The rich urban arts scene in Canada’s Capital is fueled by passionate local individuals that thrive in Ottawa’s supportive arts community. Murals, sculptures, miniatures and graffiti help beautify streetscapes and even natural environments. Here are a few sites and areas where you can soak up some of Ottawa’s growing urban arts scene.
Ottawa’s Rideau Canal – a UNESCO World Heritage Site that winds its way through downtown Ottawa – is depicted in two beautiful murals that line the concrete underpasses of the Laurier Bridge, next to the waterway.
On the east side, a large mural highlights the site’s early 19th-century engineering and operation, as well as its modern seasonal uses as a popular paddling and ice-skating site. The artist, Ryan Smeeton, originally came to Ottawa to study Fine Arts at the University of Ottawa. He practiced mural art on abandoned buildings in Spain and then returned to Ottawa, drawn by the burgeoning local arts scene and supportive community.
The large mural on the west side of the underpass takes a surrealist approach to the evolution of the Rideau Canal. The piece is a collaboration between Dodo Ose, originally from Lyons, France, and Cassandra Dickie, an Ottawa native. Dickie is one of the lead artists with Ottawa Urban Arts — a collective of graffiti artists that collaborates with local community groups to enhance public spaces.
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.
In a parking lot at the corner of George and Dalhousie Streets, you’ll find a large mural showing a whale with items inside its stomach. The project was a collaboration between the Ottawa School of Art and a group of young Inuit artists called the Embassy of Imagination. The mural is based on a tale from their home of Cape Dorset, Nunavut.
Several muralists also beautified a wall of a parking lot in the northern section of Dalhousie Street known as North Dal. The image of a train, its conductor and the words “North Dal” in smoky letters represent the little-known fact that a train used to pass in this area. You can find the mural across from Workshop Studio & Boutique (a great place to buy all Canadian-made women’s clothing and accessories), near the intersection of Dalhousie and St Patrick Streets.
Back in 1996, Ottawa native Pierre Hardy created a mural that features icons and well-known personalities from Franco-Ontarian history. The large mural is located at 98 George Street, in the alley of Canada’s first Giant Tiger store (now a large Canadian retail chain). This location was chosen due to the area’s rich Franco-Ontarian heritage and because the building formerly housed Le Droit, Ottawa’s French-language daily newspaper.
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!
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.
Montreal-born and current Hintonburg resident Arpi created an indoor mural inside the tasting room of Beyond the Pale, one of Ottawa’s many craft breweries. The mural shows two people surrounded by Parliament Hill, brewing paraphernalia and train tracks (a nod to the O-Train which passes near the brewery just east of Hintonburg). Enjoy the striking piece while you sip on a delicious pint!
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. The artist – whose paintings have appeared in cafes and pubs around the city – says they started the project as a contribution to Ottawa’s street art scene and to bring joy to people who find the minis.
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 Wellington West and Hintonburg neighbourhoods. Look for local produce, artistic tools, and musical instruments.
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.