Ottawa Coolness Assessment I


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Coolness evaluation contract

During my ten months in Ottawa, I have had significant difficulty identifying aspects of the city that might be considered cool. Thankfully, someone much cooler than me is in the city and willing to conduct an authoritative evaluation. Below is an awkward combination of a United Nations Security Council resolution and terms of reference for a contractor:

Date: 27 May 2008


  1. Appreciating that Ottawa is the capital of Canada and a significant city within Canada.
  2. Acknowledging that capital cities and significant cities are centres of arts and culture.
  3. Recognizing that Milan Ilnyckyj has failed to find evidence thereof up to the present date.

Hereby resolves that:

  1. A special rapporteur shall be appointed to identify what, if any, artistic or cultural merit is possessed by the city of Ottawa.
  2. The rapporteur shall devote a minimum of one hour per day to this task.
  3. The investigation conducted shall continue for one month past this date unless specifically authorized to do otherwise.
  4. The rapporteur appointed to this task is to be Emily Rachel Horn originally of Surrey, British Columbia.

Signed: Emily Horn, Milan Ilnyckyj

We shall see what she produces in the course of her official duties.

{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

Padraic May 27, 2008 at 8:49 pm

Capital cities are centres of arts and culture? DC? Canberra? Victoria? Regina? Sacramento? Albany? Maybe you mean European capitals are centres of art and culture — in which case, the European-ness is more important than the capital-ness.

As for “significant”, this is a city of 800,000 that is less than 150 years old, and has never been a major population center.

When you start with these premises, I don’t see how Ottawa could succeed.

Litty May 27, 2008 at 8:58 pm

People who care about cool cities do not come here.

You come to Ottawa if you are either politically ambitious or seeking a job that is easy, stress free, and guarantees an acceptable wage and good benefits for life, regardless of how incompetent you are.

Chris May 27, 2008 at 9:07 pm

I’m hoping that I’ll be able to find some good stuff in Ottawa. Actually, I’m pretty sure of it. But I guess I won’t know until I actually move there.

Milan May 27, 2008 at 9:36 pm

Emily has already started creating a calendar of cool Ottawa events.

R.K. May 27, 2008 at 10:21 pm

Good luck with the coolhunting, Emily.

megan May 27, 2008 at 10:32 pm

Ottawa is totally cool. There are tons of things every month that are cool but I miss due to lack of time, or energy, or both.

Did you catch the Ravenswing DIY fair on Saturday? The sale at Sounds Unlikely? And okay, it was a sale, which, technically, is maybe not cool, but the people who work there are nice and having a good indie record shop downtown is cool. Tonight is Islands, there were two or three house shows I missed by wicked bands. I’m gone from the 1st to the 6th and I think I’m up to 4 shows that I’d really like to see and am going to miss.

And that’s not even starting on the readings. Dusty Owl, at Octopus, at Venus Envy, the Tree Reading series, the A B series, whatever Max Middle is up to. Gah! So. Much. Stuff.

WestFest is coming up, with readings by Jennifer, Ivan Coyote, Heather O’Neill; the spoken word stage hosted by Ritallin. Buffy Ste Marie and Land of Talk the night before that, I believe.

And of course, you’re both having beer with me in a couple of Sundays, so I hope that raises the cool bar at least a smidge.

People may not move here to be cool, but it drives me to distraction when people say there’s nothing cool going on once they get here. You just have to look real hard and have a lot of patience. But it pays off.

megan May 27, 2008 at 10:33 pm

Oh, and the contract? I love that. It made me laugh.

Milan May 28, 2008 at 12:12 am

Did you catch the Ravenswing DIY fair on Saturday? The sale at Sounds Unlikely?

I never heard of either. I think Sounds Unlikely is where I bought my ticket to the Andrea SK show.

WestFest is coming up

Both Emily and I are volunteering, in hopes of locating some of this mythical hidden cool.

And of course, you’re both having beer with me in a couple of Sundays, so I hope that raises the cool bar at least a smidge.

Definitely. I knew you were a gateway to cool from the first time we met.

On the matter of the general cool situation, I think I have done a fair bit of searching since last July, with very little to show for it. Appointing a special rapporteur is a mechanism for determining whether the failure is the result of my lack of personal cooless / lack of sleuthing skills, or whether cool is independently hard to locate in this town.

Emily May 28, 2008 at 12:13 am

Actually, forging the “Cool Calendar” (which sounds like it’s straight off of YTV) has given me a lot of insight into some good music venues.

Through some concentrated research (see: googling about) I found some good-sounding venues. I also have been checking the coolness legitimacy of the bands playing by checking them out on YouTube.

It is a gruelling process, that I wouldn’t wish on any other hopelessly unemployed woman.. but I stand by the mandate.

The findings are on the “Cool Calendar” and the Final Hipness Evaluation is projected to be done at the end of June.

Milan May 28, 2008 at 12:15 am

Capital cities are centres of arts and culture? DC? Canberra? Victoria? Regina? Sacramento? Albany? Maybe you mean European capitals are centres of art and culture — in which case, the European-ness is more important than the capital-ness.

Washington D.C. has a good subway and free museums, at least. State capitals may not be much to write home about (Hello, Salem Oregon!), but national capitals should reach a higher standard.

As for “significant”, this is a city of 800,000 that is less than 150 years old, and has never been a major population center.

Ottawa (pronounced /ˈɒtəwə/ or sometimes /ˈɒtəwɑː/) is the capital of Canada and the country’s fourth largest municipality, as well as the second largest city in the province of Ontario.

Emily May 28, 2008 at 12:16 am


Thank you for the tips. The afternoon pint is likely to increase the margin of coolness for this month substantially.

Tristan May 28, 2008 at 4:05 am

I like Ottawa, I think it is cool. However, I think that for me, the “coolness” of a city depends primarily on who I know there, and on its natural geographic interest. While Ottawa pails in comparison to Vancouver in these two categories, it outscores Toronto in my highly subjective evaluation.

. May 28, 2008 at 10:08 am

don’t pull a “kay”
28 05 2008

One of the things that is constantly kicking around in the back of my mind is “what happens if I move to Ottawa and I hate it?” I’ve heard from several people that Ottawa is dull and not even half as interesting as Toronto is. That there’s less to to do and nobody really goes out anywhere.

These are small things that don’t really bother me, but what about the whole ‘vibe’ and feeling one gets from moving somewhere new – and having their whole world crash down around them, both mentally and emotionally?

Ashuri May 28, 2008 at 11:49 am

Ottawa is awesomely cool. Not cool if you hermit and turn down surface lame events that may translate into cool events. You seem to have the “whatever washes up on my shore” approach to cool.

The people make Ottawa cool– the smartest people in Canada come here to live and work. But like every good political party there is the best and the worst–the apathetic, the boring, the smug married residents of farhaven who retreat home to the sitter lest their evenings get too wild.

Volunteering is a very good way to meet people and interact and then build the amont of people you know and then you check up what they are doing and so it goes.

I have never been into concerts at all but Bluesfest was really fun last year and really affordable for less than $200 for an all access pass for two weks of good shows.
Arts and Culture to me is theatre; summer is great time for it– the fringe festival is coming up, Shakespeare in the Strathcona Park, there is a Moliere show, the GCTC is doing a language and love show which looks to answer some of the questions about dating across the solitude, and the NAC is doing Mamma Mia (If it is good enough for Meryl Streep, it is good enough for me.)
Plus, there’s the Bytowne.
My NY friend asked why everyone thought it was cool to move to New York.
“Stay where you are and make that place cool.” -So I do.

P.R. [post-rant] I recommend EH listen to CBC Radio in the mornings– they always tell me what is happening in the city. Though it is mainstream.

Milan May 28, 2008 at 1:32 pm


The whole point of this project is to defuse the argument that ‘it is Milan that is uncool, not Ottawa.’ I will take Emily’s final verdict as more authoratative than my own present opinion.

. May 28, 2008 at 2:27 pm

Ottawa Museums

Bank of Canada/Currency Museum
245 Sparks Street
Ottawa, ON K1A 0G9
Tel: (613) 782-8914

Canada Agriculture Museum
P.O. Box 9724, Station T
Ottawa, ON
Tel: (613) 991-3044
Group Tours: (613) 991-3053

Bytown Museum
Wellington Street
Ottawa, ON
Tel: (613) 234-4570

Canadian Museum of Civilization
100 Laurier Street
Hull, QC
Tel: (819) 776-7000
Toll-Free: 1-800-555-5621

Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography (being renovated)
P.O. Box 465 CMCP, Station A
Ottawa, ON K1N 9N6
Tel: (613) 990-8257

Canadian Postal Museum
100 Laurier Street
Hull, QC
Tel: (819) 776-8200
Fax: (819) 776-7062

Canadian Museum of Nature (being renovated)
240 McLeod Street (at Metcalfe),
Ottawa, ON K1P 6P4
Tel: (613) 566-4700
Group Rates: (613) 566-4701
Toll-Free: 1-800-263-4433

Canadian War Museum
1 Vimy Place,
Ottawa ON K1R 1C2
Tel: (819) 776-8600
Toll-Free: 1-800-555-5621

Canada Aviation Museum
11 Aviation Parkway
Ottawa, ON
Tel: (613) 993-2010

Canada Science and Technology Museum
1867 St. Laurent Blvd.
Ottawa, ON
Tel: (613) 990-6302

Diefenbunker Canada’s Cold War Museum
Ottawa, ON K0A 1L0
Tel: (613) 839-0007

National Archives of Canada
395 Wellington Street
Ottawa, ON
Tel: 613-996-5115 or 1-866-578-7777

National Gallery of Canada
380 Sussex Dr.
Ottawa, ON K1N 9N4
Tel: (613) 990-1985
Toll-Free: 1-800-319-ARTS
Web Site:

. May 29, 2008 at 3:50 pm
. May 30, 2008 at 11:23 am
Milan June 1, 2008 at 4:46 pm
Anon July 14, 2008 at 5:18 pm

The Globe and Mail has some Ottawa suggestions.

. November 17, 2008 at 4:02 am

best of ottawa – according to LeAnne

“I moved to Ottawa from Berlin, Germany in 2002. It took me two years to sufficiently lower my standards to accept Ottawa’s quality of culinary entertainment. Ottawa isn’t waiting to be discovered; indeed, the conservative mentality in dining (among other things) is doing its best to dissuade new restaurateurs and chefs, exploring diners and intriguing culinary ideas…

Best restaurant for me is Savannah Cafe, a Jamaican fusion joint (!) who does a great New Year’s eve dinner, has an excellent wine list, and always offers something fun and new…

Ottawa doesn’t do pizza well, that I have found, even in Little Italy. I head to the supermarket for a Restaurante Pizza from Dr. Oetker. $6.00 for a single frozen pizza, but compared to the double or triple amount you would spend in a restaurant for a Pizza meal, this is peanuts…

I can solidly say that Ottawa offers a varying range of pub fare. From surprisingly good (the salads don’t contain iceberg lettuce) to the most horribly terrible (don’t eat at the Heart & Crown, unless you like chemicals).”

. December 7, 2008 at 9:02 pm

Moving To New City To Solve All Of Area Man’s Problems

December 5, 2008 | Issue 44•49

ATLANTA—All of area resident Brian Shepard’s problems, including his fear of commitment, lack of personal direction, and inability to learn from past failures, will be instantly solved this week when the 29-year-old packs up his belongings and moves to a new city. “Moving to Portland is going to make all the difference in the world,” said Shepard, who, just by putting 2,500 miles distance between himself and years of destructive behavior, will suddenly turn his life around. “It won’t be anything like Chicago, or Boston, or San Francisco. This is exactly what I need right now.” Shepard also plans to completely eliminate his dependence on self-denial by ignoring his dependence on self-denial.

. February 24, 2009 at 4:13 pm

It should be axiomatic that if you happen upon a swath of land that it is uninhabited, there’s probably a good reason why. But governments never seem to learn. From the desert plateau of Brasîlia, to the sheep farm outback of Canberra, Australia, to the humid swamps of Washington, D.C., countries seem compelled to set up capitals in God-forsaken locales.

. March 1, 2009 at 9:44 pm

The Ottawa Arts Newsletter

“Believe it or not, Ottawa does have culture”
– Jessica Ruano, the Ottawa Citizen, 2006

Welcome! This is where Ottawa arts enthusiasts can gather information on what’s happening around the city. Once a month, I send out a personalized newsletter to approximately 1000 subscribers detailing my top picks for theatre, music, dance, literary arts, visual arts, and any other art form you can possibly think of.

I like to focus mainly on LOCAL events: theatre productions with local actors and directors; awesome bands that aren’t from out-of-town; neighbourhood poetry groups; and artists with exhibits in their own Ottawa homes. Let’s celebrate what this city has to offer!

Milan April 23, 2009 at 5:29 pm

The 2009 Ottawa Bluesfest has some exciting performers:

Ben Harper – Thursday, July 9
k.d. lang – Thursday, July 9
Our Lady Peace – Tuesday, July 14
Loreena McKennitt – Saturday, July 11
Neko Case – Sunday, July 12
Iron & Wine – Thursday, July 9
Okkervil River – Friday, July 10
Ani DiFranco – Sunday, July 12
C.R. Avery – Sunday, July 19

Tristan April 24, 2009 at 12:33 am

Okkervil River and Iron and Wine are two of my favorite groups. That looks like a very solid line up.

caroline May 4, 2009 at 8:56 am

what happened to the cool calendar for may 2009? I am going there from NYC for a few days and I am hoping to find something. I know Joel Plaskett will be there on the 20th. . .

Milan May 4, 2009 at 9:30 am

Emily hasn’t lived in Ottawa for some time (not since the summer of 2008).

As such, the calendar is discontinued.

Zak Lamont March 7, 2010 at 2:57 am

Ottawa is very rich , culturally speaking. It’s located next to some strikingly beautiful nature. If you are interested in biculturalism, you have the Province of Quebec just over the bridge.

What is sad however is that Ottawa has become more and more undemocratic and corrupt over the years. I attribute this change to City of Ottawa strangulation of budgets for neighbourhood activities and associations, which has helped to dwarf what was once teeming neighbourhood activity promoted by the City. A sense of neighbourhood identity has been lost.

As well, the City of Ottawa has done little to counter an ethos of growing corruption within the federal government’s civil service largely stationed in this city, meaning an attitude of grab what you can get for yourself rather than a service working together to achieve a common goal.

In fact , the City has modeled it.

It’s a city now devoted to too much power mongering, and ego inflating. In an atmosphere like that even the most beautiful things go rancid and meaningless.

. July 12, 2010 at 1:45 pm

Discovering Canada’s cool capital

By Michael Kaminer
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, July 11, 2010

When I was growing up in disco-era Montreal, we Canadians had a snarky sobriquet for our nation’s capital: “The City That Never Wakes.” It may have been our home and native land’s seat of power, but Ottawa also meant somnolent streets, dull dining and nonexistent night life.

So when I read that this summer, the National Gallery of Canada would be the only North American stop for the Tate Modern’s blockbuster “Pop Life” show — an ambitious three-decade survey from Warhol to Hirst to Murakami — I did a double take. Was it possible that the parochial Ottawa of my childhood had actually become hip?

To find out, I spent an early spring weekend navigating the compact capital. And I left planning a second visit. Ottawa still isn’t Toronto or Montreal (nor do I think it wants to be). But it felt lively, smart, quirky and confident: a city waking up to its own potential after many dreary years.

In fact, if anything now characterizes the city, I’d say it’s an unselfconscious cool. There’s a proudly indie aesthetic in its neighborhoods, but without the hipster posturing of Toronto. Unlike language-obsessed Montreal, the city has a relaxed attitude toward bilingualism — everything here comes in both official languages — that lends Ottawa an easy cosmopolitanism.

. October 12, 2010 at 10:10 am

Today’s Ottawa City Guide come to us from Krista Leben, the designer behind urbanite jewelry and the founder of Ottawa’s Craft Co-Op. Krista understands that Ottawa may have a boring rep compared to other Canadian cities, so she has compiled a list of the top restaurants, shops, and additional “treats” to highlight this truly fun city! Thanks Krista for this incredible guide to Ottawa!

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