As Canada gets ready to celebrate next year’s sesquicentennial (a.k.a. 150th anniversary), the capital is gearing up for 365 days of superlative celebrations, from immersive art installations to star-studded concerts. But visitors can also explore the city’s quieter cultural offerings in Wellington West, a former working-class neighbourhood that’s gaining attention for its unique boutiques and innovative restaurants – all intent on giving back to the community.
Forget stuffy steakhouses and boring prix-fixe business lunches. In Wellington West, the fast-food and fine-dining options are equally committed to Ottawa’s expansive greenbelt. Supply and Demand is a must for high-end meets made-in-house, from the first fresh roll smothered in bacon butter to comfort desserts done right, like a sky-high Eton Mess soaked in macerated rhubarb. For good food on the go, stop at Hintonburger, a KFC turned burger joint where meat is from the local butcher, veggie options are plentiful and sodas come from artisan brewer Harvey & Vern’s. At Holland’s Cake and Shake, owner/pastry chef Michael Holland makes soft-serve in wild flavours like cotton candy and Ovaltine, and sandwiches (all stuffed with potato chips) are served on milk bread from his grandfather’s recipe. For gourmet grocers, try Thyme & Again for fresh salads and frozen food, including Fogo Island ethical cod. The company has grown from a team of three to over 60 in 25 years, and has catered events for the Queen. Or stop at Ottawa Bagelshop and Deli (est. 1984) for a savoury taste of Montreal. To scope out the celeb chefs of tomorrow, try the car lot turned food-stall destination by Irving Avenue (it’s open year-round). Former resident SuzyQ Doughnuts just moved to larger digs up the street after causing lineups around the block.
Getting to know the neighbourhood is easy, with tours that cater as much to locals as to out-of-towners. C’est Bon’s Wellington West Tour starts at the low-key Parkdale Market, sampling its way from fresh-pressed-juice stores to chocolate makers and offering a history lesson on the side. Brew Donkey started as a craft-beer delivery service, but founder Brad Campeau’s tours took off and now include short trips to local brewpubs and daylong visits to regional breweries, distilleries, even kombucha makers and coffee roasters. Bonus: Brew Donkey’s kiosk is inside MakerHouse Co, a shop devoted to locally made housewares (with two percent of sales going to community initiatives through the #CraftChange campaign).
A Made-in-Canada label doesn’t mean compromising on style (or heading home with a flag-emblazoned souvenir tee) at a plethora of indie fashion boutiques, like Victoire, which stocks L’Intervalle shoes, Iris Denim and Rosehound Apparel pins. Next door, JV Studios’ founder, jewellery designer Jasmine Virani, has stocked the shop with subtle and unique accessories (custom wedding bands are also on offer), as well as cheeky small-batch greeting cards, hand-poured candles and terrariums from Ottawa florist Pollen Nation. Opened in 2010, Oresta Apothecary, the sister shop to Ottawa’s first organic spa, has its own treatment room and offers natural brands like Eminence from Vancouver and CAMP, out of Toronto.
While downtown Ottawa can be oddly serene even on a Saturday night, Wellington West is bustling (politely) with craft-cocktail bars, monthly art walks and live music wherever you look or listen. First opened in 1934 by NHL star Bill Cowley, the Elmdale was bought by lauded restaurateurs and seafood merchants the Whalesbone Oyster House in 2013, and is a great spot for fish ’n’ chips against a backdrop of antique photos and signs. When dinner and drinks are done, there’s more history to be had at West Park Lanes, a no-frills, five-pin bowling spot that dates back to 1946.