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Presenting: Ottawa's Byward Market - Special Events, Culture & Art, Boutiques and Culinary Delights in a Historic Setting

By Susanne Pacher

Ottawa has a myriad of sights to visit and the ByWard Market is one of the major entertainment areas in Ottawa. It combines a great selection of restaurants and night spots, with funky boutiques and retailers, galleries and artsy places and a busy outdoor market. Throw in a good dose of special events and you've got yourself a happening place!

I myself will be heading off to Ottawa on February 10 to sample Canada's capital, and to check out Winterlude, Ottawa's winter festival, which will be held this year from February 3 to 19, 2006. Winterlude includes skating on the Rideau Canal, the world's largest outdoor skating facility according to its Guiness World Book of Records designation of November 2005.

Let me give you an idea of the enormity of this skating opportunity: the Rideau Canal's surface is the equivalent size of 90 Olympic rinks and stretches for 7.8 km (4.8 miles) through downtown! And it features all kinds of outdoor entertainment as well as the famous Beavertails, Ottawa's signature pastry, so skating on the Canal will be a definite must on this upcoming trip.

So, after a good round of outdoor exercise I will certainly be checking out what the ByWard Market area has to offer and quench my well-deserved hunger with a great meal.

In anticipation of my visit I had a chance to talk to Meg McCallum, from the ByWard Market Business Improvement Association, who was able to give me a great overview of this ecclectic area.

Market hall at the Byward Market

1. Please give us a general overview of the ByWard Market, its location and its history.

Established by Lieutenant Colonel John By in 1826, the ByWard Market is one of Canada's oldest and largest public markets. The legendary builder of the Rideau Canal, Colonel By himself laid out the street plan of the Market, designating George Street and York Street to be extra wide to accommodate the creation of a public market and gathering place. 180 years later, the Market is still going strong!

Within an area roughly four blocks square, you'll find caf's, specialty food shops, boutiques, galleries, restaurants, pubs, hair & aesthetics salons and more! Easily accessible on foot, by transit, by bicycle or by car, the ByWard Market offers a unique experience for all.

Whether you're here at dawn to welcome the outdoor vendors with their overflowing stands of fresh fruits and vegetables, flowers, and art & crafts; joining some friends for brunch/ lunch/ dinner or shopping; or staying up till the wee hours at one of our hip nightspots, you'll find the ByWard Market has something for you!

Festivals at all times of the year....

2. The ByWard Market still houses a farmers market today, please give us more information about that.

Outdoor vendors are an integral part of the ByWard Market experience. You'll find ByWard's vendors outside, no matter the weather, 363 days per year (closed Christmas Day and New Year's Day)! At the peak of summertime, there may be 175 stands operating, selling fruits & vegetables, bedding & gardening plants & cut flowers, arts & crafts, maple syrup & honey. In the winter months, you're more likely to find Christmas trees, natural wreaths & garlands, firewood, cut flowers, maple syrup & honey, and art & craft.

The farmers market is surrounded by specialty food retail shops - butchers, bakeries, imported items and more. As an example of the variety of goods you'll find, there are over XXX types of cheese to be found!

3. Please tell us about the variety of culinary experiences that are available in the ByWard Market.

With over 80 restaurants, you'll never run out of options for dining. In the summer months, patios are the place to go, both to take advantage of the sun and warm weather and to people watch. In the winter, you'll find a warm welcome in some of the area's most beautiful heritage buildings, such as the Courtyard Restaurant and Mamma Grazzi's Kitchen. The ByWard Market is home to several internationally recognized chefs and sommeliers - try the Social, Luxe, E18hteen and Domus Caf". You'll find Canadian cuisine at its finest, along with Thai, Mexican, Indian, Aboriginal, Japanese and more. If you're in a hurry, the ByWard Market building is home to several take-out options, or you can assemble a picnic lunch with breads, meats, cheeses, fruits and veggies from the farmers market. Don't forget dessert - there are several bakeries and gelato shops to choose from, as well as the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory or Sugar Mountain for those with a sweet tooth!

There is always something going on....

4. What type of retail and shopping opportunities can be found in the area?

With most retail shops being locally owned and operated, Market business owners are masters of their crafts. You'll find quality, experience and cutting edge trends in the many fashion, housewares and specialty boutiques. If you're looking for locally designed jewelery and clothing or picks from designers across North America and Europe, the shops on Sussex, Clarence and Dalhousie will wow you! If your interest in cooking has been piqued, try Ma Cuisine, Les Concepts Zone or Domus Housewares for kitchen gadgets galore! From there, of course, you'll start to want to redecorate your whole house... and this is the place to do it. Roche Bobois, Philip Van Leeuwen and many more furniture shops are to be found, along with specialty bath and bedding stores such as Mon Lit and Bed Behaviour. This is only a sampling of the variety of shops - you really have to visit to see for yourself!

5. There are also a number of nightlife opportunities in the ByWard Market. Please tell us about those.

The Market is home to over 20 nightclubs featuring world reknowned dj's and live music; as well as more than 50 restaurants, pubs and lounges that stay open until 2 am. You'll find everything from martinis and single malt scotches to a world wide selection of wines and spirits. Venues run the gamut from intimate to extravagant; for the salt of the earth and the cream of the crop. Some not to be missed experiences include Fat Tuesdays New Orleans Experience (cajun cuisine and a carnival atmosphere), the Rainbow Bistro (live blues music), The Collection/Mercury Lounge/ Bar 56 (3 floors of martinis, dj's, culture and style), and Zaphod Beeblebrox (recently made famous as the filming location for the Rolling Stones latest video).

Pumpkin weigh-off

6. What special events are you planning during the ByWard Market Mardi Gras?

Warm your fingers, toes, and your spirits as you take part in a variety of great activities all week long. From a masquerade ball to live Southern bands, you will find fabulous entertainment options for everyone at ByWard Market Mardi Gras from February 3 - 14th.

Plus, all week long, take advantage of extraordinary discount prices at 20 of the ByWard Market's trendiest boutiques and salons. Over 25 great ByWard Market restaurants and bars will be serving up special Mardi Gras Menus all week; with tasty Southern dishes and beverages such as all-you-can-eat Creole mussels, Mardi Gras martinis, Cajun seafood jambalaya, and much more.

7. You are planning a "Winterlude Stew Cook-Off" for February 3, 2006. Please tell us about this special event.

For only $10 you can sample stew created by over 20 of the Market's finest restaurants, including last year's winner of both Judge's and People's Choice awards, Luxe Bistro. The 15th annual Winterlude Stew Cook-Off takes place at the south end of the ByWard Market Building on Friday, February 3, between 12 and 2 p.m.

Winners are chosen by the public as well as by a panel of celebrity judges including a master chef from Le Cordon Bleu Cooking School. All proceeds from the stew cook-off will be donated to Operation Go Home.

The ByWard Auto Classic

8. You have another special event planned for February 18, 2006: a Snow Volleyball Tournament. Please tell us about that.

Winter doesn't need to be spent inside! The Snow Volleyball Tournament brings out up to 40 teams to compete for bragging rights in friendly competition. The action takes place on Saturday, February 18 at 3:00 pm beside the Whiskey Bar at 112 York Street. Proceeds raised at the event will be donated to Operation Go Home.

9. Please tell us about the galleries and the arts and culture opportunities that are accessible in and around your area.

To start with, the National Gallery of Canada anchors the Market at it's north-west edge. And just across the street is the Notre Dame Basilica - a beautiful cathedral worth a visit to see the marbled painted archways and pillars. Throughout the Market you'll find many small galleries, commercial and publicly owned. The Ottawa School of Art offers short courses, workshops and lectures, and has a shop, a student gallery and a large public gallery. Lafreniere & Pai Gallery is home to works by some of Canada's best glass and ceramic artists, and Gallery of the Kanadas showcases aboriginal and inuit art. Many restaurants host exhibitions, and the Sussex Courtyards are home to several whimsical sculptures.

Bytown Days

10. What are the ByWard Market Ambassadors?

The ByWard Market Ambassador program is operated through a community partnership and includes tourism, safety and information functions. Each summer ByWard Market Ambassadors circulate throughout the Market area contributing to a positive Market experience by

- Providing tourists & the public with an on-street resource for questions about the Market & the City

- Providing a safety &security function by monitoring the street activity & responding to situations that require intervention

- Providing front-line response & first aid treatment in the case of accident or injury

- Maintaining positive community relations with all Market stakeholders

Look for the bright yellow t-shirts with INFO on the back...

Thank you, Meg, for giving me a good overview of the ByWard Market. I look forward to checking out some of these places in person in a few weeks from now.

About The Author

Susanne Pacher is the publisher of a website called Travel and Transitions ( Travel and Transitions deals with unconventional travel and is chock full of advice, tips, real life travel experiences, interviews with travellers and travel experts, insights and reflections, cross-cultural issues, contests and many other features. You will also find stories about life and the transitions that we face as we go through our own personal life-long journeys.

Submit your own travel stories in our first travel story contest ( and have a chance to win an amazing adventure cruise on the Amazon River.

"Life is a Journey Explore New Horizons".

The story with photos is published at Stories and Photos (


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