Gay Ottawa: Laid-back charm amid queer history

The capital of Canada, Ottawa is located along the scenic Ottawa River and is just a two-hour drive west from Montreal and a five-hour drive northeast from Toronto, two of the largest cities and most exciting gay meccas in Canada.

Gay Village

Nowadays, an organization is lobbying to establish a six-block section of Ottawa's Bank Street as the official LGBT-friendly Village. For the queer traveller, with or without the official designation, this is the part of city where you can easily to key hot spots, including shopping, nightlife and support services. Outside of the Village are bars further north on or near Bank Street, and another few in the Market. Ottawa is not as large and flashy as wealthy, super-sized Toronto or sexy, hedonistic Montreal, but it has a more laid-back charm and locals are generally a pretty friendly bunch.

Hot Spots

At night, Ottawa has a lot to offer the gays. Centretown Pub (the locals call it CP) is THE bar to go to for a relaxed atmosphere, although its also the most cruisy of bars, too. Its usually busiest on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, especially with the over-30 and the leather/bear crowd. On Thursdays, check out the Lookouts Thirsty Boy Thursdays. Younger queers of all stripes of the rainbow usually prefer the Edge or HUMP Wednesdays at the awesome Mercury Lounge. Lesbians have best luck on Fridays at the Lookout in the Market. If youre a karaoke addict, you can sing your heart out all weekend long; at Swizzles on Friday and Sunday nights, and Shanghai Restaurant in Chinatown on Saturday. If drags your thing, then check out CP on Friday, HUMP on the aforementioned Wednesday or the Edge on Sunday. In summer months CPs front and back patios are packed all week long, as is the Edges rooftop patio on Tuesdays and Sundays. And if you strike out at the bars, there are two bathhouses in Ottawa, though only one is conveniently located in the Village. They may not be beautiful, but they can scratch the itch in a pinch.


Ottawa is a great destination in and of itself. On the Ontario/Quebec provincial border, Ottawa is just a bridge away from its sister city, Gatineau, where you can visit the Canadas Museum of Civilization and the Casino Lac-Leamy. Boasting the Houses of Parliament, Supreme Court of Canada, the National Gallery of Canada, the National Arts Centre and Canadian War Museum, Ottawa is full of exciting historic, arts and cultural sights. Other not-to-be-missed sights include the stunning Chteau Laurier, Rideau Canal, Confederation Park, Lord Elgin Hotel and the War Memorial.

Shop Til You Drop

For shopping there are lots of convenient spots in the downtown core. A trip would be incomplete without a visit to the ByWard Market area and nearby Sussex Drive, which boast an amazing array of restaurants and pricey boutique shops. Sparks Street is a pedestrian-only street for ease of walking around the shopping promenade, and Elgin (filled with restaurants and a wide array of mostly straight bars) and Bank (home of the burgeoning gay Village) Streets are both large commercial streets in Centretown worth a walk through. South of the Queensway, the Glebe is a hip, urban shopping spot, but beware of double-strollers and gourmet-coffee-wielding locals. And for those raised in a mall, the Rideau Centre is a must.

Eat & Sleep

Downtown is full of comfortable and convenient place to rest your weary head. And since Ottawa probably has more restaurants per capita than any Canadian city, in an astounding array of multi-cultural cuisines, you will certainly eat well if you are a gourmet. A city on a smaller scale, most places of interest will be well within walking distance, avoiding the hassle of driving and parking. Public transit by bus is also a convenient option, and finding a taxi is never too taxing.

Queer History

For the queer traveller, Ottawa boats a proud history. The first-ever Canadian gay protest (We Demand) was held on Parliament Hill in Aug 1971, only two years after New York Citys famous Stonewall Riots and when gay sex was decriminalized by the federal government. The Lord Elgin Hotel was once a hot spot for closeted gay government workers to mingle and cruise after working hours. Weve also seen supreme court cases like Vancouvers Little Sisters Bookstores fight against Canada Customs for the seizing and destruction of queer-themed material at border crossings, and of course the fight for gay marriage in Canada was waged and won here as well, making Ottawa a go-to spot for foreign same-sex couples wishing to marry.

Seasonal Gay Getaways

Special times to visit would be in February for Winterlude (and the gay-male-themed snowblower festival); May for the Tulip Festival; July 1 for Canada Day; late August for Capital Pride Festival; October for Fall Rhapsody, where nearby Gatineau Park turns into a brilliant live Group of Seven painting; and December for the holiday lights in Centretown. Weather is cold and dry in winter; hot & humid in summer.

Upcoming Events

Capital Pride

"Fierté dans la Capitale"

Bank Street @ Somerset Street West

August 19-27