June 16, 2016

Elgin Street – My Urban Village by Liz Lesh

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village is a clustered human settlement or community. The term “urban village” is used to describe a neighbourhood in the heart of a city with pedestrian and public space. Elgin Street is my “urban village”.

During my 8 years working on Elgin Street, I have found and cultivated my own little village.  I am always meeting people, friends, restaurants, bars and discovering something new every time I walk the Elgin Street village.

At least once a week I bump into Mayor Jim Watson who is usually visiting my friend Dino, owner of Johnny Farina’s http://www.johnnyfarina.com/

My “urban village”, where you can you walk the neighbourhood, bump into the Mayor and say “hey, how’s your hip?” (Mayor Watson broke his hip last year).

Dino is often on the patio of Johnny Farina or working the floor of the restaurant.  We always exchange in a little conversation.  “Hey, how you doing?  What’s going on at the hotel…send me some business…”, and so the bantering continues. Always friendly, fun, and with mutual respect for each other’s business and referrals.

I have found so many little treasures at St. John’s Church “gently used” Community Shop!  Books, gifts, wine glasses, jeans, etc.  I doubt I ever spent more than $4.00. But, the best part of my shopping at this Church haunt are the conversations I overhear from some of the volunteers.  It’s like walking into a story book.

I have been picked up at Dollarama, winked at by police officers. I have seen relationships take place at coffee shops and relationships end at Sir John A Pub.  So much happens in my village.  Honestly, can Elgin Street be any more fun?!

I’m sad when I see a store, a restaurant or a grocery store close, and I find myself wondering why, what happened, are they o.k.? This is my village and I care about my friends in the village.  Most recently, I am heartbroken to hear that Boushey’s Fruit Market is closing!  I know it’s just a reflection of our new Big Box world!  And, although I am guilty of shopping at the big box stores, I will miss the personal connection with the Boushey Family.

I get excited when new restaurants and stores move in to the village.   Pure Kitchen is opening next week for all us Yogi health enthusiasts, http://www.purekitchenottawa.com/ .

And, Whalesbone Oyster House new location should be open any minute for “a shuck of a good time”.   Oh yes, I will be “shucking” on Elgin very soon.  http://thewhalesbone.com/elgin-street

One day, I bumped into Mike McCann, the guy who sets up the bike racks on Elgin St.  Mike was walking into Hair Dynamic for a cut and I followed him into the shop.  Since that day 4 years ago, Georgette, the owner of Hair Dynamics has been my hairdresser.  BTW, speaking of small village, Mike McCann is married to the one of Al Saikley’s daughers, from Al’s Steak House on Elgin, and part of my urban village.  http://www.alssteakhouse.ca/  Side note, Al Saikley passed away in March of this year.  An Elgin Street legend!

Another day I was on my way to pick up groceries and bumped into Francesca, a client of the Lord Elgin Hotel who I have done business with for many years.  Francesca was on her way home and we both said, what the heck, let’s go for a drink…we ended up at Johnny’s (our name for Johnny Farina).  Francesca and I always had a great working relationship, but with the help of wine and the comfort of our village, we bonded on another level on at Johnny’s.  Of course Dino joined us for some bantering as well.  “Hey, how you doing? Is the hotel full? How are the renovations going?”…and so the village bantering continues.

I spontaneously bought a fabulous painting from a very talented Indigenous artist who sells his art on the street.  I have no idea what his name is, but in our village, it really does not matter.  I always stop to admire his work and I enjoy listening to his life stories. Trust me, this artist should write a book.

I say hello, I high five, I nod, I smile and often stop to talk to many of my neighbours such as, Katie Dolan and Michael Crockatt from Ottawa Tourism,  a few Court house Judges, some city councillors, many Shopify hipsters, Gowlings lawyers,  pan handlers, the “knitter”, the man with his black Labrador dog in a shopping cart, the lunch time “walker” who’s got swagger and wears baggy shorts, then, of course there’s the gorgeous guy with the argentinian pitbull .  If you are part of the Elgin Street urban village, you know, and love these characters.

I like to believe that I am one of the characters in my village, perhaps the glamourous woman who wears red lipstick and always dresses in black.

Elgin Street is my urban village and I love it.