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.

Opening a pop-up store

Tarek Hassan launched his first enterprise, Gong Fo Bao, serving traditional Taiwanese steamed buns out of a food cart stationed at a busy downtown intersection near Confederation Park.

But to expand and fine-tune his offerings, Hassan used a strategy that’s becoming increasingly popular among retailers and restaurateurs: a pop-up shop.

The term typically refers to a temporary storefront in a high-traffic area, such as a shopping mall or busy street. While merchants specializing in seasonal merchandise such as Halloween decorations may be the most popular example, major retailers such as H&M and Starbucks have used pop-ups in a former brewery and rented event space, respectively, to test new concepts and generate buzz around their brand.

In Hassan’s case, the entrepreneur took his food truck menu indoors to Fontenelle Restaurant, a Vanier institution that’s served traditional diner food on Montreal Road for decades.

He pays the owners a flat rate to use the restaurant and takes over the space for his “one-offs” after Fontenelle’s closes for the day at 2 p.m. At his most recent event, customers were lined up down the street.

“Fontenelle’s is an old beautiful place. I have wanted to do it for years,” said Hassan.

Pop-ups are typically a win-win for entrepreneurs and their short-term landlords. As in Hassan’s case, an existing restaurant may turn over their space outside normal hours of operation to another business to help cover their rent and the cost of restaurant equipment that’s otherwise sitting idle.

Retailers, meanwhile, may take over a vacant storefront for a reduced rental rate for a short period of time or until the landlord finds a full-time paying tenant.

How to start

Be sure to have a proposal, outlining what you will do in the space, and a professional business plan ready before meeting your prospective landlord.

Pitch the pop-up as a win-win for both sides. Come prepared to tell the landlord what’s in it for them, such as increased foot traffic for their location and the financial upside of the income your temporary venture brings to their unused space.

You may be able to negotiate a reduced rate of the regular rent based on the number of days you will occupy the space or the fixed costs of the empty space. Or the rental payment could also be tied to a percentage of overall sales.

Be sure to research the area you are renting in to get an understanding of what other businesses are paying before approaching your potential landlord.

Pop-up benefits

Ottawa e-commerce giant Shopify has identified seven key benefits to pop-up shops:

  • Testing new revenue streams
  • Engaging customers
  • Creating “get it while it lasts” urgency through limited-time offerings
  • Marketing merchandise around a sale, season or holiday
  • Educating new customers
  • Going to where your customers are

Meet your merchants: Riding the crest

Lauren Power was no stranger to Vanier when she and Greg launched Red Door Provisions two years ago. She had spent her teens in the area, attending high school in neighbouring Rockcliffe.

After 10 years away, she returned to Ottawa to find big changes afoot in her old stomping ground.

“We saw that Beechwood was right on this crest of new development, with proposals for upscale condo projects,” she said. “We knew the potential of the neighbourhood and we wanted to be part of this renewal, part of the boost.”

This “boost” is happening across Vanier, from Beechwood, to McArthur Avenue and Montréal Road.

“Vanier is an up-and-coming place for sure,” Greg said. “It’s changing every day. We like the neighbourhood aspect – everyone knows everyone. It’s not overrun by big commercial entities. It still feels like most every business is unique to this area. Even the big box stores have this community vibe to them.”

As entrepreneurs, location combined with affordable real estate in their choice of Vanier. Manageable startup costs have allowed them to flourish. Their lunch café and bakery features a unique mix of fresh-made treats, great coffees and house sodas, hearty brunch fare, and Lauren’s own signature jams, marmalades, chutneys and garlic scapes.

Local entrepreneurs Lauren and Greg Power run Red Door Provisions, a cafe and bakery featuring homemade goods and a hearty brunch.
Photo by Mark Holleron

Meet your merchants: Tex mex with a Salvadoran twist

The combination of strong Francophone roots and multicultural diversity drew Maria Ventura and her family to Vanier more than 25 years ago.

Their household spoke French and Spanish, and found Vanier to be an inclusive community where they fit right in.

“I like Vanier because you can find people from everywhere,” Maria said. “I’ve raised three teenagers here and I’ve always been happy and comfortable to be part of this community.”

Nearly a decade ago, they realized her husband Roberto’s dream and parlayed his restaurant experience into their own eatery. They chose Montréal Road because it was an affordable commercial location with high visibility and lots of pass-by traffic.

Today, Tukan Restaurant is a bustling success. It’s one of only two restaurants in Ottawa to serve authentic Salvadoran cuisine, with a twist—it combines on the menu with Tex-Mex. Folks from all over the National Capital Region and even further come to enjoy traditional dishes made with rice, red silk bean, plantain, pork and fried fish, with alguashte (a sauce made with pumpkin seeds) and pupusa (stuffed corn tortillas).

“Vanier has changed a lot through the years and people have a very different concept of the community now,” said daughter Carolina. “There are more kids around, more families.”