Dan Rees of the Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa

Longtime manager reflects on why the Don McGahan Clubhouse at 430 McArthur Ave. is unlike any other after-school program in the city:

“I love seeing kids who have grown up – some aren’t even young adults anymore  – (and) are starting young families themselves. Now they come in and are registering their children. That’s how long I have been here. And what distinguishes us from others is that we grow with the families. The kids that grew up with the club want to give back, and it’s so effective because they have lived the program. And when I think specifically of the Don McGahan Clubhouse, we have some amazing partnerships and I think that’s what gets me excited to do this work. When we work with an individual, or organization, or group – it allows us to be barrier-free – there are no fees. Twice Upon a Time, this program we have is all about book ownership, they have partnered to try and get kids reading. They come in throughout the school year, and they will give out thousands of books. Eat More Soup – we really are thankful for that one – they have a chef who comes with a couple of interns who teaches skills to the children.

I am hoping that people see that there is a huge need and we have a lot of children coming to our programs. We are always looking for partnership opportunities.  I just see the good that this organization does. And it’s easy to get behind that.”

– Dan Rees, senior south/east manager, Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa

Owner and fitness trainer Stephanie Karlovits of Epic Fitness + Lifestyle

Fitness instructor and Vanier resident Stephanie Karlovits discusses how her clinic at 230 Beechwood Ave. is unlike any other – and the first step to being “perfect.”

“To witness people healing, getting stronger, feeling alive and building life practices that will last a lifetime is truly an amazing thing. The energy you feel right when you walk in is special …We have physiotherapy, acupuncture, holistic nutrition and facial stretch therapy. Our physiotherapist has access to our functional training gym as well as the clinic space, so the care we can provide to clients truly is the best. Also, our practitioners speak to each other to the benefit of the client. This way, clients heal from injury and increase their performance faster.

Many people are waiting for perfect – the perfect hour, the perfect outfit, the perfect time, but there is no such thing.  Perfect comes from putting yourself out there and getting started. Our motto is “just show up,” because once you do that, we’ve got the rest and guarantee you success. So, people just need to get started and not wait until the perfect weather or perfect time.”

The women behind the art in Vanier

Art is all around us, and in Vanier, that couldn’t be more true – wherever one turns, there is typically a mural or monument rich in colour and culture.

Vanier is attracting top talent from beyond the region, turning the neighbourhood into a leading destination for artists.

“I am constantly in the community even though I’m not a resident,” artisan Jaime Morse says of the area.

Morse, a Cree/Metis artist originally from Lac La Biche, Alta., says she was immediately drawn to Vanier when she came to Ottawa because of the Wabano Centre. She’s since made working in the area part of her career.

Her work includes carrying on traditions of fish scale art – art created by using dried fish skin, which can curl and look like petals and can be dyed different colours – Métis beadwork and ink on different animal skin. She also founded Indigenous Walks, an organization offering walking tours that explore Ottawa through an Indigenous perspective – something she says she would love to expand within Vanier.

Of all the pieces and teachings Morse has contributed to the community, one particular piece – a planned Indigenous crosswalk, consisting of a design of moccasins crossing between two colourful flowers – makes her most proud. She says she hopes to see it finally make its mark on Montreal Road in front of the Wabano Centre one day.

Art ‘sustains the pulse of a community’

A proud Vanier resident, Mique Michelle considers herself a strong advocate for abolishing the negative perceptions of graffiti and street art.

Veronica Roy, a fellow frequent Vanier artist agreed, highlighting discrepancies such as receiving lower pay and fewer accolades than their male counterparts.

“Art has the capacity to sustain the pulse of a community that might otherwise be struggling to maintain its heartbeat,”

Working in the art industry can be hard for women, Morse says, a sentiment that’s echoed by others.

This makes working together in a strong community all the more important.

“It’s important that we recognize, uplift and financially support women artists,” Roy says, highlighting how Vanier embraces and encourages artists and their work.

Roy’s resume includes working with an impressive roster of organizations such as KIND Space, House of PainT, Capital Pride and Digi60 Filmmaker’s Festival. She says it’s her work in communities such as Vanier that are most important.  

“Art has the capacity to sustain the pulse of a community that might otherwise be struggling to maintain its heartbeat,” she says, adding that neighbourhoods such as Vanier that integrate art through outdoor murals and other installations have a unifying sense of community and vibrancy that are lacking in suburban areas.

Roy has worked with another fellow female artist, Mique Michelle, whose work is front and centre in Vanier in the form of one of Ottawa’s largest murals.

The four-storey mural, located on the exterior wall of an office building at 261 Montreal Rd., honours the history of Vanier’s Inuit population as well as their experiences and contribution to the neighbourhood and community.

A proud Vanier resident, Mique Michelle considers herself a strong advocate for abolishing the negative perceptions of graffiti and street art. It is pieces like the Montreal Road mural that can help bridge that gap by showcasing the colour and creativeness in a graffiti-style art piece.

As an artist, Roy said working with artists like Mique Michelle can be very inspiring. As an active facilitator of the arts in this city, Roy said it is the strength of a community is the biggest inspiration for artists in Ottawa and working in Vanier, inspiration, she added comes naturally.

“I find Vanier to be particularly unpretentious,” she says, contrasting it to other historic Ottawa neighbourhoods that have been radically reshaped in recent years by new developments.

“Vanier has retained its spirit,” Roy says.

Eat More Soup serves up employment opportunities

Eat More Soup chef David Irish serves up another delicious and completely new recipe on Souper Wednesdays – soup for sale for staff and clients at Heartwood House every Wednesdays.

Every Wednesday, the sweet savoury smell of spices and vegetables fills the hallways of Heartwood House, a collaborative space for non-profit organizations on McArthur Avenue.

They are called Souper Wednesdays and each week it can be a little different.

Spiced carrot, kale and sweet pea and vegan chili are just a few of the soups prepared by Eat More Soup chef David Irish and a handful of students each week.

The initiative – which has grown to include to soup being sold at Farm Boy and Kardish Health Food Centre in Ottawa – is an offshoot of ALSO, an adult and family literacy services located at Heartwood House. Executive director Kim Oastler says the organization initially launched Eat More Soup to show students how to make healthy meals.

“We noticed more and more of our students were coming to the adult literacy program hungry,” Oastler says, adding the organization soon started to hold cooking classes and lessons on how to shop smart.

Interest quickly spread beyond ALSO’s walls to include staff at other Heartwood House organizations lining up to try the latest flavour of the week.

When staff asked for take-home options, those weekly classes morphed into Eat More Soup and Oastler says she quickly began searching for funding and partners to expand the business.

Employment skills

Launched in July 2017, the social entreprise was always more than just making and selling soup. It’s about teaching employment-training opportunities, such as arriving on time for work, following through and maintaining a schedule.  

The students quickly began learning the skills they needed to get and keep a job.

Soup maker interns spend about 10 hours over a 12-week period learning how to make vegetarian and vegan soups for commercial sale. The students also participate in two mock job interviews with human resource professionals from Farm Boy and Starbucks. Then the group gets feedback and coaching, which helps prepare them for the real thing.

“I appreciated the mock interview; I hung onto the notes in case I ever apply to a Starbucks or something comparable in the future,” soup maker student Kristen Rading says.

Oastler says graduates of the program have a 75 per cent success of students gaining employment after completing the program.  

Many students lack a high school education or extensive employment experience, Oastler says, adding this frequently sets them back when filling out online job applications.

This program helps to give students a hand up, thanks to employment partners such as Farm Boy who offers students a chance to apply and interview for jobs outside of the typical online application format.

“The idea is to create an open door,” she says. “It’s not about guaranteeing a job, but that they will get a job interview.”

Eat More Soup graduate Nathalie Gagnon says the program gave her the confidence to return to work.

“After a three-year absence from work due to mental health issues, I was reluctant to re-enter the workforce,” Gagnon says, adding she was eager to put her skills to work at her new job.

As for the soup, Irish invites anyone to come down to Heartwood House on a Wednesday to try some soup or to support the entreprise by purchasing some at one of their distributors stores.  

A full list of where you can purchase some Eat More Soup is available online at EatMoreSoup.org.

Eco Equitable harnesses ‘the potential of business to be a force for good’

Anouk Bertner says she has always wanted to use the tools of business to accomplish a social good.

Anouk, who studied business at Concordia University, has worked for more than 10 years with social enterprises and non-profit organizations. After earning her MBA, she saw her colleagues going off into finance or management – but she saw herself taking a different path.

“I’ve always seen the potential of business to be a force for good,” says Anouk, who is close to marking her fifth year as Eco Equitable’s executive director.

Eco Equitable teaches everything from the basics of sewing to more advanced classes. Photo by Ted Simpson

The social enterprise began in 2002 with a French Catholic nun named Lucille Champagne who worked with refugees and new Canadians to begin a program that not only built people’s sewing skills, but also their social skills, helping with integration into the community.

“She saw that when people were getting together to sew, and they were working side-by-side, and they were supporting each other, then that’s really when community happened and when integration was possible,” says Anouk.

Instead of a formal course, “it was much more about getting people comfortable, getting their language skills up, creating community,” she says. “All those things that are really obvious, but are actually quite hard to put in practice.”

Now, Eco Equitable is one of 18 social enterprises and non-profits in McArthur Avenue’s Heartwood House. It offers a range of sewing courses, from beginner’s classes to pattern-making. These sewing courses are a main revenue source to support the social programming.

Eco Equitable is Ottawa’s only textile recycler, and managed to repurpose 10,175 pounds of fabric in 2017. The textiles come from a variety of places, including individual’s homes, the National Capital Commission’s flags and the G7 summit.

Eco Equitable is Ottawa’s only textile recycler. Photo by Ted Simpson

The core of Eco Equitable is its social programming, or sewing for jobs. They work with many immigrant and refugee women in the area, helping them get their skills up for the job market while also providing them with income for their work.

Much of the work cycles back to the community – for example, Eco Equitable makes a lot of conference bags, including bags for the G7 summit that incorporated fabric from recycled Canada 150 flags.

Anouk says Eco Equitable is getting more recognition in the wider Ottawa community – recently, it received the Community Builder of the Year award from United Way Ottawa in the category “From Poverty to Possibility.”

“There’s a lot of values-based organizations that are interested in creating products that have a story to them,” she says. “People are getting sick of mass-processed, mass-made, questionable-origin products.”

That, plus the knowledge that Eco Equitable is helping newcomers get established, makes people and businesses feel good about supporting the enterprise, she says.

Being in Vanier, where many newcomers land when they first arrive, makes sense for Eco Equitable, she says.

“I think Vanier is one of the only neighbourhoods in Ottawa that has real personality,” says Anouk, adding that its location within Heartwood House makes its community impact stronger.

“The great thing about all being co-located in a space where we all do similar work is that we can help each other,” she says. “It’s convenient and supportive.”

Eco Equitable is located in Hartwood House on McArthur Avenue, with many other social enterprises and organizations. Photo by Ted Simpson

Vanier celebrates neighbourhood with end-of-summer East Feast

Vanier residents and visitors came together in early September to celebrate the vibrant neighbourhood and mark the unofficial end of summer.

To help say so long to the season of hot, sticky nights – and embrace the coming autumn season – the Vanier BIA held its “East Feast” evening with food, music and street theatre.

As DJs spun old-school funk and party beats, attendees dined on food from local eateries including Muckleston & Brockwell, Bridgehead, Sundae School, Ola Cocina, Meatings, Rico Peru and Beechwood Farmers Market vendors.

Elsewhere, Sutherland’s Restaurant, ClockTower Brew Pub and Royal Oak added to the festive atmosphere by extending the event to within their respective venues.

Outside, Montreal street theatre troupe Labokracboom delighted children and adults alike with their 16-foot giant marionette. An interactive sound installation engaged visitors as they explored music inside a giant glowing dome, while Windows Collective’s interactive experimental projections transformed the exterior of Red Door Provisions. And, as the sun set, Shift Yoga led dozens of participants in an evening yoga session.

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Secret Dinner expands to Montreal Road in Vanier

Vanessa Fidelis had lived in Ottawa for almost 15 years. An avid traveler and curious person, she was beginning to feel like she was in a rut.

But in the fall of 2017, something sparked an idea in her mind – a communal dinner, hosted at an unconventional location, featuring a menu by a local chef. Everything except for the mysterious theme would be left unknown until the last-minute reveal.

The first secret dinner was held in December 2017, outdoors in La Peche -17-degree weather. Nineteen people sat at a long table in a location that had been revealed to them only upon arrival, discovering a menu none of them had seen before.

Vanessa and her fiance, Zach, had brought their friends to that table hoping the experience would spark new friendships and a renewed curiosity for what Ottawa has to offer. The idea worked.

“We just kind of ran with it,” says Vanessa, who has years of event management experience already. Now, every corner of Ottawa is a possible location for the next secret dinner.

“We’ll do no theme twice, and no location twice,” she says. The pair push the chefs they partner with to think out of the box, giving them the creative reins and letting the themes guide the finished product.

Past themes have included Smoke and Shine, which was held at a Christmas tree farm in June, and The Poets, held in July at Vanier’s Beechwood Cemetery.

Several dinners later, the pair are preparing to move the Secret Dinner operations from their home into an office at the heart of Vanier on Montreal Road.

Why Vanier? Vanessa says the dinner at Beechwood Cemetery opened her up to the community and made her feel like it was the right place to be.

She says the Beechwood Cemetery is one of the best-kept secrets in Ottawa, even for locals.

“I had no idea that this cemetery was what it was,” she says. The national cemetery is the final resting place of more than 5,000 soldiers and includes a “poets’ corner” of well-known writers that inspired the theme for the dinner. It also has one of the last unobstructed views of Parliament in the city.

For the dinner, they kept things even more local than usual. Chef Warren Sutherland of Beechwood Avenue’s Sutherland Restaurant was responsible for the Jamaican-inspired menu. Local social enterprise Eco Equitable made the napkins from recycled materials, Queen B’s supplied peanut-free macaroons, Harvest Honey brought honeycomb to the menu, and more – all Vanier businesses and people, who Vanessa says were eager to bring their energy and work to the event.

That welcoming enthusiasm is what convinced her and Zach to move in when the opportunity arose, with the hopes of building on the connections they made and growing Secret Dinner’s reach.

“What’s good for Vanier is good for Ottawa,” says Vanessa. “Everywhere you look in Ottawa, people are willing to help, and people are willing to get on board … Every single day I am surprised and I am shocked at how cool this city can be.”

Secret Dinner is now offering private events as well, which Vanessa hopes will make it a more sustainable venture.

“We know what we have ahead of us, and we know what we’ve done in the past, and I think we have all the information we need to execute some really amazing dinners,” she says.

Vanessa says she hopes the secret dinners help open participants’ eyes to all the interesting things happening in Ottawa that often get overlooked.

“There are these crazy, cool little places in Ottawa … and I think Vanier is really jumping on that bandwagon,” says Vanessa. “There’s so much here. Why don’t we showcase it?”