Little ItalyPublished on June 26, 2017

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  • St. Anthony of Padua church
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The community of Little Italy was founded in the early 1900s by the first wave of Italian immigrants to settle the Ottawa area. The neighbourhood boomed again following World War Two, with a second influx of European immigrants to Canada.

Then

From the early days, the cornerstone of the Italian community in Ottawa has been St. Anthony of Padua Church, located at the corner of Gladstone Avenue and Booth Street. The first, simple church was constructed in 1913 and dedicated to St. Anthony, patron saint of lost things and known for his undying love and devotion to the poor and sick.

It was devastated by fire only four years later, and rebuilt much larger in 1925 under the supervision of famous Italian painter and architect, Guido Nincheri. Unfortunately, four years after reopening, the church caught fire again and was badly damaged, but rebuilt using very little wood and relying on steel and concrete. The exterior was resurfaced in the 1960s with a new steeple and bell tower, bringing St. Anthony’s to its modern-day appearance.

Now

Today, Little Italy is a key aspect of Ottawa’s urban core. With Preston Street, also called Corso Italia, as the main thoroughfare, the community stretches from Carling Avenue to Albert Street and borders against the O-Train Trillium line to the west. Aesthetically, Preston Street is a true stand-out in the city – from the iconic gateway at the south end to the murals that adorn the Queensway underpass, to the many public art installations that stretch to Gladstone and beyond.

Food & Drink

It’s hard to imagine Italy without conjuring up visions of golden pastas and bread, deep red wines and tomatoes. There is plenty of that around, plus much, much more.

The Prescott is a great place to start out. It’s very much a working-class kind of restaurant, nothing fancy, but they nail simple, Italian style food. The meatball sandwich is famous (get the extra cheese), and their foccacia crust pizza is one of the most unique pizza experiences in Ottawa – one of the many reasons this place has been in business since 1934.

This neighbourhood also offers the opportunity to go far from tradition by entering the world of molecular astronomy at chef Marc Lepine’s restaurant, Atelier. A 12-course, set tasting menu in Ottawa is a true rarity, and luckily Atelier does it very well, being named number 60 on Canada’s 100 Best Restaurants 2017.

For more relaxed, modern dining, two six {ate} has been pulling in a ton of foodie buzz for their small plate menu and fancy cocktails. They even appeared on Food Network’s TV show, You Gotta Eat Here. Two neat things – the kitchen offers a full menu until 2 am six nights a week, and co-owner Emily Ienzi sources much of their produce from her parent’s enormous backyard garden. RAW Pulp+Grind offers a more casual experience as a juice and espresso bar with fresh take-out. This hot spot brings a healthy vibe to the area to complement the fitness component found in the ‘hood.

People & Housing

While the neighbourhood remains a hub for Ottawa’s Italian community, the population has diversified over the years. Large communities of Polish and Ukrainian immigrants arrived in the years after WWII; more recently a significant number of people have immigrated to the area from China and Vietnam. There is also a healthy rotation of student residents attending nearby Carleton University.

While Little Italy experienced a population decline of 15 per cent from 2011 to 2015, the highest decrease of any neighbourhood in Ottawa, it is seen as more of a growing pain in a rapidly developing community. The City of Ottawa explains much of the decrease as due to residential properties being bought up, emptied and fenced off for future high-rise developments.

The area is in a serious phase of transition with old, residential housing on its way out, unprecedented condo developments coming in and major LRT connection is only one year away. The full scale of the condo boom is staggering, both in number and  sheer scale. Preston Street and Carling Avenue will soon be home to the tallest buildings in the city, with the Claridge Icon tower set to open in late 2019 at 45 storeys and housing 320 suites, followed by Richcraft’s project The Sky, a complex that will reach 55 storeys and hold 1120 units.

All told, the City of Ottawa expects that the population of Little Italy could grow by as much as 63 per cent by the year 2030.


Ted Simpson

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