I regularly travel to Ottawa—Canada’s capital city—but it was only during my most recent visit in the summer of 2018 that I noticed a lot of street art around the city. Many of the photos here are from that trip.
The most common subjects in the artworks are wildlife and people, with the depictions ranging from very realistic to stylized-but-still-easily-recognizable. I only came across a few elaborate wildstyle pieces, and entirely abstract works also seem to be rare. Most of the street art can be found in a few specific neighborhoods.
Hintonburg is a neighborhood a few kilometers west of downtown Ottawa. During the last couple of decades it has been undergoing a long process of hipsterfication and gentrification. While I was visiting Ottawa, my sister, who lives in Ottawa, took me on a tour of some of the street art around Hintonburg.
Scattered around the neighborhood are several murals by ARPi (aka Rene-Pierre Beaudry: www.instagram.com/arpi_la_vie), an artist formerly from Montreal who specializes in realistic depictions of animals, birds, insects and reptiles. It is quite unusual to see one artist’s work dominate a neighborhood to such an extent.
Here is one of his murals on a shopfront on Armstrong Street.
Arpi also created the following mural on a residential street. Besides featuring images of birds, branches and insects, the mural (which is partially blocked by a pole and is half-covered in vines) also includes images of utility poles, a transformer and street lamps. The whole thing is a kind of intermingling of natural and man-made elements.
The next mural references nature, cycling and the old Ottawa Electric Railway, a tram line which was in operation from 1891 to 1958. Nowadays, many cities are starting to move towards electric buses, but the local bus operator, OC Transpo, hasn’t been enthusiastic about the idea. Perhaps the mural’s slogan ’round we go’ is a call to action to return to more environmentally-friendly electric public transport.
ARPi also painted these large murals of people’s pets.
The next mural is on the wall of the Railbender tattoo parlor on Hamilton Street. There is a lot going on the design, so I find the whole thing a little chaotic. I am not sure if Arpi painted all the elements.
Continuing with the theme of wildlife on electrical enclosures is this small piece of a bird with a miners helmet (Is it a canary in a coal mine?) by Daniel Marterlock.
On the wall of an auto-repair shop is this large mural by Ryan Smeeton (www.instagram.com/ryansmeeton). The image of a laborer serves as a tribute to the working-class roots of Hintonburg.
Dom Laporte used the back of this noticeboard as a canvas for his stylized painting of a bird.
Here is another mural in Hintonburg:
2. Street Art on Bank Street & in the Downtown Area
Bank St. is the main road which runs from north to south, bisecting the city. If you are downtown, you can look for some of these artworks. The first mural is by Cassandra D. It towers over a sitting-out area at Bank St. just south of Slater.
If you head south on Bank St., a few blocks to the corner of Lisgar Street. you may come across this lovely fish mural painted on a construction hoarding. It was painted by the laportebrothers, Phil and Dom Laporte (www.instagram.com/laportebrothers & www.instagram.com/domlasoul)
One block south of Lisgar is this colorful mural on the corner of Bank and Cooper. Like the rest of the murals in this section, the building address is on Bank. St. but the actual mural is on the side of the building
If you go a few blocks further south on Bank St., you will reach Gilmour St., where there is a mural celebrating Canada’s first march for gay rights, which took place in Ottawa in 1971.
A few blocks to the west of Bank St. on Slater St. is this series of murals on a wall at the back of a dog park. The wall is known as Techwall as the other side of the wall was the site of Ottawa Technical High School, which closed in 1992. The mural was still being painted when I was there and appears to have been created by dbscrew. If you have any information about the artists, please let me know.
3. The Glebe
Further south, Bank Street runs through the upscale neighborhood known as the Glebe, where you can see these two murals by Pat Buck (www.instagram.com/patbuck_thekid) and Dan Metcalfe (www.instagram.com/thehigherups). The murals are in the alley between Third and Fourth Avenues.
Dom Laporte (domlasoul) created this mural on the side of The Rowan, a pub on Bank Street.
On the side of Bowman’s on Bank is this nature-themed mural by Daniel Martelock
A collective of Colombian artists—Vertigo Graffiti—produced this piece on the side of the Bank Street Branch of Nicastro’s. Santiago Castro, Sebastián García and Camilo Fidel López created this mural, entitled Wild Read, which depicts a buffalo being brought to life in the mind of a reading child.
Ryan Smeeton painted this mural (but it was blocked by cars when I photographed it).
4. Preston Street and Somerset Street
In a parking lot just off Preston St. is this large mural by Dems (www.instagram.com/d3M5) and Sarah Doll (www.instagram.com/doll.face.one). This is said to be the largest street art mural in the city.
Running perpendicular to Preston St., Somerset St. passes through the heart of Ottawa’s Chinatown (the businesses in the neighborhood now represent a wide variety of cultures).
A mural featuring an image of Bob Dylan is on the front of the Pour Boy Pub.
Some of the artworks on Somerset St. were painted during a 2013 street art event called Chinatown Blossoms, which paired up artists and small businesses in an effort to beautify the district.
There were a few panda-themed artworks on display. Here is the largest one.
The mural shown below is by Julian Garner (www.instagram.com/5ivecents). It is beautiful, but is mostly behind trees. The mural should be easier to see in the winter, after the leaves have fallen. It is located on the side of the Art House Cafe at the Corner of Somerset and Bay Streets.
5. The Byward Market
The area around the Byward Market is Ottawa’s traditional trendy (if that is not an oxymoron) restaurant and nightlife area. I noticed a few large murals while strolling around. The large mural below was created by the laportebrothers and Dan Metcalfe.
The mural shown below was difficult to photograph as it is in a shady alley
I like the mythical feel of this mural by Drew Mosley (drew-mosley.com) and Pat Buck. The creature on the far right is carrying fire while the one on the far left is carrying shelter. But what about the two in the middle?
At the corner of George and Dalhousie Streets is this large mural that was a created as part of a collaboration between the Ottawa School of Art and a group of young Inuit artists known as the Embassy of Imagination (www.embassyofimagination.com). The main subject of the mural is a whale, with its stomach filled with all manner of life.
On the York Steps is this artwork entitled Kwáshkwan-in! (Jump!). It features Salmon leaping up the steps. This art was commissioned by the federal government and was created by Naomi Ratte.
In 2019, the artwork was replaced with a more abstract work—Heat wave by Jerome Bertrand.
6. Gatineau & Chaudière Island
Just across the river from Ottawa, is the city of Gatineau (which is in the French-speaking province of Quebec). The three pieces I saw there seemed to be mounted onto the walls rather than painted directly onto the walls. Here are the three works: a pop art collage by Marin Mitrasinovic (konceptart.ca/about), a colorful and enchanting portrait of a street artist by Rafaël Alin and a portrait by Maria-Rosa Szychowska (www.szychowska.com).
Crossing the Ottawa River on the way to Gatineau are the disused industrial buildings on Chaudière Island. I took these photos a few years ago.
The next set of photos art of artwork include in the Gatineau Cultural Trail 2019 (Sentier Culturel: www.gatineau.ca/portail/default.aspx?p=activites_evenements_idees_sorties/sentier_culturel), an annual exhibition of artwork. The work shown below is entitled Brigade and is inspired by a quote from Québécois poet Stéfane Cloutier:
We are hiring fire brigades to put out the fire. I dream of a brigade of artists who light up the city
The following large mural by José Guénette (www.instagram.com/jose_guenette), Phil Landry and Marin Mitrasinovic is entitled Traces and it recalls elements of Gatineau’s history—the E. B. Eddy matchstick factory (where the father of the two children worked) and the fires that ravaged the town during the late 18th and early 19th century.
The next set of images is of a series of depictions of animals by artists Maria Rosa Szychowska, Marin Mitrasinovic, Phillipe Landry (www.instagram.com/phil_the_ar/), Anthony Léger & Mathieu Strike Désilets. The series is entitled Animosités and the animals featured include endangered species and animals native to Quebec.
The next series, called Mobile Phone, is a series of paintings by artist YUGZ (Hugo Sabourin: www.hugosabourin.com/cv) that depict animals that one might encounter in the countryside around Gatineau juxtaposed with elements and symbols of modern life (like a shopping cart or Facebook icon).
Let’s end the article on a philosophical note with this graffiti text by Marjolaine Beauchamp:
In French, the text is:
Au seuil de l’iconnu
À un tout petit pas
du reste de votre vie
In English, that translated to
You are here
On the threshold of the unknown
A very small step
to the rest of your life
This section includes discussion questions, an art challenge and links to online photo galleries.
- Which artwork featured on this page do you like the best?
- How can street art benefit a community?
- Most of the murals I saw appear to have been sponsored by small businesses.This has resulted in some very attractive pieces (as the artists don’t need to hurriedly and surreptitiously complete their work under cover of darkness). However, this also means the themes and subjects of the art tend to be very safe. What can be done so that artists feel freer to deal with more controversial and.or less pleasant subject matter?
Sketch a wall near your home, school or office. Design an artwork that would go on the wall and add it to your sketch.
~photos and text by longzijun
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