Ottawa is Canada’s capital city, but it’s so much more than politics. The food, culture and proximity to nature make it a great place to discover, but this charming city is also becoming quite the queer destination for locals and visitors alike. Maybe you even heard the news that the city’s mayor shared right before Pride 2019? Ottawa’s Mayor came out in a personal editorial in the pages of the local newspaper. People in Ottawa were thrilled for him.
Seeing the city
Ottawa is a beautiful, welcoming city that has an important place in the country’s LGBTQ2+ history - it was here on Parliament Hill that the first-ever public gay and lesbian demonstration in Canada took place on August 28, 1971. You can see a vibrant mural called “We Demand” commemorating that demonstration in the heart of the city’s Village. The Village itself covers a six block by two block area of Bank Street downtown—from Nepean to James Streets (north to south) and Kent and O’Connor Streets (west to east). This growing gayborhood is surrounded by well-established and newly blossoming LGBTQ2+ owned and welcoming bars such as Swizzles, as well as restaurants and coffee shops, including the lesbian owned coffee house chain, Bridgehead Coffee.
Ottawa’s no drag
Drag in Ottawa is exploding, but it’s doing so in a way you don’t see in a lot of other places. Not only are there regular drag shows pretty much every night of the week, but drag kings and drag burlesque performers are also hitting the stage. If late night parties aren’t you thing, head over to the Vanitea Room for their monthly drag brunch hosted by the indomitable Devona. Or try the Vanitea Room drag dinners that happen twice a month - eat, dance, drink and be merry! A $35 bottomless dinner (and that’s Canadian dollars!) includes 1.5 hour bottomless bubbles, supper and a whole lot of entertainment!
Drag and then some!
Looking for a different kind of drag dinner? Shanghai Restaurant has you covered. This family owned and operated, old school Canadian Chinese restaurant opened back in the 1971. Head chef Edward Kwan serves up delicious spring rolls, chow mein and other favorites, but every Saturday night at 9pm since 2005, Edward leaves the kitchen and heads to the front of the house in a brand-new outfit, hairstyle and name: China Doll. She’s the Shanghai’s resident Karaoke queen, giving her all for a fabulous evening of song and merriment!
So much to see
Ottawa is a hotbed of arts and culture, home to seven national museums including the newly renovated National Gallery of Canada, the Canadian Museum of History (where you’ll find the unusual “Gay Sweater”), the Canadian Museum of Nature , the Canadian War Museum (which exhibits the infamous “fruit machine,” a post-WW2 device that was supposed to help identify gays and lesbians. All it did was ruin lives) and more. You can even buy an Equality dollar coin at the Royal Canadian Mint, commemorating 50 years since Canada took the first step towards decriminalizing homosexuality. To get a full taste of Ottawa’s LGBTQ2+ culture, head over to the recently reopened SAW Gallery. This queer run exhibit space champions diversity in all forms and is one of Canada's leading contemporary artist-run centers. They also host a monthly queer party in their performance space.
People in Ottawa enjoy their outdoor activities: hiking, biking, skating, rafting, they’ll try it all! To see the city on two wheels, visit the LGBTQ2+ owned Escape Bicycle Tours and Rentals. You can join in on a group tour, book a private tour or just rent bikes for a few hours to discover the city on your own. Ottawa has over 124 miles of bicycle paths—easy paths along the city’s rivers and canals, and more challenging ones in beautiful Gatineau Park, only minutes from downtown. Visitors are often surprised to see that there’s a canal running through the city – the Rideau Canal. In wintertime, The Rideau Canal Skateway is the world’s longest outdoor skating rink, right in the heart of the city. Some Ottawans even skate to work!
There’s always a festival on in Ottawa
August and the brand new WinterPride in February. Most winter Prides are all about skiing, but in Canada’s capital, it’s all about celebrating the community through shows, a community awards night, outdoor activities and more. In October there’s also Ottawa Inside Out, the annual queer film festival and in 2019, the SAW Gallery hosted the world’s first 2-Spirit ball (2-spirit a term used by some Indigenous people to describe their sexual, gender and/or spiritual identity). It’s expected to become an annual event every August, held during the city’s Alternative Pride Week.
To stay on top of all things LGBTQ2+ in Ottawa, visit Tourism Ottawa’s LGBTQ2+ page. The Village Legacy project has also developed a guided tour of Ottawa’s queer history that you can do on your own.