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Ottawa is a great destination for LGBT visitors – it has a very welcoming and open atmosphere and a vibrant LGBT community. Like most capitals, it has a great range of museums and galleries, restaurants, shops and cultural spaces. Ottawa can also claim to be the first Canadian city to host a public LGBT demonstration, and so is the home of the country’s LGBT rights movement.
Ottawa is within easy reach of major airports – it’s two hours by car or train from Montréal and four hours from Toronto, or you can fly into the Macdonald-Cartier International Airport.
Ottawa’s downtown is compact, meaning you can walk around in no time, and most importantly it’s safe enough for LGBT tourists to walk around on their own.
Ottawa’s LGBT Village is a six-by-two block area around Bank Street downtown. It stretches from Nepean to James Streets (north to south) and Kent and O’Connor Streets (west to east). The Village is home to over 60 venues and locations that serve the LGBT community – many of them queer-owned or queer-run. This means you’ll always have something to do – whether clubbing, shopping or meeting likeminded people.
Ottawa has a long-established modern history of LGBT activism that many people are unaware of. The famous Parliament Hill was, on 28 August 1971, site of Canada’s first-ever LGBT protest march. Similarly, Kelly McGinnis Library on Bank Street is home to one of Canada’s most extensive archives. The city’s Pink Triangle Services is home to the second oldest gay helpline in the world, after New York which makes it older than the London Gay & Lesbian Switchboard.
If you check out the Canadian War Museum, make sure you check out the ‘fruit machine’ from WWII. During that conflict, the Canadian government paid a researcher to make a machine to identify LGBT people – which was then used to deny them access to the military, in case their sexuality should be used to blackmail them by opposition forces. One of these machines is on permanent display at the museum in the Cold War section.
Ottawa has plenty of shopping malls and trendy boutiques, and of course smaller LGBT-oriented stores that cater to all kinds of niche tastes.
Starting with the Rideau Centre mall and the ByWard Market district, you can easily reach many more shopping destinations on foot, including the LGBT shops in and around Bank Street. It’s also worth checking out the antique district further down Bank Street in Old Ottawa South, or the outdoors stores and specialty shops along Richmond Road in Westboro.
The Bayshore Shopping Centre in the west end has plenty to check out and, across town in the east end, there’s St. Laurent Shopping Centre. Sussex Drive is the place to go for fashion, or you can check out the boutiques and indies on Dalhousie Street, particularly those that fall north of Murray Street.
Capital Pride is Ottawa’s LGBT pride celebration that takes place every August and celebrates the diversity of the LGBT community. Capital Pride partners with many community groups to host 10 days of diverse events including: sporting events, a human rights vigil, events for youth and a Rainbow Party. The festival concludes with the highly-anticipated Pride Parade and outdoor Pride Stage on Sunday. For more information visit the Capital Pride website.
For more information on Ottawa, check out the following sites:
Capital Pride – Ottawa’s Pride Celebration
Dorothy’s Closet – An Ottawa Gay Portal
TAG Approved Accommodations and Attractions – Search for Gay Friendly Hotels and Attractions
The Village – Ottawa’s Village
Xtra! – Ottawa – Canada’s Gay & Lesbian News
For more general information, visit the Ottawa LGBT tourism page.