Friday, November 11, 2011

Why returning to Ottawa has me a bit down

Thursday morning I flew to Toronto for work using the Ottawa International Airport, Porter Airlines and the Toronto Island Airport for the first time. I can see why our airport was rated best in the world in its class. I had a great experience!

Flying into downtown Toronto, right in front of the skyline, was also an amazing experience. The whole day "Empire State of Mind" was going through my mind because it felt like this place where anything was possible.

When I arrived back in Ottawa today I felt a bit down. That great feeling was gone.

There's a stark difference between Toronto and Ottawa. Ottawa felt small and I'm big city. There's a lot of mediocrity here and I like things to be very well done. But two things changed my mood.

I drove into downtown while the Remembrance Day ceremony was on with the Peace Tower right in front of me. In one day I got to experience the hustle of Toronto and the pageantry of Ottawa and realized the unique roles they both play in Canada.

The second thing that lifted me up was an encounter I had with an 80-something gentleman as we admired the big hole in the ground that will eventually be Claridge's Tribeca twin towers. I explained some things about the project and he responded, "My, has Ottawa changed. There are condos going up everywhere!" He actually liked the changes he was seeing. I responded that I only moved to Ottawa from Toronto two years ago and just came from there a few hours prior. He then responded that I'd probably seen a lot of changes since I moved to the city and he's right.

He began to school me a bit on how it was to grow up in Ottawa and what it was like to live downtown as a young man. I love those kinds of conversations. From talking to him I realized how privileged I was to be a part of Ottawa's transition from small big city to big city. I felt like Ottawa was about to peak and I got a chance to not only witness it but be an active part of it.

As I made my way around the different construction sites and was reminded of the condo boom, I felt good about Ottawa's future as a vibrant, big city.

But as I eventually made my way down Bank Street I was turned off again. A sex shop had a big sign on the sidewalk advertising "Dildos for Sale". It kind of caught me off guard and to be honest I felt repulsed by the sign and tried to assess why.

You see, that same morning I walked down a part of Yonge Street in Toronto, where there's a similar vibe, to get some breakfast. This  particular part of Yonge Street has turned me off for years; the strip that's over run by sex shops. That part of Yonge has always been so trashy, it doesn't make for a very enjoyable shopping experience.

Now, let me say that sexuality is awesome and it's an essential part of life, but it can either be beautiful or trashy.

Some people would see this sign as a badge of honour for Ottawa, like we've arrived. I don't see it that way. Maybe I'm just getting old or have become too much of a family man.

As I walked around I thought about Ottawa becoming a big city and what that means for the changes we can anticipate.

Small towns are usually very conservative in their values; you'd never that kind of sign on Mill Street in Almonte. But big cities are usually more liberal and people in big cities express themselves in different ways.

As Ottawa becomes a big city we'll see more and more tall buildings, but we may also see more and more "Dildos for Sale" signs.

My new 80-something friend was right. My, has Ottawa changed.



  1. I do not understand why this is a bad thing (the dildos). Isn't Ottawa already a city that tries to erase anything that makes it uncomfortable? Is this not why we have such a generic urban experience?

  2. Hi Bartlebooth. Sorry it took me so long to respond.

    You may not see the dildos for sale sign as a bad thing, but is it a good thing?

    I think with this kind of advertising you create an urban experience that's attractive for one segment of the population and unattractive for another. That's why young families set up shop in the suburbs. Those who are into smart growth get down on people who commute from the suburbs in their gas guzzling cars but there are things you don't have to deal with in the suburds like "dildos for sale" signs.

    If that's an essential part of being a big city then we can't be shocked when certain people groups don't want to live downtown. I live in Vanier and over the next few years I'm going to be deciding where to purchase a home; suburbs or downtown. Eventhough I love downtown living I'm leaning towards the suburbs because the downtown urban experience, as you've called, is not always conducive for small children in my opinion.

    I do think Ottawa needs to lighten up and grow up in many ways and I'm all for challenging the status quo, but do I want my son or even mother to walk down the street and read "dildos for sale"? Not really. And I have to disagree with people who see this kind of thing as a rite of passage or accomplishment.