Ottawa, Canada’s Capital, is home to the prestigious National Gallery of Canada, which houses the world’s most comprehensive collection of Canadian art, including Inuit art. Open from Tuesday to Sunday in the colder weather months and daily from May through September, visitors can see iconic Canadian works and special exhibits at “the Gallery,” as it’s locally known. But did you know that beautiful public art can be found throughout Ottawa’s eclectic downtown core? From colourful one-of-a-kind murals, to interesting and towering sculptures, original art pieces decorate the city’s streets, courtyards and even riverbanks. You just need to know where to look. We’ve compiled a list of some of the best places to view Ottawa’s public art.
Nepean Point: Located just behind the National Gallery of Canada, the scenic Nepean Point is home to a few interesting outdoor sculptures. See the towering and shining One Hundred Foot Line, by critically-acclaimed contemporary artist Roxy Paine. Also, take in the statue of French explorer Samuel de Champlain. Champlain is holding a navigational instrument called an astrolabe upside down, as the sculptor didn’t know which side was up. Nepean Point is worth a visit just for the wonderful panoramic views it offers of Ottawa’s iconic Parliament Buildings, the rolling Ottawa River and the Gatineau, Québec, region.
ByWard Market Neighbourhood: Ottawa’s ByWard Market neighbourhood is home to one of the oldest and largest farmers’ market in Canada, as well as many unique restaurants and boutiques. Public art can be found throughout this eclectic neighbourhood, from parking garages to charming cobblestoned courtyards.
- Alley Cats: The Murray Street parking garage is home to 14 intricately sculpted bronze alley cats. Placed throughout the garage on different ledges, these cats were crafted by local artist Jean-Yves Vigneau and were installed in 1993.
- McClintock’s Dream: This large-scale papier mâché sculpture can be found in the heart of the ByWard Market neighbourhood in the heritage ByWard Market Square building. The sculpture, which features different colourful market vendors in an enormous cloud, was created in 1978 by Hungarian-born artist Victor Tolgesy.
- Dancing Bear: This sculpture is an Ottawa favourite and is located in the ByWard Market’s Jeanne d’Arc courtyard (just off of George Street, near Sussex Drive). Installed in 1999, the Dancing Bear is the first public art to be displayed in Ottawa from a Nunavut-based artist. Pauta Saila, who grew up on Baffin Island in Canada’s north, carved the beloved bear. Saila started carving in the 1950s to supplement his income as a hunter.
- Young Girl: This sculpture was created by John Ivor Smith in 1986. Located in the ByWard Market’s Jeanne d’Arc courtyard, the sculpture recalls the area’s past when it was home to a residence for young women run by nuns. The statue is of a young woman playing with a hoop.
- Conjunction: This bronze arm-like sculpture can be found on Sussex Drive at the Embassy of the United States of America. Crafted by New York-born artist Joel Shapiro, the sculpture is a strong statement of the friendship that exists between the United States and Canada. Conjunction was unveiled in Ottawa by Hillary Rodham Clinton, former First Lady of the United States.
- Tin House: Located in the Tin House courtyard off of Clarence Street, this impressive tin façade is part of Ottawa’s past. Created by Ottawa resident and twentieth century tinsmith Honoré Foisy, the façade was meant to help Foisy demonstrate his talent, which included making tin look like other materials such as wood and brick.When Foisy’s original home was demolished in 1961, the tin façade was saved and then reconstructed by artist Art Price. It was then hung in the courtyard in 1973.
- Angel: Not much is known about this cast iron sculpture that is located in the ByWard Market’s Beaux-Arts courtyard It was given to the National Capital Commission (NCC) by the Catholic Church in 1979. Before that point, the angel stood over the door of a cemetery chapel somewhere in Canada’s Capital Region.
- Franco-Ontarian mural: Located at 98 George Street in the alley of the ByWard Market’s Giant Tiger store, the A tribute to Franco-Ontarians mural covers 2,000 square feet (610 square metres). The colourful mural was painted by Ottawa native and artist Pierre Hardy.
Canadian Museum of History: This impressive curving building is located across the Ottawa River in Gatineau, Québec. This is a great place to take in unique art! Visit the museum itself, which is home to the world’s largest indoor collection of totem poles, and then head outside to see other works.
- Personnages: Located just outside of the museum’s doors, this large white sculpture was created by Montreal-based artist Louis Archambault, who is widely praised for his contribution to modern Canadian art. Personnages is made up of abstract steel “people” that are painted white.
- Mythic Messengers: This nine metre (30 feet) bronze casting decorates the museum’s exterior façade. Crafted by artist Bill Reid in 1984, this is one of the largest Haida Aboriginal castings ever made. This ornate casting represents the mythology of Reid’s Haida ancestry and illustrates the concept of communications existing between man and mythical creatures.
- Totem Pole: See this colourful totem pole on your way to or on your way back from the museum. Located on Sussex Drive near Rideau Falls Park, this carved work was done by Mungo Martin and was offered as a gift to Governor General Lord Alexander in 1946, when he was named as an Honorary Aboriginal Chief. The intricate pole features heritage symbols from the Kwakwaka’wakw Aboriginal Peoples of Canada’s Pacific coast.
Ottawa City Hall: Located on Laurier Avenue in Ottawa’s downtown core, Ottawa City Hall is home to a few interesting and interactive pieces of public art.
- V.I.P. (Virtual Instrument Paradigm): Designed by Ottawa region resident Michael Bussière in 1996, this art installation of concrete towers lets you participate in an interactive musical performance. All you have to do is stand below the video camera and wave your arms to conduct your own symphony. The responding computer then makes music for people nearby.
- The Lost Child: Located behind City Hall in a courtyard facing Elgin Street, this installation of carved granite stones was created by Inuit artist David Ruben Piqtoukun in 1990. The largest granite boulder in this structure weighs 27,000 kilograms (59,524 pounds) and is 5.8 metres (19 feet) tall. According to City Hall, The Lost Child illustrates triumph over the feeling of alienation in an urbanized world.
Library and Archives Canada: Here you will find another one of Ottawa’s favourite pieces of public art: The Secret Bench of Knowledge. Located at 395 Wellington Street, this beloved sculpture of a young couple sitting on a bench was created by Lea Vivot in 1993. Vivot simply put the sculpture on the street one night and removed it later, but not before Ottawa’s public fell in love with it. A replica of Vivot’s original work was then donated to the city by businessman and philanthropist Eugene Boccia. The charming sculpture is engraved with about 100 messages about the joy and value of reading. It’s also common to see tourists and residents alike sitting on the sculpture’s bench to pose for photos.
This is only a snapshot of Ottawa’s public art. Keep an eye out while you explore the city and you’re sure to find more murals and sculptures in areas such as Sparks Street, Bank Street, Major’s Hill Park and Commissioners Park.