Anyone who has been to Ottawa knows the ByWard Market is one of Canada’s most revered squares. It only takes one visit to understand why. During the daytime, it’s a beautiful cityscape filled with bustling activity, outdoor vendors, shopping, restaurants and cafes. At night, it’s a magical landscape of lights, music, and people.
Of course, who can forget the food? I’d even dare say that restaurants in the ByWard Market are the primary reason why people come to visit. ByWard Market restaurants are extremely diverse, from Asian to South American to Italian cuisine. But just how did these restaurants come to be?
In the beginning, the Market was laid out by none other than Colonel John By himself, designating George Street and York Street to be main streets for bringing food to the Market. It was predominantly a commercial area, and today it remains one of Canada’s longest running farmer’s market. In retrospect, it’s safe to say that the availability of fresh food in the region foreshadowed the emergence of restaurants.
The ByWard Market continually expanded until the early 20th century. Although it was a mix of residential and commercial inhabitants, today the ByWard Market is predominantly a hub for commercial and cultural activities.
The French and Irish
The immigrant population of the ByWard Market area definitely influenced the emergence of various types of restaurants. The Irish and French were the first settlers to the area, and they were the builders of the Rideau Canal. Thus, the first eateries were casual dining places to meet the needs of these workers. Even today, Irish influence is quite noticeable in the ByWard Market by the presence of the many Irish pubs.
The first significant Italian immigration began at the beginning of the 20th century, after the ByWard Market’s final expansion. However, it wasn’t until after the Second World War that Italian cuisine first appeared. This marked the period of the largest immigration of Italians to Canada. Not surprisingly, their love of food followed with the opening of many Italian restaurants.
Emergence of Different Restaurant Typologies
It’s ultimately the various cultural groups who influenced the rise of the multitude of ByWard Market restaurants. Throughout the 20th century as people began moving out of the downtown core, more commercial space became available. From this opportunity a series of food typologies were created.
For example, a rise in tourist activity resulted in the necessity for food vendors who could provide quick, inexpensive meal options. Twenty-four seven pubs were opened to meet the demands of youth who wanted a place to hang out after leaving the nightclubs. On the other hand, fine Italian cuisine restaurants arose from the requirement for those who wanted a romantic dinner out.
As of today, there are 109 ByWard Market restaurants, beating any other type of commercial business in the region. With Ottawa’s growing and diverse population, the city is blessed with every culinary variety imaginable—there’s something for everyone, from African, Middle Eastern to delicious Italian cuisine.