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Features / March 15, 2016

Curating Ottawa: The Best Places to Shop, Dine and Explore

Top Ottawa curators, artists and critics share their views on the best places to browse, nosh and stroll—from L.A. Pai Gallery to the Arboretum.


Goods Shop (201 Dalhousie St.) stocks local wares that make for perfect souvenirs, such as live-edge wooden chopping blocks laser-engraved with maps of Ottawa neighbourhoods. Carved from reclaimed wood, each piece is one of a kind. Ottawa Art Gallery interim senior curator Michelle Gewurtz frequents Workshop Studio and Boutique (242 Dalhousie St.), which “supports crafty Canadian women by stocking designers from across the country.” For art-opening worthy jewellery, visit Viens Avec Moi (1338 Wellington St. W.), or Carleton University art-history associate professor Ming Tiampo’s favourite, L.A. Pai Gallery (13 Murray St.).

Adam Welch, curator of Canadian art at the National Gallery of Canada, is a fan of Found Design (164 Elm St.) for midcentury modern pieces, goes to Black Squirrel (1073 Bank St.) to stock up on books, and is a regular at Possible Worlds (708G Somerset St.) in Chinatown, which he describes as “a project space that manifests Melanie Yugo and Jason Pelletier’s roving practice: for over a decade they’ve been civil servants by day and printmakers, gallerists, DJs and all-round cultural impresarios by night.” Pick up some limited-edition vinyl and carry it out in an artist-designed tote bag.


Got a sweet tooth? SuzyQ Doughnuts (969 Wellington St. W.) is a cult favourite among locals for their deep-fried delicacies, whose flavours range from traditional (try the Finnish sugar doughnut known as a Sugar Munkki) to avant-garde (Blue Vanilla Fruit Loop, London Fog and Mango Lassi). For a healthier option, artist and University of Ottawa emeritus professor Leslie Reid recommends the Green Door Restaurant (198 Main St.), which she says is “the very best for vegetarian food, and not far from the Rideau Canal.”

Hang out at Origin Trade (111 York St.), a new coffee house/lounge, at the cozy Manx Pub (370 Elgin St.) or try the ricotta-stuffed meatballs at Town (296 Elgin St.), which Gewurtz describes as “an intimate spot serving delicious artisanal food as sharing plates. They also support local artists through commissions and exhibitions.”

Welch favours Pressed (750 Gladstone Ave.), known for its gourmet sandwiches, and hits El Camino (380 Elgin St.) when he’s got a hankering for tacos and tequila.

When Tiampo has Venice Biennale nostalgia, she pays a visit to “DiVino (225 Preston St.) for perfect and delicious pasta, Soif (88, rue Montcalm, Gatineau) for challenging, interesting wines, and North and Navy (226 Nepean St.) for ciccheti.”


It’s easy to stay active in Ottawa, which is famous for its glorious green spaces. “I love that (for half the year) I have the choice of biking to work through the Arboretum or the Central Experimental Farm (Prince of Wales Dr.)—two of my favourite spaces—and in winter there’s plenty of opportunity to get outdoors with skating, skiing and snowboarding,” says Carleton University Art Gallery curator Heather Anderson.

Welch takes advantage of all that Gatineau Park, which is 105 times the size of Central Park in Manhattan, has to offer: 250 kilometres of trails to hike or walk, as well as rock climbing, boating, swimming and more. Reid recommends renting a bike (available at locations around the city) and “going along the scenic Rideau Canal bike path, ending at the Carleton University Art Gallery (1125 Colonel By Dr.).

Meet the Locals

“I love all of the music festivals, from Bluesfest to CityFolk to Arboretum Music Festival de musique.”—Michelle Gewurtz, Interim Senior Curator, Ottawa Art Gallery

“Check out the Record Centre (1099 Wellington St. W.) for new and used vinyl—and occasional intimate in-store concerts.”—Heather Anderson, Curator, Carleton University Art Gallery

“Ottawa is a city that lives and works in two languages, with theatre, dance, literary, film and visual-art scenes that draw on the many global cultures that use French and English.”—Adam Welch, Associate Curator, Canadian Art, National Gallery of Canada

This post is adapted from our Spring 2016 city guide, Site-Specific: Ottawa. For more Ottawa art-scene tips, read “5 Great Ottawa Art Walks” and “An Insider’s Ottawa: Top Tips from Bear Witness.”