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Deek Labelle, general manager of Ottawa’s oldest tavern, known as ‘The Laff,’ supports the modernization of the historical ByWard Market area.JAMES PARK

Deek Labelle is happy to hear that changes are coming to the ByWard Market in Ottawa, especially since her family has been involved with one of the city’s oldest businesses for nearly half a century.

Modernization of the area will have a positive impact on the city, according to Ms. Labelle, general manager of Chateau Lafayette.

“It would change everything with how business is done in the ByWard Market,” says Ms. Labelle, a board member of the ByWard Market BIA.

‘The Laff’ as it’s better known, is Ottawa’s oldest tavern. It was established not long after the ByWard Market itself – one of Canada’s oldest and largest public markets – was first established in 1826. Ms. Labelle’s family has been involved with the property since the 1960s.

The preferred design concept for the area, to be presented to stakeholders this month, is set to be an unprecedented revitalization project combining European market influence, pedestrian-friendly access and a modernized shopping experience for the city’s busiest attraction.

With more than 600 businesses, the iconic ByWard Market is the epicentre for tourism and a key economic driver for Ottawa.

From a bakery visited by former U.S. president Barack Obama to a hand-made-hat boutique, there is no more eclectic a collection of shops and businesses.

But Ms. Labelle says the area has been neglected over the years in terms of improvements. The reason, she says, is a combination of over-governance and living by the mantra of, “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”

Despite the area showing its age, the ByWard Market still gets upwards of 50,000 visitors a weekend in the summer months, according to the BIA.

“The ByWard Market is the No.1 tourism destination in the city,” says Ms. Labelle, “and the city needs to pay it that respect.”

Constructing new buildings has never been a priority for the ByWard Market, Ms. Labelle says, because of the heritage look and feel of many of them. But a $360-million investment into modernizing the Rideau Centre, a 148-store shopping mall, is having a residual effect.

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The Byward Market area has been neglected over the years, in terms of improvements, says Deek Labelle.JAMES PARK

Although the Rideau Centre is not technically in the ByWard Market, it’s directly adjacent to the area and the two destinations share foot traffic.

The renovation began in earnest six years ago, as a plan was in motion for Nordstrom to replace a Sears store. The new Rideau Centre has been part of a rejuvenation of Ottawa’s central tourist area as Parliament Hill, the Fairmont Chateau Laurier, and Canada’s Senate are all getting upgrades, along with the mall. The ByWard Market is next.

The impact of Ottawa’s new light-rail transit system – although it’s currently in a state of disarray operationally – will also play a significant role, says Brian O’Hoski, the Rideau Centre’s general manager. There is a stop right underneath the mall, across from the ByWard Market.

While Mr. O’Hoski was mum on whether or not there would be office towers added to the Rideau Centre – which would give the ByWard Market area some much-needed Class A vacancy – he did confirm there is an opportunity.

“We do have future plans for density at this site,” he says. “There are chances to go up in a couple spots. It’s early days but we’re investigating.”

The ByWard Market is instead chock-full of cost-effective B-class office space, says Jessica Whiting, a senior sales representative at Colliers in Ottawa.

The ByWard Market is the No.1 tourism destination in the city, and the City needs to pay it that respect.


Ms. Whiting says most of the office tenants in the area can fit into three buckets: trendsetters, incubators or boutique firms. As soon as a company needs more than 10,000 square feet, she says, they’ll start to look to expand to Ottawa’s central business district instead.

Ottawa’s new infrastructure projects, combined with an updated central tourism district, and the proposed changes to the ByWard Market, are something everyone can agree on, according to Ms. Labelle.

“The excitement is there,” she says, “and the need and the desire for it to happen is huge.”

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