It doesn't matter if it's summer or winter in the Canadian capital, there's no question that Ottawa's history, culture and men leave OutUK correspondent Adrian Gillan all in a sweat!
First sighted by French explorers in the early 17th Century, settled (largely by Brits and Irish) since the early 19th Century and made capital of the Canadian Province
by Queen Victoria in 1857, grand old 'Ottawa' - named after a local native tribe - is now an 800,000-populated political and cultural hub with a fab gay scene.
Rideau Canal in winter. Courtesy: Ottawa Tourism.
Ottawa is located along the scenic Ottawa River and is just a two-hour drive west from Montreal and a five-hour drive northeast from Toronto. Gay Village Nowadays, is an organisation lobbying to establish a six-block section of Ottawa's Bank Street as the official LGBT-friendly Village. For the gay traveller, this is the part of city with all the best shopping, nightlife and support services. Outside of the Village are bars further north, on or near Bank Street, and another few can be found in the ByWard Market.
Ottawa boats a proud LGBT+ history. The first-ever Canadian gay protest, We Demand, was held on Parliament Hill in August 1971, only two years after New York City's famous Stonewall Riots and it's when gay sex was decriminalized by the federal government. The Lord Elgin Hotel was once a hot spot for closeted gay government workers to mingle and cruise after working hours. We've also seen Supreme Court cases like Vancouver's Little Sisters Bookstores fight against Canada Customs for the seizing and destruction of queer-themed material at border crossings, and of course the fight for gay marriage in Canada was waged and won here as well, making Ottawa a go-to spot for foreign same-sex couples wishing to marry.
Special times to visit would be in February for Winterlude and the gay-male-themed snowblower festival; May for the Tulip Festival; July 1 for Canada Day; late August for Ottawa's week-long Capital Pride Festival; October for Fall Rhapsody, where nearby Gatineau Park turns into a brilliant live Group of Seven painting exhibition, celebrating the work of Canadian landscape artists from 1920 to 1933; and December for the holiday lights in Centretown.
Ottawa has its own rainbow path, also known as the rainbow zebra crossing or gay crossing. It's a section of public road that features all the colors of the rainbow flag at the intersection of Bank and Somerset Street. |
It was installed in 2016 to draw attention to diversity and acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual & transgender people in the city and to celebrate their history.
Photo: Ziko - CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons
TO SEE 'N DO
Beneath "The Château", the 5-mile long Rideau Canal - a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and North America's oldest continuously operating waterway,
built 1826-1832 - freezes over at winter (late-Dec - early-Mar) to produce the world's largest naturally frozen ice rink. The canal and emerging town's history is detailed in adjacent Bytown Museum.
Explore the buzzing ByWard Market neighbourhood, likewise mere steps from the Fairmont Château Laurier - one of the oldest and largest farmers' markets in Canada; as well as now being Ottawa's premiere entertainment district, filled with fab galleries, restaurants, clubs, bistros, coffee shops, boutiques and food retailers selling fresh, local produce.
The spectacular National Gallery of Canada is one of the country's finest art museums and the permanent home of the most comprehensive collection of Canadian, including Inuit, art. It also boasts peaceful inner gardens and courtyards for chilling out and relaxing during the summer months.
Ottawa looks stunning by night. Courtesy: Ottawa Tourism.
Dig the giant bronze spider outside in the plaza! Enjoy a panoramic city view from lofty Nepean Point, just behind the gallery.
Tour Parliament Hill - Canada's seat of Government - taking the lift up its Peace Tower for fab 360-degree views. Also view the nearby Supreme Court of Canada,where in 2005 they decided that Canada should become the first country outside Europe and the fourth country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide. Of course the neighbouring USA took another decade to follow suit.
Just west of the Parliament Buildings, the unsettling and moving Canadian War Museum is a lively memorial to Canada's proud military past - from the earliest days of New France to current-day actions - featuring large exhibits like tanks and planes, plus a stunning collection of war art, not to mention the infamous (and notably unreliable) "fruit machine" gay-detector that ruined many a life!
The castle-like Canadian Museum of Nature has recently celebrated its 100th anniversary with a grand renovation. The Canadian Museum of Civilization is Canada's largest and most popular museum, offering a thousand years of Canadian history; the world's largest indoor collection of totem poles; and the magnificent Canada Hall and First Peoples Hall! Don't miss its utterly amazing children's section too!
Settle into National Historic Site, the gay-wooing Fairmont Château Laurier.
Just opposite the Parliament Buildings, centrally welcoming PMs and Kings and Queens since 1912. This luxury landmark hotel's imposing limestone edifice - complete with turrets like a French château - self-proclaimedly "reflects the confidence, dignity and style of Canada's capital".
Once you've taken in the wealth of surrounding sights, enjoy its Heritage Gallery (historic hotel photos) and newly restored Art Deco pool and health club. Or gorge at one of its superb eateries - not least Wilfrid's Restaurant, off the lobby; or Zoe's Lounge - especially famous for its exciting selection of highly filling afternoon teas!
Elgin Street Diner provides some great comfort food all the time, anytime as they open 24 hours a day.
It's in the centre of the Elgin Street bar area and is packed in the wee hours on the weekends. Prepare to wait for a table
during busy times, but the fries alone are worth it. The neighbourhood is a bit sketchy with so many (straight) bars around,
but the waiters inside the diner tend to be pretty hot and have won several awards for their good service.
If you are looking for great coffee don't miss Bridgehead Coffee on Wellington Street West.
It's a fairtrade coffeehouse chain started by local lesbians, two pride flags mark this coffee shop on the corner
of Gay and Gay in the Village. Sip java and watch the people in and out of the shop. Especially popular with lesbians,
hipsters, and students with a mixed LGBTQ+ crowd.
Play Food & Wine is part of the ByWard Market a casual chic eatery with two buzzing bars majoring on small
plates, each paired with fine wine tasters, set in an historic building.
The Market is a hub of outdoor farmers’ stalls and specialty food shops with Canadian cheese and maple-infused chocolate. It’s known for its colorful street art and hip stores filled with crafts and clothes by local designers.
Photo: Michel Rathwell from Cornwall, Canada |
CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
TO BOOZE 'N BOP
The Lookout Bar in York Street is a trendy/young bar that's also part of the ByWard Market - notably men's night is on Thursday, women's night on Friday and drag night on a Saturday. Nearby Hump @ Mercury Lounge also attracts a studenty ByWard Market crowd, every Wednesday evening.
Apart from those fab venues in ByWard Market, Ottawa's gay scene is primarily clustered in a compact Village along and around Bank Street -
clearly marked by a series of rainbow flags and signs.
Atomic Rooster is a LGBT+ friendly pub with live music. Their open atmosphere and surprisingly good food make
Atomic Rooster a cut above most rest. They have live music, karaoke and a mixed gay/straight crowd. They are on Bank Street
between Somerset and MacLaren. Swizzles Bar & Grill on Queen Street is another bias-free LGBT+ friendly Bank Street area bar,
again with plenty of good food available.
Also in the area is The Buzz Restaurant & Lounge on Bank Street itself which is a cosy, friendly, buzzing bistro in the heart of Ottawa's gay village.
Not far away, having travelled down Ottawa Regional Road, in the heart of the city's LGBTQIA+ Community is
T's Pub. It's a welcoming venue with a serpentine bar, a lounge area and a lively front patio, plus regular DJs.
WATCH OUT FOR
Club Ottawa is the only gay sauna in the city with glory holes and a cruising area; private rooms with mirrors and slings.
Bode Spa for Men is Canada's leading spa dedicated entirely to the grooming needs of men. Bodé's core values can be found within its name:
B uilding relationships O ffering safe space D elivering results E ducating clients and professionals.
Also worth a mention is Venus Envy which is one of the city's best known adult toy shops.
The weather in Ottawa is cold and dry in winter but hot & humid in summer. You can find general information about the city on their tourism website, www.ottawatourism.ca.
THE LITTLE BLACK BOOK
Atomic Rooster (303 Bank Street; T: 613 569-1000; Website)
Bode Spa for Men (323 Chapel St #103; T: 613 565-2633; Website)
Bridgehead Coffee (1277 Wellington St. W; T: 613 569-5600; Website)
Capital Pride Festival (Website)
Club Ottawa (1069 Wellington St W; T: +1 613 722 8978; Website)
Elgin Street Diner (374 Elgin Street; T: 613 237-9700; Website)
Hump @ Mercury Lounge (56 ByWard Market Square; T: +1 613 789 5324; Website and facebook)
Play Food & Wine (1 York St, ByWard Market; T: +1 613 667 9207; Website)
Swizzles Bar & Grill (246B Queen St; T: +1 613 232 4200; Website)
The Buzz Restaurant & Lounge (374 Bank Street; T: +1 613 565 9595; Website)
The Lookout Bar (41 York St; T: +1 613 789 1624; Website)
T's Pub (323 Somerset St W; T: +1 613 233 7375; https://sites.google.com/view/tspub/ and facebook)
Venus Envy (329 Catherine St; T: 613 235-2797; Website)
Revised September 2023.