We are lucky to have them, and their visionary proprietors, right here
Michael de la Mothe
On a pleasant October afternoon, my family and I took a stroll through Strathcona Park, crossing the Adàwe bridge, and walking to the Clubhouse Restaurant at the Rideau Sports Centre. As we enter the restaurant, the dulcet tones of local musician Luca Bovo playing U2’s “With or Without You” washes over us. Applause fills the room. Our family finds a seat and says hello to the more than a dozen other families from the neighbourhood who came to hear Luca play. This is more than just a local musician’s routine gig, it is a neighbourhood gathering.
This gathering was made possible because of the recent investment in the Rideau Sports Centre. RSC is more than just a new beautiful state-of-the-art multi-sport & wellness facility; the centre is based on a community fitness model, where people of all ages from all over Ottawa can come for drop-in classes (tennis, fitness, yoga), join a league or book a sport court (tennis, volleyball, basketball, soccer, deck hockey). Its restaurant, The Clubhouse Restaurant, welcomes everyone (including families like mine with very active young kids) to be part of their budding community.
Later that week, my sons and I headed over to the Working Title cafe after dinner (located in the basement of allsaints) to enjoy their grand opening. The president and founder, Leanne Moussa, warmly greeted us, and my boys quickly found their place on the bar stools. As they awaited their treats, the boys were more than happy to run gleefully throughout the open spaces of the cafe, feeling right at home.
Over the past 18 months, these two large-scale refurbishments (allsaints – Leanne Moussa and the Rideau Sports Centre – Nicki Bridgland) have sought to reimagine historic properties in Sandy Hill and Overbrook with an eye towards developing multi-use community spaces. Without a doubt, these are not charities. They have been built to serve the community and turn a profit. But it is the way in which they are being developed that is of note.
Both projects are creating new spaces in old structures, are focused on providing goods and services that are undersupplied in the area, are led by women entrepreneurs, and are complex large scale investments. This last part is what strikes me. There are often large-scale investments in the neighbourhood, but they tend to be focused on condos or apartments to serve students. In the eleven years I’ve lived in Sandy Hill, the RSC and allsaints investments are completely novel.
It takes a lot of guts to put your vision, your investors’ money, and yourself on the line. In a city where the government provides stability which some might call low risk, the women who lead these projects have shown faith that their visions will resonate with the communities they serve.
I think we are all extremely lucky that people like this exist, and exist in our neighbourhood. Ottawa needs more people like Leanne and Nicki to help shape our communities but also to show each other that it is possible to dream big, work hard and succeed within your neighbourhood.