastes of the World” type of street festival like we see on the Danforth in Toronto. These kinds of initiatives could really give that strip a strong and well-needed sense of purpose and identity within the city.
It has been done on Eglinton Avenue in Toronto and it can be done on Rideau Street in Ottawa. With an even greater mix of ethnic businesses and our ability to create walkable and physically appealing mainstreets, I’d say Ottawa’s International Market or International Village on Rideau Street would be even more of a success than the one in Toronto.
The City of Toronto and the York-Eglinton BIA website and blog provide us with a picture of what an International Market or Village could look like in Ottawa. What do you think?