Beechwood Avenue, Montreal Road and McArthur Avenue each offer unique flavours
Where in Ottawa can chefs find a full-sized octopus, the perfect cut of locally sourced meat, authentic Mexican food and dozens of other dishes and ingredients from around the world?
The answer is simple – come to Vanier.
“I get a kick out of being able to have the products for everyone.” – Filipe Correia, Mario’s Food Centre
“Whether it’s Norwegian Cod, Portuguese sausage, pastries, olive oil – I try to have everything that someone might be looking for,” Filipe Correia says about his store, Mario’s Food Centre, located at 381 McArthur Ave.
Mario’s Food Centre opened its doors in 1964. While many things along McArthur may have changed over the years, Correia says one thing remains the same: The selection of food carried in his store.
The shop sells Portuguese, Brazilian and Spanish food and attracts customers from across Ottawa and as far away as Montreal, Correia says. Once, he even received a call from a woman overseas who was about to fly into Ottawa and wanted to stop by the shop for groceries.
“She wanted to make sure I had what she was looking for,” he says. “People come from all over and I get a kick out of being able to have the products for everyone.”
Mario’s Food Centre isn’t the only unique stop along McArthur – the street is peppered with businesses offering delicious options.
One is a personal favourite of Correia’s – YKO BBQ Chicken, located a few doors down from his own store. Correia admits he eats there more than a few times a week.
McArthur Avenue is a bit of an international food quarter of Vanier, he says.
From Indian cuisine, Greek food, pizza, ice cream, Middle Eastern products and the All Africa Market – a trip down McArthur Avenue gives visitors a chance to taste food and ingredients from around the world.
“We all complement each other,” Correia says.
MONTREAL ROAD AND BEECHWOOD AVENUE
However delectable the wares offered by McArthur Avenue’s merchants might be, Correia notes that there are many other mouthwatering temptations in other corners of Vanier.
Mainstay dishes on Montreal Road include pho, pizza, shawarma, smoked meat and authentic Mexican food.
But the experiences are not limited to simply tasting the neighbourhood’s delicious food. There is also an opportunity to learn how to make it yourself.
Macaroon shop Quelque Chose Pâtisserie hosts French macaroon classes at its flagship shop at 274 Montreal Rd., offering aspiring bakers the chance to learn from the pros.
Meanwhile, Andrew Muckleston – the proprietor of Beechwood Avenue butcher Muckleston and Brockwell – says he offers classes at his shop to help people learn more about what they are eating, where it comes from and hopefully gain a new respect for butchery.
The hands-on experience helps individuals learn about the cuts and how the meat can be used.
“It’s a great experience for all skill levels,” Muckleston says.
Muckleston’s shop sources its meat from small-scale, local producers. Understanding the origins of his products helps him easily answer his customers’ questions.
“People want to know more about what they’re eating and where it came from,” he says. “That the food you are eating is top quality, ethically sourced, local, hormone and antibiotic free – something that you really can’t put a price tag on.”
SconeWitch owner Heather Matthews, who never eats a scone that is more than 10 minutes removed from the oven, recalls the mission she set for herself early on in life.
“Why did I pick scones? That’s an easy one. Ever since the ’70s, when muffins became the thing,
everywhere you went you got a greasy muffin – and there is nothing wrong with a muffin – but
I thought, ‘Why doesn’t someone do scones?’
At the time I had other businesses, and sometimes we would make scones, and every time they
would be gone. They would sell out. So I said, ‘If I ever start a business, it will just be scones.
Because, really, everybody loves scones. It was then I decided it was my mission to bring scones
to this world. Now we make over 2,000 a day by hand … but I wasn’t sure if I had really made it,
if I was successful until one day a Scottish gentleman came in and wanted to speak with me. He
came up to me and said (in a Scottish accent) ‘My mom makes the best scones.’ (Heather
pauses for dramatic effect) ‘But yours are better!’ Well, I knew I had made it then.”
BeechFest – a new year, a new name for Beechwood’s annual fall festival
Beechwood Avenue’s annual fall festival is getting a bit of a revamp this year.
The street festival plans to switch out its old name, East Feast, for a new one – BeechFest.
The name tweak highlights a change in programming.
What was once a food-heavy festival – hence it’s feast-filled name – the festival will be adopting more of a family feel and offering more family-friendly activities and times.
The festival will take place along Beechwood Avenue on Sept. 7, 2019 from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Rideau-Rockcliffe Coun. Rawlson King said the change is largely based on the varied interests of the communities which call Beechwood Avenue their main street.
“The name change represents the continued renewal of the event and responsiveness of the community to the fact that the event programming goes way beyond the excellent culinary scene on Beechwood, to also represent arts and culture and sport,” King said.
The event is organized by the Quartier Vanier BIA, of which King is the newest member of the BIA’s board, having been recently elected in the Rideau-Rockcliffe byelection on this past spring.
An active community member before taking his seat on council, the new councillor said he has loved attending the festival over the years and is looking forward to it once again this year, but this time as a contributor.
“’I’ve attended BeechFest in the past and found it to be quite an exciting event. It is arguably one of the largest outdoor festivals in our area, with 3,000 people in attendance, that allows residents and visitors from outside the city check out local businesses, chefs, breweries, wineries, children’s organizations and community groups,” he said.
Councillor Mathieu Fleury adds: “As a supporter of the event since its inception, I really feel that it’s a family friendly event that is very must-see for our neighbourhood. The event celebrates the end of the summer with food, music, activities and performances. What a great way to come together and celebrate?”
Executive director of the BIA, Nathalie Carrier said the changes this year are all aimed at making the event bigger and better.
“What we realized is this is a family gathering and so we want to make sure the family focus is not lost,” she said.
And given that Vanier is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, Carrier said it is important to make this year memorable.
So far, programming for the festival includes:
- More children’s programming
- More food and more varieties of it!
- Celebration of Vanier’s 50th anniversary
- More merchant participation
- More people and more fun!
The event, created in 2016, closes off Beechwood Avenue from Marier Avenue to St. Charles Street to vehicular traffic, turning the area into a pedestrian space. In the past, local restaurants and shops along Beechwood Avenue participated by selling food, promoting their business, performing on the main stage or offering activities.
King said he feels street festivals, like Beechfest, are important because they allow residents to express community pride and demonstrate what makes their neighbourhood’s special.
Carrier said it is this sentiment that the BIA hopes to gain interest from more community partners to participate or sponsor an activity at the event.
“One of the great benefits of the festival is the strong relationships it fosters in the community,” King said. “Beechfest forges bonds among service organizations, municipal government, and neighborhood groups and creates better connections with elected officials, volunteers and interested residents.”
BIA members, organizations or individuals who are looking to participate or support BeechFest can contact Carrier at email@example.com.
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’
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.
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.
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.
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.”