Here’s to Sandy Hill


Denise J. Killick

It wasn’t by design that I moved into Sandy Hill but out of necessity. It was in 1983, 36 years ago, and I had found work in the old Bourque Building, later renamed the Constitution Building (and now about to become a student residence called Théo). Moving here meant I could literally roll down the hill to work.

Two years later, I returned to my first love, the stage, and began acting at Ottawa Little Theatre. Again, a short stroll down the street. I had been a props volunteer with the OLT children’s theatre program that toured high schools on Saturday afternoons, while I was a student in Stittsville

I have stayed here through the years since, near the corner of Besserer and Nelson.

When I bought my dog Buddy, a miniature schnauzer, I began walking everywhere. The most striking thing about Sandy Hill, for me, was the number and different varieties of trees lining every single street and in the parks. There were oak, black cherry, magnolia, linden, chestnut and of course the wonderful maple, symbol of “the true North, strong and free.”

We would often go to Macdonald Gardens off Wurtemburg where I would sketch and watch the birds, my favourite being the cardinal, still often seen and heard flitting among trees near my home. There are sparrows and crows too—I personally love crows having had one once as a pet. I’m a country girl at heart although I’ve learned to love the city.

I would often stand in awe of the homes and carriage houses of prime ministers and other parliamentarians and wonder what their lives were like in the days of no running hot water or electricity or automobiles. Many of the lovely old houses were repurposed for tourists during my years in the neighbourhood: McGee’s Inn, the Green Door and Bella Notte on Daly Avenue, and the handsome King Edward on King Edward Avenue.

Now, infill properties are popular; those boxy multi-level units exist where property prices are at a premium. Many large, tall condominium buildings have replaced once thriving small businesses.

Here are two of the great things Denise loves about Sandy Hill — the PAL Social Circle and the Ottawa Art Gallery, where the Circle had an evening out in late January. PAL is an organization of arts workers “caring for our own.” Pictured above, left to right, are Anne Maheux (paper conservator and PAL director), Jerry Grey (visual artist and founding PAL Ottawa board member), Jeremiah Bartram (puppeteer, former architect and PAL Supporting Cast volunteer), Julie Hodgson (arts administrator/Supporting Cast co-ordinator), Laura Astwood (ESL teacher, actor and Supporting Cast volunteer), Denise Killick (actor, performance artist, writer, poet, ACTRA Ottawa board member and PAL Supporting Cast client), and Jim McNabb (actor, director, former drama teacher at Canterbury High School and founding PAL Ottawa board member).

I love that Sandy Hill is home to many artists of a variety of disciplines. With the wonderful new addition of the Ottawa Art Gallery and its restaurant, the neighbourhood continues to grow, thrive and give us all a sense of community. I am pleased to see that although All Saints Church is no longer a church it is now home to arts and cultural events.

Going to catch a film at the ByTowne Cinema is the entertainment choice of many. Their popcorn is by far the best of any cinema in the city; do you know you can even take it out? But gone is Nate’s Deli on Rideau Street where I loved the smoked meat sandwiches and onion soup generously topped with white cheddar and served in a ramekin.

The Sandy Hill Community Health Centre opened a supervised injection site last year and many of my neighbours were very concerned about the impact. I have experienced little to no ill effect and if ever there is a disturbance, Ottawa Police Services always responds quickly to my concerns.

Thousands of students flock here each fall; I find they keep the neighbourhood young at heart. I have had many close neighbours over the years (and still do) who are students and I really enjoy their presence. There are various community housing projects bringing children to the schools. I love nothing more than to hear their voices chiming on about their day at school as they walk home. And there is a daycare centre that takes a string of brightly dressed little ones for daily walkabouts. They’re really cute to see—at least I think they are.

There is nothing more appealing than walking, cycling or driving between the Rideau River and the Rideau Canal. I have often paddled barefoot in the river on the flat stones among bull rushes and have canoed or boated on the canal several times.

As I sit writing this I’m thinking of spring and can hardly wait for the large magnolia trees down the street to blossom, emitting their glorious scent just before sunset. After that, there will be, I hope, a return of the bells and gong announcing the “Knife Man” and his van back for another summer, as he has been every year since I settled down on the sandy hill.