There’s so much on history and culture on Ottawa’s famous Sparks Street. About 200 years ago Ottawa’s shopping street was no more than a path whacked through the woods by a gentleman called Nicholas Sparks. The oldest photo that exists of Sparks Street shows a muddy track with pigs digging in the dirt. But how did Sparks Street get its name?
A certain Nicholas Sparks was born in Ireland and moved to Canada, then 24 years old, to work in the logging industry for the Wright family in 1816. In 1823 young Nicholas borrowed 95 pounds to buy a swath of land, which today more or less covers Ottawa’s business district and the area further east to Sandy Hill. He then made his money selling off the land. Later in life, Sparks became a member of the first Ottawa City council.
Not surprisingly, he named a street after himself: Sparks Street. Sparks Street was the street to be seen at: it had shops, ‘dining rooms’, theatres, hotels, banks and lumber companies and later a number of department stores. Sparks Street even saw streetcars running through it, which were removed in 1959 though.
Let’s have a quick walk through Sparks starting at Elgin St. At the corner of Elgin, you’ll find the beautifully restored Canada Post Office, finished in 1939 and combining Chateauesque style (look at the roof line) and Art Deco elements. In front of the building stands a large copy of the Stanley Cup. Across the street, you will find the historic building of the Ottawa Electric Railway and upscale restaurant and bar Riviera.
Right in front of Riviera is Ottawa artist Bruce Garner’s 1970 sculpture ‘Joy’ showing stylized dancing children: we often see families taking pictures of the sculpture. It really is a symbol of joy (and an Instagram moment). Our store is located right next to it.
You don’t want to miss Canada’s Four Corners building located at the intersection of Sparks and Metcalfe Streets, built of roughly dressed stone and contrasting smooth stone finishes in Second Empire style. A few doors west you will now find the Four Corners boutique, a popular store for Canadian crafts and artwork. Take a peek inside, there is always good stuff to find.
Crossing O’Connor, you will see a former Bank of Montreal building in the Beaux-Art style. It may look like a Greek temple with its Doric columns, but it was only built-in 1930. Look up at the images of Canadian industry and architecture.
On the south side you’ll find ‘Biermarkt’, offering local beers; next to it are the Ottawa offices of the CBC. Sometimes you will see reporters taping their talk for the evening news. Don’t make faces behind them when the camera is running!
At the end of this block on the corner with Bank St is the Wellington Building, a massive structure in the Beaux-Art style, built-in 1925-1927, which used to house the Metropolitan Life Assurance. Across from Bank St is another eatery with its own brewery: ‘Les Trois Brasseurs’. Right ahead of you is the Bank of Canada with its own museum. Rumour has it that there are large amounts of gold reserves buried underneath the bank.
In spring there is a week-long Ribfest with rib cookers battling for the best ribs. During lunch hour, there are long line ups of office workers, ready for a break from writing policies. In the summer you can enjoy Buskerfest. Also, look for the bean bags that are sometimes out and a scattering of chairs. There are many cheap eats on Sparks too, catering to the lunch crowd. If you are in a rush, you may want to try one of the smaller eateries, serving sandwiches at a decent price.
The store of Escape Bicycle Tours & Rentals can be found at 65 Sparks Street. The building is built in the so-called “Italianate commercial’ style around 1880 and was mostly occupied by Photographic Stores Inc.
For us, it is a great location as it is very central and accessible by foot from almost every hotel downtown. Sparks Street is the starting point of all our bike tours. We don’t tour the street but after visiting us, it is worth taking a stroll (and perhaps a bite and a drink). Ready to go for a bike tour? Book a tour or rent a bike with us today. Did we tell you we have e-bikes too?