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Cycling in the Capital - Parliament

Ottawa’s vibrant urban arts scene

Around every corner in Canada’s capital, you’ll encounter stunning urban art including murals, sculptures, miniatures and graffiti. Ottawa's diverse streetscapes and beautiful green spaces come alive with these unique creations! Use the highlights below to plan your own urban art crawl through some of Ottawa’s artsiest neighbourhoods.

Downtown Rideau

The Downtown Rideau area is full of cultural points of interest that are easy to explore with the free, self-guided Culture Walk (pick up a printout or download the Downtown Rideau app).

The walk includes two large murals depicting the Rideau Canal – a UNESCO World Heritage Site that winds its way through downtown Ottawa. On the east side of the Laurier Bridge underpass, you’ll see a piece by Ryan Smeeton, and another on the west side by Cassandra Dickie (one of the lead artists with Ottawa Urban Arts) and Dodo Ose.

Icons and well-known personalities from Franco-Ontarian history are featured in a mural at 98 George Street. The location is fitting since the area has a rich Franco-Ontarian heritage and the building formerly housed Le Droit, Ottawa’s French-language daily newspaper. Voilà!

Throughout Downtown Rideau, you’ll notice a street art exhibit of mural boxes wrapped in beautiful artwork. You’ll also see cool sculptures like a stainless-steel stylized violin at the southeast corner of the National Arts Centre (a gift from Mexico), as well as the Colonel By Fountain (which originally stood in Trafalgar Square in London, England) and the National Aboriginal Veterans Monument, both in Confederation Park.

The ByWard Market

The historic and central neighbourhood of the ByWard Market is home to a bustling farmers’ market and unique boutiques by day, as well as lively restaurants and nightlife at night. The area’s diversity is the perfect setting for creativity.

Go mural hunting along Dalhousie Street, where they beautify several parking lot walls. Take in the giant whale and hunter at the corner of George Street (a collaboration between the Ottawa School of Art and a group of young Inuit artists). Don’t miss the mythical animals next to the Andaz Ottawa ByWard Market (by artists Drew Mosley and Pat Buck). And a few blocks north near St Patrick Street, in a section known as North Dal, look for stunning multicoloured birds (by Dominique “Mique Michelle” Boisvenue), as well as a moody painting of a train and its conductor (a nod to the lost fact that a train used to run in this area).

Sculptures also adorn streets in the the ByWard Market district. Look for 14 small bronze sculptures of Alley Cats in and around the Murray Street parking garage. While in the ByWard Market building, look up to see a whimsical papier mâché sculpture showing market vendors from days past in an enormous cloud. And walk through the lovely and quiet Jeanne D’Arc courtyard where the Dancing Bear is perfectly posed for a selfie (and a hug!).

The Glebe

The Glebe neighbourhood, a vibrant commercial and residential area near downtown, is home to several murals along its colourful Bank Street. Artist Dan Metcalfe, who grew up in the area, has collaborated with artist Pat Buck on a few popular pieces.

They created two murals in an alleyway between the Lost Marbles store and the French Baker (located between Third and Fourth Avenues). One wall features seven brightly coloured Russian nesting dolls. The other shows a child wearing aviator goggles and hat as he soars over an aerial representation of the Glebe.

Metcalfe and Buck also painted a mural on the side of the beloved Octopus Books store, which fittingly presents an octopus reading multiple books!

Little Italy

Just west of downtown Ottawa, Little Italy’s proud Italian heritage is evident along Preston Street or “Corso Italia”.

A highway underpass along the street features mural walls painted by Ottawa-born Karole Marois. The work represents neighbourhood’s main sites, historical elements, well-known local figures and more.

The mural project was spearheaded by Joe Cotroneo, a lifelong resident of the area who co-owns Pub Italia with his Irish wife. The popular watering hole is adorned with exterior paintings – also by Karole Marois – that represent the owners’ combined heritage. After admiring the exterior, step inside and peruse the “beer bible” to choose from more than 200 beers from around the world!

As you walk along Preston Street, you’ll also notice a series of 15 unique sculptures created by artist c j fleury. Called Postcards from the Piazzas, they represent the area’s identity through elements of food, sports, labour tools and more.

Wellington West area

The corridor of Wellington West – which includes the Wellington Village and Hintonburg neighbourhoods just west of downtown Ottawa – is ripe with local creativity.

Murals by Hintonburg resident Arpi seem to beautify every corner. His many nature inspired paintings, which adorn exterior walls and utility boxes, feature birds, insects and an adorable cat (corner of Garland and Armstrong Streets). The tasting room inside Beyond the Pale, one of Ottawa’s many craft breweries, features one of his stunning murals of two people surrounded by Parliament Hill, brewing paraphernalia and train tracks (a nod to the nearby light rail).

An anonymous artist who goes by streetartminiature on Instagram places clay miniatures around the city, including the Wellington West area. Keep your eyes peeled for tiny burgers, pizzas and lollipops strategically placed in cracks, crevices or on the sides of surfaces.

As you walk along Wellington Street West, you’ll also encounter a collection of whimsical, hand-carved sculptures called The Wellington Marbles. The eighteen marble carvings blend the shape of a fire hydrant with everyday objects that pay tribute to the local history and modern renewal of the now trendy area. Look for local produce, artistic tools, and musical instruments.

Bank Street (Centretown)

Immediately south of Parliament Hill, Centretown—represented by the Bank Street BIA—is a diverse neighbourhood rich with street art. Notably, it is home to Ottawa’s Village, the heart of the city’s LGBTQ2 community.

An eye-catching mural of a woman surrounded by electrical items (light bulbs, a switch, hydro poles) by Cassandra D of Style Over Status presides over Snider Plaza on Bank Street between Slater and Laurier.

A few blocks to the south, you’ll find a brilliantly coloured painting of tropical fish, which brothers Dom and Phil Laporte created to promote the Glowfair festival. It proved so popular it has remained on a construction wall on the southeast corner of Bank and Lisgar streets. The brothers also collaborated on a lush pink-and-green mural of a hidden creature camouflaged in foliage on the back wall of Planet Botanix at 301 Bank Street.

On the north side of the Gongfu Bao restaurant at 365 Bank Street is a mural created in 2011 by Robbie Lariviere and Dan Metcalfe to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Canada’s first public gay rights demonstration. It shows activist Charlie Hill giving a speech on Parliament Hill demanding equal rights, surrounded by a crowd of supporters.

Centretown is also home to many public sculptures. Even many of the bicycle racks along Bank Street between Laurier and Catherine are stainless-steel artworks, designed by more than two dozen artists and installed in 2009.

Westboro Village

On the western edge of Ottawa’s core is trendy Westboro Village. Its urban art reflects the area’s past, present and proximity to nature.

Many of Westboro’s murals were created by local artist Shaun McInnis. His striking portrait of Winston Churchill—on, naturally enough, Churchill Avenue near Richmond Road—is now over 20 years old. It’s due to be replaced in 2020, so see it while you can.

Other McInnis pieces include a mural portraying big moments in Ottawa firefighting on the side of Great Escape Outfitters at 369 Richmond Road; a colourful collage of a boy’s daydreams on the wall of the Scotiabank at 388 Richmond Road; and a realistic mural showing vintage cars in garages, a dog in an open door, a bike and plants, all beautifying the side of 325 Richmond Road.  

Westboro is also home to other types of public art, much of which reflects local flora and fauna. Just off Richmond Road in a small square called Winston Plaza, you’ll find the Winston Chandelier, an eye-catching illuminated piece by local artists Joanna Swim and Adrian Göllner, which is made of red stainless-steel panels. At the corner of Churchill and Byron avenues, you can relax under a colourful tree sculpture made by Jennifer Stead. And take the Westboro Nature Walk to see photographer Michelle Valberg’s nature-themed images wrapped around utility boxes.

Other urban art gems

Don’t miss these other sites and events around town where you can embrace Ottawa’s urban art.

Each summer for around 30 years, local artist John Felice Ceprano creates a stunning collection of balanced rock art at Remic Rapids along the Ottawa River. He builds his ephemeral installations using the rocks that he finds on the flat shore each spring. It’s an easy 20-minute bike ride west of downtown along the Ottawa River Pathway to this serene site. You might see Ceprano in action when you visit!

A local organization called House of PainT (HoP) has been elevating Ottawa's hip-hop and urban arts scene for the last 15 years or so. Their popular annual outdoor festival in August showcases the best in Canadian urban arts and culture. Battles, workshops and shows highlight graffiti, breakdancing, spoken word, rap, DJs and MCs from the Ottawa region and from across Canada. HoP also collaborates with organizations throughout the city – like the National Arts Centre – to increase awareness about the benefits of urban arts.   

The City of Ottawa encourages graffiti artists to practice on three dedicated legal graffiti walls throughout the city. Check out local graffiti artists’ latest creations at these locations:

  • Albert Street Education Centre Retaining Wall (422 Slater Street), Centretown 
  • Underside of the Dunbar Bridge (1301 Bronson Avenue), near Carleton University
  • Bob MacQuarrie Recreation Complex (1490 Youville Drive), Orleans

Looking for a more traditional take on urban art? Check out our article on Ottawa Public Art.

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