Since its foundation in 1826, the ByWard Market has long been one of Ottawa’s destination neighbourhoods, and one that retains much of its heritage charm. This year, it’s also hosting a range of programs to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday with Inspiration Village on York Street being one of the biggest events, running from May 20 to September 4.
Constructed out of sea containers, Inspiration Village will house a series of special exhibits and performing arts events that highlight Canadian culture from coast to coast to coast. Ottawa At Home asked several long-time area restaurateurs about this year’s birthday buzz in the ByWard Market.
Bob Firestone, owner of the Blue Cactus Bar & Grill, has been operating businesses in the Market since 1984 and has witnessed the area’s evolution. “There used to be more retail, but recently the ByWard Market has turned into more of an entertainment zone and it’s been getting a lot of good press lately.” Excited about the planned 2017 events in the Market, from La Machine (giant mechanical creatures including a fire-breathing dragon) to Inspiration Village and more, Bob adds, “I think the ByWard Market is going to shine this year. People will come for the special programming and rediscover the area – I’m optimistic there will be some momentum into 2018 and beyond.”
John Borsten’s history in the ByWard Market stretches back more than 30 years. He currently owns Zak’s Diner, The Grand Pizzeria + Bar, and the soon-to-open Zak’s Cantina, as well as co-owning the Metropolitain Brasserie, just steps from the Market. “We’ve come a long way from live animals being sold on York Street when I first started working here. It’s become a little gentrified, yet the area is still really unique in that it offers amazing variety in four square blocks. The 150th celebrations are proving to have positive effects already.”
Noah Firestone, owner of Luxe Bistro, got his start in the business over 20 years ago. His impression of the Market’s evolution is that there are not only more restaurants, but a greater variety of concepts among them. “I hope we can retain a balance of retail and food in the area; stores and restaurants work well together to draw people. The ByWard Market has a lot to offer and is close to so many other great attractions in Ottawa, including greenspace, theatres and tourism. I’m glad to see new things being tried here for 2017 – any event no matter how small or large, is worthwhile.”
Steve Beckta opened Play, his second Ottawa restaurant, eight years ago in the ByWard Market. He recalls the area as once being the only food and beverage destination, whereas now the city has many vibrant neighbourhoods. He’s confident that the 2017 events, along with the Rideau Centre expansion and light-rail transit, will signal a rebirth of the ByWard Market for more foodies and shoppers. “There are so many great local merchants in the Market and we would love to see people re-explore our neighbourhood. The ByWard Market is an amazing, vibrant and unique place to come and shop or dine, and I expect 2017 to reignite the interest in our neighbourhood the way that it was when I was growing up here in my teens.”
With nearly two decades working in the Market, Neil Gowe, owner of the newly-opened Sur-Lie, says the quality and value of ByWard Market restaurants has steadily improved, likely as a response to competition from other neighbourhoods. He is also expecting exciting things in 2017. “I hope all the events bring lots of people from across Canada and the world, to Ottawa for the first time so they can see how beautiful and great our city is. I think having great art and culture on display is the true spirit of the ByWard Market.”