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Field trip to Ottawa’s rotting core

After reading Christina Blizzard’s assessment of Ottawa as a city rotting at its core, it occurred to me that perhaps I don’t get out enough.

According to Blizzard, you can eat lunch on the patio of a posh downtown restaurant while watching literally dozens of drug deals and countless people sitting around smoking crack in broad daylight. (I assume ‘countless’ is even more than dozens.)

I decided it was high time to step out of my bubble and go investigate what’s happening in the heart of O-Town. I talked a friend visiting from out of town into joining me. (“Are we blobbing it?” he asked. “Blogging,” I said.)

As we disembarked from the #14 at the Rideau Centre, I half expected the pungent stench of urban decay to take our breath away, but it was surprisingly delicate.

We went to the National Gallery first, not because we expected to find the rotting core there, but because we wanted to see the Renoir Landscapes exhibit. And maybe the core would be more pungent after a couple more hours of rotting.

We didn’t feel like dining in a posh restaurant or staying in an elegant B&B, which is where Ms. Blizzard got her birds-eye view of the cesspool we call Ottawa. But we figured we could improvise. We’d find us some nice fancy tourists on a patio, and just sit nearby on the sidewalk while they counted drug deals, since that, apparently, is what tourists from Toronto do.

It’s not easy finding a posh restaurant on Rideau Street. There’s Milestones, and we watched it for awhile, but its patios seemed to be sheltered from the general population. It looked like we might see nothing from there. (Well, maybe a little celebrity sighting: I understand that the mayor, Alannis Morrisette and Belinda Stronach all live in the condos upstairs.)

Eventually we gave up the search for a posh restaurant, and just wandered around the market, keeping our eagle eyes peeled for flagrant illegal activity.

We talked to a musical conspiracist, who believes the RCMP was behind the deaths of Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and John Lennon, because the RCMP wanted to put an end to ‘festivals and tripping.’ It was a pretty extensive theory.

We talked to a 60-year-old man who tried cocaine for the first time at 50, and who started using it because he fell for a woman who was heavily into it, and then gave it up several months later when the relationship soured.

Crazzy DaveWe bought a poem from Crazzy Dave, the homeless poetry busker, whom Gillian had mentioned in a blog comment last week. He told us all about his marketing strategy. He’s been living 24/7 behind the Chapters store at Sussex and Rideau since October 28th.

Damn You Look Good!!!

We searched the Market and the Rideau Bus Mall high and low, but we were unable to replicate Ms. Blizzard’s results. We did not witness a single drug deal or see a single person actually smoking crack in public.

I was very surprised. I thought Ms. Blizzard’s numbers were high, but I expected to see at least a few examples of what she reported. We were out there for hours, and didn’t see any of it. Mind you a couple of our hours were spent on the patio of The Laff, which is not exactly a posh restaurant, but it is right in the heart of the allegedly rotting core.

We did see several people who looked like they might be crack addicts, most notably a rickety middle-aged woman with bad teeth who lurched from person to person with her hand outstretched, pleading for money. My friend pointed out that she might be a crack addict, or she might have psychiatric pharmaceutical problems.

PanhandlerWe saw a number of other panhandlers, but very few of them asked us for money: a one-legged man in a wheelchair, a tired old man with a cart. Most just sat quietly on the sidewalk with their hats in front of them, not asking.

Smokers!We came to the conclusion that Ms. Blizzard must have keener vision or more street smarts than we do. Or maybe she thinks everybody who’s smoking something is smoking crack, and everybody who’s poor or homeless is a scary scary criminal.

The good news is that we did indeed find the rotting core of Ottawa: it’s in the washroom of the Second Cup at Rideau and Dalhousie.

Toilet at Second Cup at Rideau and Dalhousie

Related Links:
Apply Liberally’s much more timely post about the Rotting Core article.

13 comments to Field trip to Ottawa’s rotting core

  • boo

    thats a pretty decent poem. lol@ “are we blobbing it?”

  • I think Christina Blizzard may have some difficulties with numbers. She alleged that “Ottawa has more politicians per square metre than any other city in the country.”

    I just did some basic number crunching. Ottawa has an area of 2,760 square kilometres. [Source: ]

    Charlottetown has an area of 42.6 square kilometres. [Source: ]

    If Parliament, the Senate and City Council are all in session at the same time (with all positions filled), Ottawa has 437 politicians.

    If the PEI Legislative Assembly and the Charlottetown City Council are in session at the same time (with all positions filled), Charlottetown has 38 politicians.

    Ottawa: 0.16 politicians per square kilometre
    Charlottetown: 0.89 politicians per square kilometre

    Charlottetown has more than five times more politicians per square metre than Ottawa has!

    – Divide the above numbers by one million to get the numbers of politicians per square metre (PPSM);
    – My definition of “politician” did not include those who have held office, ran for office or intend to run for office, but do not currently hold office. It also does not include school board trustees. While including these increase both PPSM numbers, I suspect the ratio between them would not change much.
    – How big is Iqaluit?]

  • Thank you for my morning laugh. Indeed, Scary downtown core rather overstates the matter. And I love “blobbing” it.

    Since my face is known I tend not be asked for change as much but when I first moved here, it was intimidating to be asked for money, sometimes by the same person 3 or 4 times in the same hour, often 6-10 requests for change each and every day over a few blocks. I’d imagine tourists get it worse. Is it a lady named Nancy who tends to wander thru cafes and get shooed away by restaurant people?

    The tone of the article seems to be a call for cosmetic fix of the jewel of the nation, rather than caring about the lives here. Maybe that’s what you’re responding to?

  • Aw but David, Ottawa’s only really the downtown, isn’t it? 😉 And it feels like a visible politician town. The recognizable faces are here.

  • Posh? What about the one at Sussex and Rideau? It aims to be posh doesn’t it?

    I tend to go for walks too at all hours of downtown, and haven’t seen anyone “brazenly” shooting up or taking crack on the street in 3 years. I have seen occasionally people talked in loud voice about their drug deals, and how they are living with drug dealers, or having trouble with them, but more north towards Cumberland and Clarence. And more once or twice every few weeks. Dozens in a day is out an order of magnitude of what I’ve seen.

    When a person feels under threat and what happens isn’t how you visualized it going down, one can want to call from the ramparts that change is needed, a crisis needs intervention and if you don’t call in high voice, particularly in newspapers that sell Big Stories, who prints it, and who listens? A more detailed level-headed look into what is going on downtown might be a fallout?

  • And because I’ve already commented too much already, do want to add one more, like how you profiled particular people to bring it home. :)

  • Thanks for commenting on my blob!

    David, excellent work doing the math on Ms. Blizzard’s assumptions. I knew she had to be numerically challenged when she used the word ‘countless.’

    Pearl, the ‘posh’ restaurant we checked out was the one you mentioned (Milestones at Sussex and Rideau). But Ms. Blizzard must have been hallucinating if that’s where she thought she saw the ‘infestation.’

    Regarding your remark about ‘Nancy’ – actually I think she might be the one I described. I got a terrific picture of her, but I didn’t post it because it didn’t seem right.

    And you are absolutely right about the ‘cosmetic fix.’ My primary objection to Blizzard’s article, even though I didn’t even mention it, is that she seems to think cities are for tourists rather than the people who live in them, and we should hide any evidence that something is wrong. This is what Toronto does – it’s passing all kinds of legislation about where the homeless can and can not sleep. The poor are being legislated out of sight.

    Something’s wrong when we collectively tolerate poverty but refuse to tolerate the poor.

  • It has always bothered me when people see one thing and then, when relating the tale to someone, add an ‘s’ to what they saw to make it seem bigger or better. Blizzard didn’t even do this – she resorted to extreme hyperbole by using words like numerous, countless, dozens and infested. As a “writer”, she should know better. Even if she saw three addicts, it doesn’t add up to any of those words. And I will bet a silk pyjama that she never saw more than one “dealer” (I’ve never seen any). Shame! Of course, maybe it’s like when you own something you thought was unique, like, say, I don’t know – a tandem, perhaps? You never see any of them until you own one and then they are everywhere (we saw at least 8 different tandems on our ride last Sunday). I think Blizzard was stretching for a subject for her column and maybe trying to justify writing off her weekend expenses.

  • Excellent observations Julia. In addition to the comments on the blog, I’ve received countless emails from people who were mystified as to how Blizzard’s observations of the Market area could differ so radically from their own.

    Ok, maybe not countless emails. Maybe ONE.

  • Jo (from Illinois, USA)

    Gosh, I just happened by this blog and here I am commenting twice (within 30 minutes!!). But I HAD to comment about ‘Crazzy Dave’. Of course I only read that one poem (which by the way I saved) but I have to say I LOVED IT! It’s a real shame that this obviously talented man is on the streets of ANY city/country when he could most likely make a wonderful living with his poetry (and possible did). But sadly that’s the NATURE of drugs, they steal lives. My son spent the bulk of his teen/adult years (from 12-30 or so) RUINING his life. But thankfully God was faithful to the prayers of his parents and at the age of 39 he has a wonderful wife, one almost 2yr. old daughter and a baby boy on the way & his mental abilities are all intact! Not all people are so fortunate.

    And of course we have all too many unfortunate people in our country I’m sad to say. It’s too easy to judge those in that position and I like to tell myself ‘There but for the grace of God go I’.

    Anyway, just wanted to praise Dave’s poetry and SOMEone needs to help him up and publish a book for him!

  • […] The media, in my opinion, has been a bit weird about crack lately. It’s as if they’re trying to cover the problem, but they’re having trouble finding it. It’s all a bit contrived. First there was the Toronto Sun’s Christina Blizzard describing Ottawa as a city rotting at its core. Now the Ottawa Sun is sending reporters out with undercover officers who are conducting searches of people and not finding drugs. There was media coverage of a so-called “crack house raid” on King Edward Street a couple days ago which resulted in a number of people being evicted and searched, but none of them had any drugs on them. Even though no drugs were found, the media saw fit to call the place a crack house. (It sounded more like a flop house to me.) […]

  • kloii

    You missed the core of crackhead city by a few blocks my dear.
    I live on the corner of murray and cumberland.
    This is where they all live, eat, sleep etc.
    Come and walk from rideau to st patrick up cumberland, and you’ll see them all. I’ve had to push them out of my dorrway to get out of my house on many occasions.

  • natalie

    That Second Cup was renovated in 2008 and it looks amazing, the washroom are way much nicer and cleaner