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.”



Byward Market Billingualism: An Epiphany In Three Parts


As a kid, my parents always joked that, with a last name like ‘Sirois’, I had better learn French. Phonetically, it is pronounced “Seer-wah” however growing up in Toronto, my surname was butchered seven ways to Sunday by teachers, announcers at gymnastics competitions and graduations from kindergarten through to highschool. As a French Immersion student, it baffled me that people could not wrap their heads around that silly double vowel at the end. Somehow though, when I moved to Ottawa to start university, name mangling subsided.


When I was in grade school, I spoke French in class. Everything else was all-English, all the time. Occasionally I would hear people chatting on the street and get all excited on the inside knowing what they were talking about.

I was quite an adept speaker and could hold my own in conversations at summer camp where I would befriend kids from Québec by translating instructions for games and emergency procedures.

“Where are you from?” they would ask.

“Toronto!” I’d reply.

That question followed me wherever I went, waving my little Francophone Flag at conferences, job interviews and the occasional bar-room chat. Taken aback by my answer they would say, “Toronto? But you speak so well!”

I had no idea why they were surprised, but just kept chugging along as if nothing was the matter. But again, all of that changed when I got to Ottawa.


After spending so much time in the Byward Market over the last few weeks, I am starting to understand what it means to be bilingual. Most of the vendors at the Farmers’ Market are francophone and greet customers as such. Many reply with orders in French, moving into conversations about the weather or crops as carrots or beans are shoveled into a bag.

Strolling down the sidewalks between Dalhousie St. and Sussex Dr., it is not surprising to hear children chirping to parents ‘en Français’. Elsewhere in the city, it does not seem as prevalent. Sure, in Centretown and Old Ottawa South there are still French speakers, but not in the same numbers. The sheer volume of French is what forced this revelation.

The pervasiveness of French in day-to-day life may seem normal for a local, but for this francophone, native English speaker of French-Canadian heritage from Toronto, it is pretty darn exciting. Especially now that, for the most part, my last name is pronounced correctly.

Standing On Reputation: Gallerie La Petite Mort Hosts Deviant Photography By Exilentia Exiff

Photo by Exilentia Exiff.

Gallerie La Petite Mort on the edge of the Byward Market for showcasing subversive and often sexually charged artwork from both local and international artists. ‘Lost Femininities’ is one such collection by Berlin-based artist Exilentia Exiff.

Fascinated by norms connected with gender and age, Exiff explores the boundaries of beauty and age in terms of sexuality by asking why a young female naked body is acceptable and a picture of an old woman in a sexual pose violates the standards of society. She frames the exhibition with the question: What is self-dignity?

“My first impression of the pieces was of slight shock,” says Ben Derksen, a third-year history and political science student at Carleton University. Working on an assignment for his History of Sexuality class, Derksen says that although he had read about the art before going to the gallery, “reading the description and seeing it in person are two very different things.”

With his assignment first and foremost on his mind, Derksen was more analytical with his analysis of the works than most. Applying the works of social critics like Michel Foucault and Jeffrey Weeks the photos at Petite Mort, Derksen says that the definition of sexuality is narrow-minded.

“I think people have a very clean cut idea of what sexuality is.”

Derksen says that within a traditional, North American mindset, “the elderly, larger men [in the photographs], especially those in makeup…are seen as either asexual or sexual deviants.”

Since choosing to engage or appear to engage in sexual acts depicted in the photos might be offensive to someone who is not all that open-minded, Derksen says that the gallery’s reputation for scandalous still stands.

“After the initial shock subsided, I settled in to the viewing experience. That said, I come from an entire generation that is pretty hard to shock.”

Eugene Haslam: Club Owner. City Councilor?

Eugene Haslam may have found success in the entertainment industry, but just what qualifies the owner of Zaphod Beeblebrox to sit on city council?

The owner of the famous Byward Market club entered the race on September 10th, running against six others to represent Ward 17 -Capital on council. With incumbent councilor Clive Doucet running for mayor, the seat is essentially ripe for the taking by any of the candidates.

Moving to Canada from Calcutta, India when he was 16, Haslam studied psychology at York University and business at the University of Waterloo. He worked as a banker until opening Zaphod’s in 1985. Now a voted board member of the Byward Market Business Improvement Area, Haslam is prepared to use his over 20 years of business experience and 14 years of residency in the ward as the cornerstone of his campaign.

According to an interview with The Ottawa Citizen, Haslam has been considering running for city council for a few years and finally decided that it was up to him to secure a stable future for his daughter. In the same interview Haslam said: “I live here, my daughter’s going to be here for a long time,” he said. “Sometimes you just have to stick your neck out and do what you think has to be done.”

Haslam credits the success of Zaphod’s to his resilience and “chutzpah” and, if his growing number of supporters are any indication, political success may have the same recipe as success in business.

Byward Market Photo Slide Show

This week’s multi-media assignment was to put together a photo slide show that tells a story about something in our neighbourhood. I went to the Byward Market on Saturday and snapped some photos of the weekly farmers’ market.

It was incredibly busy which made it hard to get clear photos, but I think there are some really great shots in there. There was a really interesting mix of vendors. Everything from farm-fresh eggs to maple syrup, fresh fruits and vegetables . The diversity of the produce was most impressive, particularly since many of the vendors said that it was the last week for soft fruits like peaches and berries.

See the slide show here: