Over the years, I have tried explaining what it is about Ottawa that gives me a rash. I have a love hate relationship with this City. I love it, for all its warts, but I could never put into words what actual warts Ottawa has.
It all started when I was 13. We had just moved back after a posting. We were living in our old hood, what was Westboro, a cute community, 15 minutes outside of the downtown core. It was full on WASP, but not tony enough, after all, Mountain Equipment Coop hadn’t moved in yet, and made it the place to come shop and spend a day. No, it was just WASP at that time. The gentleman across the street, had decided his house, a charcoal grey, needed new trim. So he began to paint it, a beautiful shade of periwinkle blue. He managed to paint only half the trim, before the petition started to circulate in the neighbourhood. It was a polite, diplomatic, cease and desist letter, outlining that the periwinkle blue was an unsuitable colour for the neighbourhood. My parents were the only people on the block who refused to sign the petition. They thought it was ridiculous to stop someone from painting their house. As my Mother pointed out, the blue was cheerful, and looked great. It turned out, the gentleman who spent time painting his house trim that colour, was actually an architect. The neighbours weren’t thrilled with him, he lived a “life style”, they didn’t care for. I guess they didn’t appreciate that he traveled, never had children, but was married to the love of his life, who happened to be an attorney. In protest, he left the trim half painted, it stayed like that for 3 years, before they decided to move to Toronto, leaving Ottawa to never return.
The most interesting people seemed to disappear from Ottawa. For years, I couldn’t figure out why. It was safe, beautiful, clean, mostly affordable, and was almost perfect on paper.
Looks can always be deceiving.
My husband and I moved into a small walkup in good Ol Westboro, it was a steel of a price, was beautiful, and heck, did I mention it was cheep! We moved in the year before Mountain Equipment Coop built their insane new store just down the street from us. So mostly, the hood was still middle class WASP.
It was about a month into us moving in, that we noticed by-law officers circulating, leaving tickets and warnings. I sat at my living room window while sick, and watched ticket after ticket being left in mailboxes or windshield screens. It was the oddest sight, no one was out, except for the officer. The street was unnaturally quiet, we even joked that it was like living in the middle of a cemetery, you could not even hear a dog bark after 8pm with the windows wide open.
Ottawa’s flaws begin to shine through slowly, as we began to fall deeper into our careers and life. Our friends, who just bought a new house. Began to get complaints that their garbage had been put out 10 minutes before the allowed time. Their car was over the sidewalk on their driveway by, literally an inch, the colour they chose for their front door was not in compliance with the neighbourhood colour palette. It seemed like an endless list of ridiculous complaints. They quickly grew tired of the tickets, the complaints and the inhospitable environment that they were coming home to. They moved to another neighbourhood, the same things started up again, complaints would come their way, they began to get ticketed for by-law violations. It wasn’t just them, I began to notice those working in our Human Resources department sit on their phones calling in various by law violations in their own neighbourhoods. I thought I was going mental, but no, this is just Ottawa.
It came to me in a recent trip to Ottawa, that although it is a stunning city, and has so much to offer. It is 90% made up of Federal Government Employees. Many of whom will never get fired from their jobs, so they have nothing to lose, but they also have a sense of entitlement. It is that sense of entitlement that creates a really toxic undertone to Ottawa. It is what I began to feel suffocated by. It wasn’t just that sense of entitlement, but the sense of superiority.
Let’s just get something straight, there is a sense of entitlement everywhere, but in Ottawa, it becomes cumbersome and rather tiresome because that one person in the neighbourhood ends up leading the rest down the wrong path. It is a part of Ottawa’s culture that I never understood, nor did I ever like.