A reader writes:
Ottawa being the government town that it is, has a large proportion of outsiders who've had to move here for their jobs. Often, many of them are from the behemoths of Toronto and Montreal. To say that their attitude to their pied-à-terre is condescending is being generous. Ottawa is the first city that I've appropriated and consciously made a decision to move to as a young adult about a year and a half ago. I am an immigrant to Canada from Brunei who originally came for university. So I do have a soft spot for this place.
I've formulated the analogy of Ottawa being a shy girl at the library (as opposed to a New York, Chicago or Toronto - popular girls who know they're a hot ticket and that you want them). At the outset, she seems uninteresting and bland but it is the superficial person who would not have the moxie to persevere in getting to know her more. To their credit; as she could turn out to be a very worthwhile and charming person.
The thing the struck me about Ottawa was how clean and safe it is. Unlike the DC metro area, crime is truly rare and evening strolls are angst-free. Ottawa also has the benefit of being one the highest educated (amount of people with post-secondary education per capita) and economically resilient (owing to the large amount of public sector jobs) cities in Canada. This means that you have a large segment of the population who can appreciate and support a thriving arts and culture. The cream on the cake has to be accessibility: I am often amazed at events I find myself in at how it all seems like a best-kept secret judging by the ease of entry and the relatively sparse crowds.
Ottawa has very interesting and colourful neighbourhoods (the Glebe, Byward Market and Rockcliffe Park - one of the wealthiest enclaves in Canada) and its bi-cultural character (you need to be proficient in both French and English for many of the high-level jobs and the town of Gatineau, Quebec is just across the river). Apart from the standard institutions such as the National Arts Centre, Parliament, Museum of Civilization; there are also plenty of independent theatres, cinemas, shops and organizations that enrich the community. The deluge of festivals, especially during the summer months, make life here breezy and fun. Underlying all this is the fact that it isn't just another nice Canadian small city like Victoria or Halifax - it's the national capital dammit! This affords Ottawa the privilege of hosting heads of state (Obama's first foreign visit was here), speakers, performers etc. more frequently. Dan Aykroyd and Alanis Morrissette are hometown heroes. Given the winters here are cold, but when you have the world's largest ice rink in the Rideau Canal - who really cares?
I personally live in a neighbourhood called Vanier (often called the ghetto of Ottawa - but only by Ottawa standards) which straddles the border with Rockcliffe Park. The frontier is a street called Beechwood which is littered with more than a few great restaurants, shops, delis, clothing, outdoor equipment, dentists, book store - all independently owned. So while I can see the looming Peace Tower (the smaller cousin of the Big Ben) from the middle of Beechwood, I still get the benefits of feeling like I live in a small-town where everyone is friendly and interested in each other. I can walk and bike to work and most place I need to go (the bike lanes and trails are extensive) and the public transport is fairly efficient for further distances. My home is, mirabile dictu, served by 3 separate bus lines. Wonderful friends, a thriving Jewish community, great outdoor activities have convinced me that although I'll be traveling for work and grad school in the near future as I'm in my twenties, I'll be back eventually. And oh, did I mention that my rent is US$350 a month total?! (take that Manhattan, Montreal, Toronto, Chicago et al!). Seems like the secret is getting out - Money Sense magazine recently named the Ottawa-Gatineau area to be the best place to live in Canada (much to the chagrin of Vancouverites, I'm sure).
If all this still fails to impress...Montreal is only an hour and half away...
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