This walk will cover a short distance along Bank street between Arlington and Nepean. The walk will focus on a series of buildings sketched by walk host Colin White. Most of these buildings have changed in the few years since the sketches were done, and a few notably have not changed. We’ll discuss the evolution of the individual buildings and the overall character of the street. Participants will be given cards with illustrations of the buildings being discussed.
“It seems every time I draw a business it closed.” – Colin White
This feeling is something I think most Centretowners are familiar with, whether or not they draw. I lived in Ottawa for 13 years and Bank Street never changes, except that it always changes. Our walk leaders, Colin White (local artist & illustrator) and Liam Mooney (founder of Jackpine), narrated some of these familiar changes accompanied by a printout of Colin’s illustrations.
I lived at Elgin and Argyle from 2009-2014 so the first two changes on the walk were very familiar. Wilf & Ada’s (formerly Ada’s Diner) and the forthcoming “Smart House” (formerly the springroll chip wagon behind the #7 bus stop). And sandwiched between them, a couple days before Jane’s Walk, Black Squirrel Books closed with Troubadour Books and Records scheduled to open in a couple weeks. Slightly north, we have the Central condo developments, site of the “South Central” controversy and the subject of my first blog post here on yowLAB and first UrbSanity column for Centretown Buzz.
At the corner of Bank and Gladstone, we have Colin’s next illustration of Don Alfonso’s (now Thai-Viet). Liam gave a great description about the difference between the Don Alfonso storefront and the Thai-Viet storefront. There’s something that doesn’t quite fit anymore even if you can’t immediately put your finger on how it’s different. It’s great that graphic and printing technology is so much more accessible now, but something of the art of sign making seems lost. As Liam said, “nostalgia is actually a disease, but . . .” Colin admited he probably wouldn’t be drawn to draw the building now.
Oh, Barrymore’s! Those young foolish undergrad days! 80s night was a favourite escape from studio. We’d go dancing, drink a bit too much, and then catch the last #7 back to Carleton for an allnighter. Once again, the sign screams out that something is different than it used to be. The Wicked Wanda’s sign (relocated recently from down the block) seems completely out of place and disrupts my memory of the building but for the life of me I couldn’t remember what was there before. Shame. Of course, it was the Imperial Arcade. How could I forget? Maybe because I’m pretty sure it was empty as long as I’d been in Ottawa. At the very least, I’d never been inside. But the image of that sign seems integral to the building as I will likely always remember it.
Oh, Somerset House! I hadn’t quite graduated from the Barrymore’s scene to the Duke of Somerset scene before it was too late. As usual, Urbsite has a great post on the history of this local landmark. Last summer I had a great time organizing the collaborative mural behind Somerset House with Martin Canning’s New Ottawa campaign during Glow Fair. It’s great to see neighbours rally around the places and buildings that help to define their community. But, I always wish people were expressive about the good things in their neighbourhoods. Did anyone ever think about Somerset House before the collapse? I appreciated Liam’s description of the recent history. It was the first time I’ve heard it told more from the developer’s side. News coverage has been much more city-sided, or at least anti-developer sided. While media generally doesn’t shed the kindest light on the city, in a battle between the city and a developer. . .
After a conscientious evaluation of the groups comfort with walking through an alley (everyone was game), we wandered back behind Barrymore’s and Babylon. Ottawa doesn’t have a lot of alleys compared to other large cities. There’s some interesting things happening with transforming alleys (though let’s always be mindful of gentrification and cleaning up the streets a bit too much and a few too many hip brunch spots). These spaces have potential. Great pedestrian potential. There’s something nice about being someone who walks and bikes through the city. It’s great when you realize you have access to spaces that the drivers don’t. You are in the privileged position. It’s also a nice experience as a local, especially as you approach the more touristy parts of town to know you have special knowledge of spaces that take time to discover and learn.
This final photo from our final stop seems an appropriate summary. Colin explained how telephone poles and fire escapes are elements he’s attracted to when selecting scenes to draw. The old heritage that is both preserved up til now but showing its age and varying degrees of care and neglect. There’s the hacked on vinyl-siding addition that presumably adds to the functionality of the interior space but places no consideration on the curb appeal. And the SoHo tower in the background (I keep wishing it were South of Somerset so it could be called the SoSo condos). It is in such deep contrast but did you really even notice it?
Thus concludes my 2015 Jane’s Walk Ottawa. Off to the Pump for great conversation with the Jane’s Walk team, volunteers, and participants.
Thanks to Jane’s Walk Ottawa organizers, volunteers, and guides.