Literary City Guide | oTTAWA, CANADA

Hail! to the city sitting as a queen
Enthroned a cataract on either hand,
The voice of many waters in her ears,
And the great river tranquil at her feet
— Nora Pembroke, from "Ottawa"

Tour Guide: Ellie Ellias

Ellie lives in a Bigfoot camper with her boyfriend, a cat, and a puppy. She's passionate about writing, traveling, and truffle oil on everything. Find her blogging over at Middle Class Gypsies.


Relationship to Ottawa: I was raised in Ottawa by a writer and a musician. 

Writer you’d like to invite to dinner: Jeffrey Eugenides 

Chef you’d like to prepare the meal: Stuart Cameron 

Writing soundtrack: Deer Tick, Laura Marling, Leonard Cohen, Ryan Adams

Pen or Pencil: Black ballpoint pen

Coffee or Tea? Coffee (before breathing) 

Paperback or Hardback? Paperback (much cozier)

Good Reads


Black Squirrel Books & Tea. This newer wonderland of used books, was once packed into a tiny space. Their new location is bigger, but has managed to retain its undeniably cozy atmosphere. They claim to specialize in academic non-fiction, and certainly have an incredible selection of it, but there is truly something for everyone here. It is hard to walk down one aisle of the Black Squirrel without weighing your arms down with gems, and the coffee & tea bar and vintage couches by the window make it easy to spend a whole afternoon here. 

Octopus Bookstore. Octopus Bookstore has lived to see the fall of many independent booksellers since it first opened in 1969. Located in a charming, old, white and green house, Octopus is run and owned by a group of proud socialists and feminists, and specializes in political and cultural books, and the words of revolutionary thinkers. 

Perfect Books. Perfect Books is an independent seller of new books, and a great place to get your fix of fiction. Their stock is very carefully selected, and they offer genuinely helpful recommendations from people who really cherish books. 

Books on Beechwood. Books on Beechwood is a community-centric bookstore with fantastic displays of local talent as well as reflections of local interest, also including among the books a selection of CDs by Ottawa area musicians and greeting cards by regional artists.


Rockliffe Park. The library in Rockcliffe Park is relatively small, and doesn't necessarily have the widest selection. But it is housed in a nice building with lots of light and good places to sit, which makes it an inviting spot to browse and a peaceful place to read. 

Ottawa Main Library. This is the main branch of the Ottawa Public Library, and the most accessible spot to stop for a literature fix in between downtown's restaurants and shops. It is open and airy with more than enough sections to get lost in. 

Library and Archives of Canada. Anyone with an interest in history or simply a fondness for nostalgic treasures should visit the Library and Archives of Canada. Their collection of documents and records includes roughly 3 million maps, 24 million photographs, and all of the old newspapers you can imagine. Make an appointment before you go.


Tree Reading Series. This series has been running since 1980, and features mostly poetry, with a spattering of prose. Currently being held at the Black Squirrel, they have introduced many emerging writers to the scene over the years with their "open" readings, and are an essential part of Ottawa's literary community. 

Plan 99. Plan 99 is a contemporary reading series which takes place in the Manx, an impossibly cozy little hideaway of a pub on Elgin Street. They specialize in small-press talent.

Prose In The Park. This is a brand new literary festival held outdoors in the open air. The inaugural event, held in June, dazzled with panels on everything from crime writing to graphic novels to "memories of Vietnam"; an interview with Giller Prize winning Vincent Lam;  and book launches from such talent as Governor General award winner Rosemary Sullivan.


World of Maps. As a writer, a reader, a traveller, and just a person, Westboro's World of Maps has always acted as a fountain of abundant inspiration. Its rows of stunning globes, vintage maps, and carefully selected travel books fill the imagination with tantalizing visions of near, far, and even farther. 

Great Glebe Garage Sale. The Great Glebe Garage Sale, an event held each May in the old and relatively untouched Glebe neighbourhood, is not strictly focused on books. Homeowners in the area set up tables selling various gently used treasures as they do at all garage sales. However, something in the water in this part of the city seems to produce the most eclectic and fascinating selections of goods, and every year I walk away with bags full of books that I am just dying to dive into. 

Beechwood Cemetery. Many Canadian literary talents have found their final resting place at Beechwood Cemetery. Take an afternoon stroll, and stop to read a poem to Archibald Lampman or John Newlove. It is especially peaceful in the fall when the leaves are changing color.

Good Eats


Raw Sugar Cafe. There are few places in Ottawa—or anywhere else for that matter—that are more perfect to spend time in than the Raw Sugar Cafe in Chinatown. A coffee and treat shop by day and small, hip event venue by night, Raw Sugar draws you in with their mini spinach pies and homemade "beermonade", and keeps you there for hours with their selection of books, board games, couches, and music. 

The Sconewitch. It might not technically be a coffee shop, but they have great coffee, and they have great scones. For a quick bite while refueling, the vanilla cream and lemon poppyseed are great choices, and for lunch, their savory "sconewitch" selections include goat cheese with tomato and pesto on a feta scone, and poached salmon with cucumber on an herb and onion scone. 

Morala. Morala is a small, cozy coffee shop in the Glebe. It is surrounded by boutiques, making it the perfect place to stop and refuel with a fresh brew. They also have great salads, sandwiches, and empanadas here.


Whalesbone Oyster House. The atmosphere is fantastic in this Bank St. seafood joint. They offer a varied selection of fresh oysters alongside a modest menu of alternative seafood dishes, including a sensational lobster roll with fries and aioli on the side. 

The Standard. The menu at The Standard is unassuming, but the food they bring you always has a certain "je ne sais quoi". Their Sunday brunch is arguably the best on competitive Elgin Street, and they are also home to the exceptional "Watermelon Fizz" cocktail, made with lemonade, soda, and house-infused watermelon vodka.  

Khao Thai. Khao Thai, located in the heart of the Byward Market, is renowned for its authentic, flavorful Thai dishes. It is the perfect place to go to fill your body with fresh chilies, lemongrass, and exotic spices in a romantic setting. 

Rosie’s. Rosie's is truly unique in its blend of traditional and innovative; exotic and comfortable. The Southern kitchen and raw bar manages to put octopus nicoise with quail egg serrano tapenade on the same menu as macaroni and cheese balls, Southern fried chicken, and Rib Eye steak with chipotle butter and double smoked bacon, with everything feeling and tasting completely authentic and carefully crafted. The atmosphere is lively and unpretentious, and you always leave Rosie's feeling warm.


Flying Banzini. The Flying Banzini is not strictly a dessert spot; they also make wonderful roast meat sandwiches in an open kitchen. Their specialty, though, is their delectable mini cheesecakes. Their bite-sized New York cherry and salted caramel chocolate options deliver just the right amount of rich in a way that invites you to devour several more. 

Kettleman's Bagels. The best wood-fired oven bagels outside of Montreal can be found here. The aroma alone is almost enough to satisfy your craving for baked goods, and it's never too late to get your fix: Kettleman's is open 24 hours a day. 

Suzy Q Doughnuts. The handcrafted doughnuts at this little Hintonburg shop are to die for. Among the standby "Dirty Chocolate" and Salty Caramel, they feature inventive flavors like Blue Vanilla Froot Loop (surprisingly decadent), Raspberry Lemonade, Maple Bacon, and "London Fog" made with vanilla bean and earl grey tea.


ELLIE'S 5 Favorites

1. Favorite view: A panoramic view of the city including the Ottawa River and the Parliament Buildings can be found at Nepean Point. It's a great place to catch the spectacular fireworks show on Canada Day. 

2. Favorite place to write: Hog's Back Falls. Coffee shops with WiFi are great and all, but you just can't beat sitting in nature and writing on paper. Bring your own thermos of coffee, sit far enough away from the waterfalls that you manage to be alone, and inspire yourself. 

3. Favorite museum: The National Art Gallery. You can't miss this place...if your eyes aren't already fixed on the building itself, an architectural marvel designed by Moshe Safdie, you will certainly notice the immense sculpture of a spider outside, complete with a sack of 26 white marble eggs under its belly. Inside, you will be treated to beautiful collections of Canadian, European, and American art, with a rotating selection of contemporary art, special exhibitions, and photography. 

4. Favorite coffee shop: Bluebird Coffee. They are passionate about their freshly roasted coffee here, and that's enough for me. Much quieter than the surrounding coffee chains, and an unpretentious place to enjoy a truly excellent cup of joe. 

5. Favorite thing about Ottawa: Over the past few years, this perpetually quiet town has started to blossom with hip eateries and trendy stores, announcing that it is growing. I can't complain about the great food, but no matter how hard Ottawa tries, it will never be a booming, bustling metropolis: and that is the essence of its charm.