A new neighbourhood walking tour: Around the world in Sandy Hill

Hilary Duff

When I moved back to Ottawa in February 2020 after four years of living abroad, I still had itchy feet. I love to travel, and since 2015 I’d had the privilege of interviewing folks in more than 20 countries in my various roles as a journalist and communications consultant.

Settling in Sandy Hill, I planned to continue travelling often for work. But COVID-19 had other plans. And so, in the early days of the pandemic, I found myself having to get creative as to how I “travel.”

That’s where Sandy Hill’s more than two dozen embassies, diplomatic offices, and ambassadorial residences entered the picture. Soon, I found myself guessing the flags along our many leafy streets; I watched seasons change over the under-construction Egyptian Embassy (Range Road and Laurier Avenue East). I wrote about restorations of the Estonian and Moroccan embassies in past issues of IMAGE. While not exactly the same as visiting a new country, I tried to approach my neighbourhood walks with the same sense of curiosity I’d have when wandering the streets of a faraway place.

On Sunday, October 23, I’ll be sharing some of the stories of these diplomatic missions in a new walking tour for Heritage Ottawa. It’s called “Around the World in Sandy Hill” and I’ve had a blast putting it together.

Here’s my pitch as to why you should join that tour: I think there can be a sense that Sandy Hill’s heritage is something confined to yesteryear. We can get all too nostalgic about how our neighbourhood used to be before Building A became a large apartment building or Building B was rezoned and is now a student bunkhouse.

This tour will serve up all the architectural splendor and heritage home talk you might expect from a walk with Heritage Ottawa. From former prime ministers to lumber barons to tales from the Second World War, the tour takes a deep dive into the archives to uncover stories of our neighbourhood’s past residents.

History not your thing? Don’t worry, the dust ends there. As a journalist, I’ve been fascinated to chat with people about how the present-day destiny of these buildings collides with some of the issues we face in our community (and the world) today.

For example, on any given weekday you might notice the line of U.S. state license plates along Range Road in front of Venezuela’s embassy. Perhaps you’ve cheered for the tenacious group of protesters standing by Russia’s Embassy on Charlotte “Free Ukraine” Street. Or maybe you’ve watched the decaying state of the former Uganda High Commission and other chanceries in our neighbourhood. This tour is also about these stories—the modern function and form of these properties and the people connected to them.

I hope you’ll join me and Heritage Ottawa on Sunday, October 23, from 2:00 to 3:30 p.m. for this Around the World in Sandy Hill tour. There’s a $25 cost for non-members, with all ticket proceeds going to the organization. Advanced registration is required, and can be done at https://heritageottawa.org/events/around-world-sandy-hill

My sincere thanks to the late François Bregha for his input on an early version of this tour. François poured hours into his “Sandy Hill History” research, the results of which can be found at: www.ash-acs.ca/history. I’ve also pestered heritage architect and Sandy Hill resident Barry Padolsky more times than I’d like to admit (thanks, Barry!).  —Hilary Duff