Curiosity Killed The Cat: Urban Exploring In The Byward Market

The Fairmont Chateau Laurier at night as captured by Flickr user Asif A. Ali

The Byward Market is one of the busiest tourist sites in Ottawa. And while the majority of people keep their exploration at street level, a handful of bold residents have dared to explore the heights of a building that teeters on the edge of the Market itself.

Urban explorers investigate normally unseen or off-limits parts of urban areas and buildings. Most people limit themselves to abandoned homes or warehouses but there are some who dare to venture into occupied territory.

And while curiosity may have killed the cat, Catharine Tunney explains how her snooping landed her on the roof of the Chateau Laurier hotel.

Catharine Tunney explains how she got onto the roof of the Chateau Laurier hotel.

Tunney says that for her, it was a mixture of nosiness and safety in numbers that led to her to follow through on the claims of the abandoned floor.

“I went with a bunch of friends who are in a band and were only here for the night. I felt like I was in a movie. We were just sticking it to the man!”

Tunney says that she knows that she was trespassing but says that she doesn’t really care. For her, it is the knowledge that you’re not supposed to be there and that you’re stepping outside what’s acceptable that makes the experience so exciting.

“I remember sitting up there and this breeze came over me,” recalls Tunney. “I just thought ‘Dammit, I’m 20. Here I am having this cigarette with these attractive guys who are in a kick-ass band. They’re all attractive and well dressed and here I am. I can see the whole city and it’s mine.”

However those hoping to follow in Tunney’s footsteps, be forewarned: Laurier staff are up on the game.

“I tried to go back with a friend, but the door [on the sixth floor] was locked.”

As their website says, the hotel has hosted “almost every star of stage, screen or music that has performed in Ottawa.” It is surprising then that the security remained so lax since the CBC radio moved to the main broadcast centre on Queen Street in the 1990s.

While there are other off-limits places in the hotel to explore (rumours about open delivery doors and entrances to the kitchen and basement abound), the parts that are open to the public are interesting in and of themselves. However for those in need of an excuse to do a little sneaking around, the bathrooms off the lobby are a handsome alternative to the ones in the Rideau Centre.

Not all urban explorers bust onto rooftops or into abandoned warehouses, but there is something to be said for questioning the boundaries of a city’s core.

“If someone told me another good spot to go to, I’d be totally down,” says Tunney of her willingness to discover the city’s crannies.

“I am definitely open to the possibility of more trespassing.”

 

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