Rethinking the ByWard Market on the eve of its 200th anniversary

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Rethinking the market ; By on the eve of its 200th anniversary

To improve and energize the sector, a new governance model being created foresees the dissolution of the #x27;current Byward Market Business Improvement Zone (BIA).

The Byward Market of Ottawa will celebrate its 200th birthday in 2026.

Ottawa's ByWard Market has seen its fair share of upheaval in recent years and on the eve of its 200th anniversary, players from all walks of life believe the stars are aligned to rethink what many call the “heart” of the city. federal capital.

A pandemic, anti-sanitary measures demonstrations that have frozen the city center, an uncertain economic context marked by galloping inflation; the ByWard Market and its artisans are healing their wounds after three years of upheaval.

With a renewed municipal council and a changing socio-economic context, many believe that a reflection is in order about the future of the ByWard Market, especially since this mythical place in the federal capital will blow out its 200 candles in 2026.

A reflection is underway regarding the future of Ottawa's ByWard Market.

Sylvie Bigras, president of the Lowertown Community Association, believes that the key to a healthy and welcoming public market is to first the diversity and balance of the offer.

Sylvie Bigras, president of the Lowertown Community Association (File photo)

Ms. Bigras, however, says she has seen bars and restaurants occupy an increasingly important place in the ByWard Market. A situation that she considers worrying.

We see that there is a concentration of bars and restaurants [in the ByWard Market]. I can tell you that in 2008 there were 17,000 licensed seats and in 2022 there were 25,000. So that's a 25% increase. Not only do we see businesses disappear, but we also see a lack of diversity, she laments.

“ I think there is a balance that is being lost. There are interesting and special businesses that were there and are no longer there. We really want to work with the City to rediscover this diversity. »

— Sylvie Bigras, President of the Lower Town Community Association

The Byward Market of Ottawa has nearly 90 restaurants, according to its website.

Radio-Canada has attempted to obtain information on the number of recent closings and openings in the ByWard Market for each industry sector. Neither the City nor the Lower Town Community Association, as well as the district's Business Improvement Zone (ZAC), could provide an accurate portrait of the situation. Within real estate agencies in the sector, the stakeholders consulted had only fragmentary data.

Still, Ms. Bigras' point of view is not shared by everyone in the industry. For Claude Bonnet, the owner of Le Moulin de Provence bakery, which is located in the ByWard Market, the bars and restaurants, on the contrary, contribute to the vitality of the place.

Claude Bonnet, the owner of the Moulin de Provence in the ByWard Market (Archival photo)

We complain that we have no activity [in the ByWard Market], [but] if you cut the bars, the restaurants, where are people going to go? In Ottawa, what can you do at night, if you take away bars and restaurants? I don't mean it has to be everywhere. But the idea is that we still have to continue to develop this side for young people. Young people are the ones who bring cities to life at night, he says.

According to some speakers, it is the young people who make the ByWard Market live at night.

Former Rideau-Vanier Ward Councilor Mathieu Fleury explains that the zoning [in the ByWard Market] allows many types of businesses to set up shop to do business there and that's kind of the economy which, naturally, imposes its rules.

Zoning-wise, there's a wide variety of types of businesses that are allowed [in the ByWard Market] and there's no limit [by industry]. So, whether it's a hairdresser, whether it's a furniture seller, whether it's a small café, whether it's a restaurant, there is no limit. It's a bit like that, supply and demand. The market is adapting to that, he says.

Mathieu Fleury was a municipal councilor for 12 years with the City of Ottawa. (File photo)

According to the president of the Lowertown Community Association, the disproportion that seems to be widening between the space occupied by bars and restaurants and that occupied by other types of businesses in the ByWard Market is explained, among other things: , by the price of rents which is unaffordable for many.

“The problem is that bars and restaurants, because of the income , can afford higher rents. »

— Sylvie Bigras, President of the Lowertown Community Association

You have to sell cheese to pay your rent at the end of the month, she illustrates. It is certainly more difficult for those who manage a business [that does not generate a large volume of sales and large margins]; the fruit and vegetable sector, for example, she says.

A restaurant in the heart of ByWard Market, Ottawa

The trader Claude Bonnet abounds in the same direction, on this aspect.

To attract them [traders], of course rents have to be lowered. There, we mix everything. We have the same rents for people who sell retail as for people who do catering. When you have a business with a 15% margin, you can't pay the same rent as someone with a 40% margin and that's [the problem], that's ;is that the administrators of the City, they put everyone on the same footing, he believes.

“If you go to an area where you have a retailer, you charge rent at $17 a square foot, not $45 or $60. But now we're down to $60 a square foot. It doesn't make sense. We don't sell Ferraris, we sell cakes. »

— Claude Bonnet, owner of Le Moulin de Provence bakeries

The Lowertown Community Association believes that one solution to creating a business environment conducive to commercial diversity in the ByWard Market would be to establish a rent subsidy program for businesses with income more modest.

There are accommodations for people with low incomes. I don't know if there would be a way [to offer similar programs] to a certain percentage of businesses that have less capacity to pay high rents […]. You know, there's a way of looking at a company's books, looking at their ability to pay, and maybe creating rents that are a little bit lower to allow for that diversity that would help a lot to resuscitate the market, launches Ms. Bigras.

A visitor in front of a kiosk selling maple syrup products in Ottawa's ByWard Market.

The latter would like to see the City of Ottawa and other levels of government offer greater flexibility for the rental of buildings belonging to them in the ByWard Market.

All of these thoughts coincide with the 200th anniversary of the ByWard Market which will be celebrated in 2026. The City of Ottawa is planning to mark the occasion.

Visitors pose for photos near the giant letters that spell out the word Ottawa in the ByWard Market.

The ByWard Market is the heart, not only of my neighborhood, but of the city of Ottawa. It is one of the oldest markets in Canada, it will celebrate its 200th anniversary in 2026. Now, we are in preparatory mode, we are going to have celebrations and we are going to do some renovations. Because the development of the ByWard Market has to happen in 2023, commented Stéphanie Plante, the municipal councilor for the Rideau-Vanier district.

“We're planning for the Olympics, but for the ByWard Market. »

— Stéphanie Plante, municipal councilor for the Rideau Vanier ward.

The municipality already has in hand a secondary development plan for the ByWard Market which includes a beautification of the premises. The president of the Lowertown Community Association would like the City to provide the necessary budget to deploy it in time for the 200th anniversary.

What we would like to see is for the whole market to be embellished with more greenery, more lights at night, more animation. […] And then, the 200th anniversary is an exceptional opportunity to be able to look into it, wishes Ms. Bigras.

From the point of view of the merchant Claude Bonnet, the revitalization of the ByWard Market depends above all on a rich program of international caliber animation.

You have to go beyond the basic parameters when you have a city like Ottawa, which is the capital of Canada. We should have something other than buskers. We saw that 40 or 50 years ago. We have to move on. We need shows of other sizes, we really need to change levels, vision […] In Ottawa, we are able to do better than that.

In addition, to improve and energize the sector, a new governance model is being created which provides for the dissolution of the current ByWard Market ZAC. It would be about consolidating all voices around a single organization, says Ottawa Mayor Mark Sutcliffe.

There were several organizations in the ByWard Market concerned about [its] future and I think it's necessary for everyone to work together. So this step is important to establish a new approach, a new process for making the decisions needed to improve ByWard Market for the future. I think this is an opportunity to make sure everyone is working together […] because there will be a lot of decisions to be made for the future of ByWard Market. The City of Ottawa is a part of that, but it's important that small businesses, residents of the ByWard Market, that everyone has a voice in this process, he said in an interview with Radio-Canada, earlier this week.

With information from Rebecca Kwan and Fiona Collienne

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