Summer tours offer locals a unique chance to visit their own neighbourhood
If you asked someone 30 years ago where the best place to eat in Ottawa is, they’d tell you to “go to Montreal.”
But not anymore.
More and more food lovers are beginning to tour their own city through the culinary arts and Stefanie Siska of C’est Bon Cooking Tours witnesses it every week – locals discovering something new about their own neighbourhood they had no idea existed.
“I can guarantee you in every circuit in every neighbourhood we always have locals say, ‘I drive by here all the time, but I never stop, and now I am floored by what I’ve discovered,’” says Siska, sipping a coffee at Little Victories in the Glebe.
C’est Bon’s year-round tour takes food lovers on a cruise through the Glebe’s epic food scene – from the Farmers’ Market, all the way down Bank Street to The Joy of Gluten Free. The tour makes several stops along the way at places like Sen Asian, The Rowan, Soup Guy Café, and other restaurants, but it’s not just sit-down eateries. The tour also takes people through the Glebe’s unique food shops like Knifewear, and the Unrefined Olive for a wholistic view of the culinary community.
“The experience is definitely about the food, but it’s also about interacting with the owners, the chefs, the managers of the different notable people that have made the neighbourhood a food destination,” she says. “It’s not just restaurants. We want everybody to really feel a full experience of what Ottawa food is. Who are our farmers? What is this area producing? Who are our food artisans and producers that are putting us on the map?”
Siska has teamed up this year with Maria Rasouli of Escape Bicycle tours for a combined Bikes and Bites tour that will take cyclists on a scenic route from downtown to the Glebe, where they will disembark and tour the area’s food scene. With more and more locals exploring their own city through tours, Siska and Rasouli saw it as a no-brainer to team up.
“Ottawa has always been a very bikeable city,” says Siska, adding that the Bikes and Bites tour run every Sunday from May to October, while the solo C’est Bon Taste of the Glebe Tour runs Wednesday through Sunday.
“It just seemed like a right fit. I want to see more local residents discover what we have so they can be ambassadors for visitors more often. I can pretty much guarantee that you will learn something new about the neighbourhood that you didn’t know before.”
But it’s not just through food and cycling that locals are starting to see their own neighbourhood under a tourism light. Just ask Annabelle Bergevin, operations manager at Lady Dive Tours. She sees scores of locals take her double-decker bus tour through the Glebe every summer – and they all come away seeming to have learned something special.
“Usually when we have vacation, we are going to go and visit somewhere else. We tend not to visit our own city, but Ottawa has so much to offer,” she says.
The Lady Dive double-decker bus cruises through the Glebe every Saturday and Sunday in July and August, with a stop at Bank and Third Avenue, and another at Lansdowne Park. What’s fun about the Lady Dive tours is that patrons can hop on and hop off as they please, allowing both residents and tourists to check out a neighbourhood for a few hours, and then continue on with their sightseeing tour.
“There is a lot of things that we don’t know about Ottawa – things we think we know, but we really don’t,” adds Bergevin.
“Not only do we get to learn a lot of things about the history, the architecture, the attractions, but we also get to discover new places that we tend not to go to. In the Glebe, there are so many local products, a bunch of new restaurants to discover, so there is a lot we can get out of a tour of our own city.”
There are so many ways for Glebeites to tour their own neighbourhood under a different perspective. Rent a canoe and paddle along Dow’s Lake. Rent a Velo-Go bike at Lansdowne to cruise through the neighbourhood and browse the stunning roster of outdoor murals. Or take the Bikes and Bites tour and taste what the neighbourhood really has to offer.
There’s a lot to gain from being a tourist in your own city. Bring your camera.