THROWBACK THURSDAY: The Hissing of Summer Lawns



In a recent twist that leaves one’s head shaking:

After haranguing us for years about wasting water — leaving it run while we brush, taking long showers, watering lawns unnecessarily — and encouraging us to upgrade to water-saving devices, we, Ottawans, listened and changed our wasteful habits. As such, Ottawa’s water consumption has diminished — so significantly, in fact, that the City recently announced it’s facing a tax revenue shortfall, because it expected water consumption rates to stay the same and budgeted accordingly. In other words, the City bet against our unwillingness to change — and lost. (Ahh, what a great feeling knowing the city has such low expectations of its citizens.)

And so, on this Throwback Thursday, we revisit an article we ran several years ago when the city banned non-essential water consumption in the south of city, which many took as a hard lesson in water conservation. But we listened! We changed! So, where’s our reward? — Rate hikes.

The Hissing of Summer Lawns

Originally published in the Summer 2011 issue of Ottawa Magazine.

When the city announced an outdoor water ban for the 80,000 residents of Barrhaven, Manotick, and Riverside South —    effective immediately, due to a broken water main — there was a collective gasp. No watering of lawns, no power washing of cars, no frolicking in the sprinkler. Suburbia wasunder siege! Even baby pools were verboten — though the city is   offering to subsidize the cost of rain barrels. (Care to come over for a dip in our barrel?)

Early reaction has been mixed. Yes, daycare providers questioned how they were to keep little ones cool on hot days, and plant nurseries braced for a drop in sales. But environmentalists, and even many residents, pointed out that the water ban would provide a much-needed reminder of the importance of conservation. Perhaps the times have really changed and we’re ready to put Mother Earth ahead of creature comforts. (The $500 fine doesn’t hurt.)

FOUND: The perfect job board? Hired Ottawa aims to ease the job hunt



Two local guys (with great jobs of their own at Shopify) have developed a sophisticated — and affordable — new website for job hunters. Hired Ottawa is catered to modern job hunters and seekers, who know they shouldn’t pay a bundle to survey the scene and understand that the search for a job is not what it used to be.

Dylan Hunt

Dylan Hunt

When I first checked out the site developed by Dylan Hunt and Nick Evans, I was taken aback by the fee structure.

On the plus side, it’s free: free for those looking for jobs, free for those looking for employees. (Did you know sites like Monster often charge over $600 per job posting? In chatting with Dylan, I learned that this has lead companies to use a type of “bait and switch” approach to Monster et al.)

Then I noticed the monthly and annual fees. Is the Canadian job market so bad that people are expecting to be on the hunt for a year?

No, says Dylan. The fact is, people are — or should be — tracking companies and industries that speak to their interests and careers paths. Companies, too, ought to sign up for their premium membership, which includes daily emails of jobs that match their keyword searches. So, for example, if I wanted to keep track of who is hiring journalists in the city (please don’t lure my cherished freelancers into stable day jobs!!), I would sign up for their premium package. This can also give employers insight into who is paying what and other key market info.

Here’s how it works:

Ottawa companies submit links to their job boards (did I mention, for free?). Job hunters visit the board and apply. It’s just that simple — instead of searching numerous job boards across the city, Hired brings them into one central site.

Pay a little extra — $8 per month, or $48 per year — to get jobs with your chosen key words sent to you by email. This extra fee also goes to direct online support, should there be a broken link or something.


Hired Ottawa is also available as an app

(Being techies, they have a system for flagging jobs that might have been filled. Being sensible entrepreneurs with full time day jobs, they aren’t promising every link leads to an open job, as they are but the middle men.)

Of course, it’s only as strong as its members, which is one of the reasons I decided to write this post. Unemployment sucks. I have a job I love. And, it turns out, that was the same thing that motivated Dylan and Nick.

When I asked Dylan why he chose to develop this website/app, he said simply: “To help job hunters and our friends.”

He also noted a recent influx of retail jobs from companies like Home Depot and Terra20 — jobs perfect for those suddenly unemployed Target employees.




SPIES! Mark Bourrie on CSEC’s new digs, the history of intelligence gathering, and the modern spy fetish

This article first appeared in the Summer 2014 edition of Ottawa Magazine.

By Mark Bourrie 

People shopping at the strip mall at Blair and Ogilvie roads often wonder what’s going to be inside the big white building that has risen in the woods just across the road. It’s the size of a domed stadium. Could it be a zoo? Another museum? Will it be a new national library full of books and art?

No — but the correct answer nevertheless gives a thrill to children and adults alike. The building will be full of spies. Fairly soon, the neighbouring East Side Mario’s and Starbucks should be the scene of a lot of sotto voce conversations about things most of us would never understand. Because the spies at Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) aren’t James Bond types ham-fistedly whacking bad guys; no, they’re the nerd army, some of Canada’s brightest minds hired because they’re brilliant at math and skilled at keeping secrets. They intercept phone calls, radio signals, and internet traffic to track down terrorists and foreign spies. They also break codes — and to do that in the 21st century, you need to be a computer genius or a math prodigy. CSEC works hard to recruit the best of the brightest of the country’s geeks, who are being rewarded with a brand spanking new building of epic proportions.

Illustration by Fred Sebastian

Illustration by Fred Sebastian

With the new CSEC headquarters, that corner of Ottawa is set to become the country’s ground zero of domestic and foreign spying, not to mention the focal point of the fantasy life of hundreds of paranoiacs. The move — CSEC is relocating from an old CBC headquarters at Bronson and Heron to a sparkling new palace — shows just how much Stephen Harper’s government values its spies.

Read the rest of this story »

FROM THE PRINT EDITION: Rival gangs keep neighbourhoods under pressure

This article first appeared in the Winter 2014 issue of Ottawa Magazine.

Gun violence between rival gangs is casting a shadow over one neighbourhood in Ottawa’s  south end. Judy Trinh looks at the allure of semi-automatic handguns and what police are doing to keep residents safe  


Illustration by George Michael Haddad


From a distance, the two apartment towers on Cedarwood Drive appear to hold promise. Surrounded by green space, bike paths, and a play structure, a cacophony of voices — young and old, in a variety of languages — drifts out of the 15-storey towers. Yet on a warm Saturday afternoon, not a single child can be seen climbing the monkey bars. Perhaps they’re enjoying the swimming pool in the community recreation centre between the towers? Nope. There are no children — just broken lounge chairs, a ladder, and empty paint cans.

It was outside the pool that I ran into Daniel Mayville pushing his walker to the bus stop. He was in a rush to get his errands done before sundown. “Eight p.m., that’s when the trouble starts.” Mayville is on a disability pension. When he moved into the apartment building six years ago, he thought he had won the residential lottery. He got a spacious ground-floor apartment with a large bedroom and an enclosed porch. But within the first year, bullets flew through his bedroom window, and the same thing has happened three times since. Mayville no longer sleeps in his bedroom, preferring a mattress on the floor, away from the windows.

As of early September, there had been 30 shootings in Ottawa in 2014. Guns were found in only two of the incidents; one was in a green bin after a June shooting in the townhouse complex beside Mayville’s apartment. While neighbours took cover from stray bullets, the targeted man was shot in the forehead. Despite being hospitalized and requiring surgery, the shooting victim won’t tell police who fired the gun.

So far, no innocent bystander has been hit by a bullet in the city,
but there have been some frighteningly close calls.

That’s no surprise to detective Chris O’Brien, an Ottawa police officer who is now working with the Provincial Weapons Enforcement Unit. He says these shots are often fired by individuals who feel disrespected in some way, who lash out to “settle petty beefs.” “They live in the moment,” O’Brien says. “They don’t think about the consequences of their actions.”

So far, no innocent bystander has been hit by a bullet in the city, but there have been some frighteningly close calls. In 2011, as an officer with the Guns and Gangs Unit, O’Brien recovered a bullet that had come to rest on a pillow beside a sleeping seven-year-old girl after it pierced through the second-storey wall of a house in Barrhaven. The possibility of innocents being caught in the crossfire looms ever larger — O’Brien says a “mini arms race” is going on between various street-gang cliques who are fighting over their piece of the neighbourhood drug trade.

Read the rest of this story »

THE JESTER: Christmas gifts for the politician in your life



He’s making a list and checking it twice.

No, I’m not talking about Stephen Harper’s ever-growing “enemy stakeholders” list. I’m talking about the other formidable power in the North: Santa Claus.

Given the sorry state of government transparency in Canada, Kris Kringle may have a difficult time figuring out whether our politicians have been naughty or nice this year. But with a federal election looming in 2015, there is no doubt that party leaders’ stockings will be hung by the chimney with care. Here, some early gifting tips for St. Nicholas.


Arcade Fire. Photo: Guy Aroch


Yes, I do mean giving him the actual band. It’s no secret that our prime minister has had a hard time connecting with Quebecers. But he can play a piano and sing. All he needs in his clutches is the popular Montreal indie group. They can join him on stage on the campaign trail or perform a soothing lullaby after a long day of listening to Thomas Mulcair huff and puff and try to blow the House down. (Delivery Warning: Not all band members may comfortably fit under Christmas tree.)



THOMAS MULCAIR: A map to the nearest yellow brick road.


I’m sure the Wizard of Oz deals in more than brains, hearts, and courage. Plus, the song “If I Only Had Charisma” would top the charts in Munchkinland.




JUSTIN TRUDEAU: A time machine to go back to 1980 and stop his father from introducing the National Energy Program.

The new year will be bright as he sits back and rakes in the Liberal seats in Alberta.

MAYOR JIM WATSON: Watson needs a nemesis to rally against in his new term.After all, enemies challenge us to be better (e.g., The Joker and Batman, Peter MacKay and math).

Suggestions: Gatineau mayor Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin (cross border rivalry); The Glebe (the neighbourhood needs something to complain about other than a music festival and parking); his “Evil Twin” — why not spice things up with an alter ego?


OTTAWA CITY COUNCIL: A time machine to go to the future to whatever actual year the light rail transit will be completed.
They must be tired of devoting energy to a project that might not be finished in their lifetime.

THE BLOC QUEBECOIS: Another federal sponsorship scandal — or another Meech Lake Accord.
A perceived slap in the face from English Canada is exactly what the doctor ordered to save the party from oblivion.


SNAPSHOT: Join the party! Nordstrom event announces jobs, charitable projects, and more

Photo by Valerie Keeler, Valberg Imaging

Photo by Valerie Keeler, Valberg Imaging


The excitement has been building for months, if not years, and last night all those who have been awaiting the arrival of Nordstrom came together at Lago to hear the latest news about the American retailer’s plans for their new Rideau Centre store.

Whatever you think about shopping (or U.S. companies entering the Canadian market) one thing is certain: Nordstrom will bring 400 jobs to the city.

Jim Watson shares a laugh with attendees at the Nordstrom event on Nov. 19. Photo by Valerie Keeler, Valberg Imaging

Jim Watson shares a laugh with attendees at the Nordstrom event on Nov. 19. Photo by Valerie Keeler, Valberg Imaging

And another thing I can say with confidence: Nordstrom takes their hiring seriously. This past April, they reached out to us to let us know they had hired a store manager for their Ottawa store. That means they hired Ottawa store manager John Banks over a year before the store even opened! Now, I’m not too knowledgeable about the department store retail industry, but I have had plenty of department store experiences, and most of my interactions with staff involve hunting down a salesperson and/or being told that they can’t answer my questions. So they caught my attention with this small, but significant, announcement.

Then, when Nordstrom PR guy John Bailey asked us out for lunch last summer, I had to check my calendar again. Really, you want to sit down and talk to us a full 10 months before you’re opening doors?

We lunched, and they charmed us more. They told us of their No. 1 Rule when it comes to employee guidelines: Use Good Judgement In All Situations. It sounds pretty basic to someone like me who is supported by a publisher who lets me make decisions on my own all the time, but I have been in different situations and I know all about overly controlling bosses and rules-for-the-sake-of-rules.

We also heard that John Banks took an extensive French immersion program as part of his training. Bravo!

In short, if I was in retail I would apply to Nordstrom. Check out the positions here. Hiring begins in January.

United Way president and CEO with members of the Nordstrom team. Photo by Valerie Keeler, Valberg Imaging

United Way president and CEO Michael Allen, who was on hand to talk about the fundraising gala on March 4, with members of the Nordstrom team. Photo by Valerie Keeler, Valberg Imaging

Nordstrom is looking to fill sales positions in all areas of operations including women’s, men’s, and children’s apparel, shoes, accessories, cosmetics, designer, as well as various support positions in alterations, building services, and loss prevention.

In fact, we know someone who has been hired as a one of 28 department managers. Last month, they headed to Seattle for an eight-week, manager training program. Working with “mentor managers,” they learn about Nordstrom firsthand by working in a store.

Additional positions are also available in the store’s cafe and restaurant — and we heard last night that the Calgary Nordstrom is seeing 1-hour wait times, so I’m guessing this isn’t your average department store diner.

Photo by Valerie Keeler, Valberg Imaging

Nordstrom Canada president Karen McKibbon. Photo by Valerie Keeler, Valberg Imaging

From the press release:

“We’re looking for goal-oriented people who love fashion and want to deliver an exceptional shopping experience to every customer who visits our store – they don’t necessarily need retail experience,” said store manager John Banks. “Nordstrom is a great place to build a career. With this being only our second store in Canada, it’s a great time to get in on the ground floor with our company as we begin our growth across the nation.”



Nordstrom employees will receive a competitive benefits package, which includes dental, medical and vision options, a RRSP (Registered Retirement Savings Plan) matching program and a 20% retail discount (managers receive a 33% discount).

If you’re not looking for a job but want to get in on all the Nordstrom excitement, then you’ll want to know about the fundraising gala on March 4. That’s another story about how this company is looking to make a great first impression in Ottawa by helping the United Way and the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation. We have a few months to get ready for that party and talk up all the good things that will come from the fundraiser — but tickets are on sale now, and the fundraiser for their Calgary store sold out.

Me, I like shopping when it’s in the right environment. And Nordstrom, with it’s attention to hiring, charitable initiatives, and overall organization, is certainly setting the stage (and raising the bar) for shopping in Ottawa.

Linda Eagen of the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation,  U.S. Ambassador to Canada Bruce Heyman and Mrs. Vicki Heyman, and Ottawa store manager John Banks. Photo by Valerie Keeler, Valberg Imaging

Linda Eagen of the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation, U.S. Ambassador to Canada Bruce Heyman and Mrs. Vicki Heyman, and Ottawa store manager John Banks. Photo by Valerie Keeler, Valberg Imaging

THE JESTER: Beware! The year is 2017 … Partisan ghost stories for politicians of every stripe

This article was originally published in the October 2014 print edition of Ottawa Magazine.


Justin Trudeau . Illustration by Alan King

Justin Trudeau . Illustration by Alan King

24 Sussex Drive, Halloween Night, 2014 — The Conservative cabinet gathers for its annual Halloween sleepover. Prime Minister Harper, sporting his standard grey “bedtime suit,” launches into a partisan ghost story:

“Beware! The year is 2017, and the ‘Trucair’ Liberal-NDP coalition government has destroyed the Canada we know and love.

“Prime Minister Trudeau has legalized marijuana, renovated the Peace Tower to look like a giant bong, and appointed Vancouver actor Seth Rogen as Governor General. Every Speech from the Throne now consists of a glassy-eyed, smirking Rogen eating Doritos and chuckling for 40 minutes straight. Oh, and our new national anthem is Neil Young’s ‘Roll Another Number (for the Road).’

“But things are even worse away from the Hill. The National War Memorial has been replaced with a statue depicting Trudeau’s knockout punch of Patrick Brazeau. Deputy Prime Minister Thomas Mulcair has passed a law requiring all men, women — and children — to have either a beard or a moustache and has replaced the caribou on the quarter with a unicorn. The Ministry of Finance has been rechristened the Ministry of Imagination. The ever-rising tax rate has closed the doors of just about any business that isn’t a marijuana shop or taco stand. Productivity is at an all-time low! Our perpetually stoned bureaucrats stay focused only on days where they’re promised a free pizza lunch. And on the international front, we stood powerless to prevent Trudeau from pirouetting behind the newly crowned King Charles and then opting to play his head like a bongo drum.

“Trudeau has also taken his control-freak antics to a whole new level by banning any future Liberal candidate who doesn’t believe in a woman’s right to choose whether to swoon or squeal whenever he enters the room.

“And that’s why Canadians need our treats, not Liberal and NDP tricks … .”

Meanwhile, at the Diefen-bunker The Liberals gather for a top-secret candle-lit meeting. Justin Trudeau makes a scary flashlight face before launching into a partisan ghost story:

Read the rest of this story »

WEB EXCLUSIVE: Breather brings ‘peace and quiet, on-demand’ to Ottawa

William Johnson is an Ottawa-based blogger who writes at about creative people doing creative things.

You’re a professional on the go. You’re sick of holding meetings in coffee shops; you’re sick of taking phone-calls on the bus or on the noisy street; or perhaps you’re just looking for somewhere to rest — somewhere to take a break. Enter Breather, the latest firm to add mass to Ottawa’s sharing economy. Breather, founded in 2013, allows customers — including individuals and organizations—  to rent well-designed, quiet, Wi-Fi equipped spaces on-demand.

Breather offers

Breather rents out well-designed, quiet, wi-fi equipped spaces

Often referred to as an ‘Uber for private spaces’, the service launched here last night with three spaces, one in the ByWard Market (78 George St.), one in the financial district (162 Metcalfe), and a space in Centretown (356 MacLaren). A small party with cocktails and appetizers was held at the Market location, which can hold about 12-15 individuals comfortably; the Metcalfe and McLaren locations hold 4-5 people and 3-4 people, respectively, according to Eric McRae, Breather partner and Ottawa manager, who’d like to see the service expand to have at least six locations.

“I’d like to get another location in the downtown core,” he said. “And then look at some of the other areas like Preston Street, Hintonburg, Westboro as well, so that we can provide a network of spaces where people can access them.”


This Breather space at 78 George in the ByWard Market is a bright, chic place for meetings 

To use the service, users simply download an app (available on iOS and Android), pull up a map — similar to how other peer-to-peer economy apps, including Uber and Airbnb work — and reserve a space. “Grab your phone, open an app. Reserve a room near you, anytime, anywhere,” is how founder Julien Smith put when he announced the service over a year ago, which originally launched in Montreal and San Francisco, then made it’s way to New York City. Ottawa, perhaps unexpectedly, can now count itself among three of the worlds most sophisticated cities that have the service.

“They weren’t looking at Ottawa initially,” says McRae. “I approached them, and asked them, because I recognized that there’s a certain market opportunity in Ottawa. It’s a very different city, and it has different needs and different demands from some of the larger cities, but I thought that the market could still really support it…somewhere where people can just kind of stop, connect, take a break, relax, or just to focus on their work.”

The company describes its spaces as ‘agnostic’, as in noncommittal to specific uses. Breather does, however, assess certain city factors before selecting potential spaces, including urban density, traffic, and levels of pedestrian movement.

“What I loved about Breather is that it takes a centralized come-to-my-office type of space, and explodes it out across the city so it becomes local and close to where you want and need to be,” said McRae. “So it’s not necessarily prescribed to a specific location.”

“When I was discussing that concept with [founder] Julien Smith, that’s what really caught my attention,” he said. “It becomes what you need it to be.”

McRae leases and has revenue sharing agreements with Breather with the spaces he manages, and he sees appealing to diverse segments of the population from lawyers, to creatives, to regular people. “Lawyers, who are travelling from other cities, from other places to work in Ottawa, they need places to meet with clients. We look at psychologists and people who are in therapy—they need access to spaces that are close to their clients,” he said.

“Accountants who work from home, and need to meet with their clients once or twice a year—they can easily book a space for those things.  And for myself, what I liked about Breather was that the spaces were really designed in such a way that they can be used based on what your needs are, not necessarily prescribed based on the set-up of the design.”

Breather spaces in Ottawa are available for $20/hour, seven days a week, and from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

THE GIVER: Tree Huggers, Texting B-Fasts, and Giving Tuesday

The Giver is written by Ottawa Mag’s Dee Campbell, who knows that people prefer to volunteer in ways that speak to their interests. Dee has volunteered for the Terry Fox Run since she was a little girl and is a Brownie Leader of 15 years. Do you have a volun-gig needing filled? Email

Hug a Tree

This week, Ecology Ottawa planted the first of 1,000,000 trees to be planted as Ottawa’s gift to Canada for its 150th anniversary in 2017, and to restore Ottawa’s forest canopy. But these babies need some TLC, i.e. Ottawa residents to nurture young trees until they reach maturity. Once you’ve found a tree you would like to adopt on the map or app, you can update its profile to include its species, height, diameter, etc. You can even add pictures of your tree and include a comment about why this tree is important to you.



Gee. That was easy.

Curb Hunger With Your Cell Phone

Pause with me for a second. Try to remember a time when you were really hungry. Like, when you were doing a cleanse, or you forgot to bring food somewhere, or you were in first trimester pregnancy, or… Got it? Okay, now read this: 1 in 10 kids goes every day without breakfast. That’s a lot — especially since the last meal most kids would’ve eaten was probably dinner the night before. If you have $5 to spare, you can feed one kid breakfast for one week. Yup.

Text BREAKFAST to 45678 to donate $5 to Breakfast Clubs of Canada.

With a $5 donation, the Ottawa Food Bank can buy $25 worth of food. Text HUNGRY to 45678 to donate $5.

Text MEAL to 45678 to donate $10 to The Ottawa Mission Foundation.

Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa
BELONG to 41010.
BELONG to 41010.

And just to dispel any myths about texting donations:

1. Wireless operators do not take any portion of funds donated through text messages. They support mobile giving programs for free.

2. With the exception of the donation itself, you do not incur any text messaging fees associated with initiating and completing a text message donation. Talk about consumer friendly!


Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and now, Giving Tuesday.

Qu’est-ce c’est? It’s a new Canadian movement for giving and volunteering, taking place each year after Cyber Monday. So just as Black Friday kicks off the holiday shopping season, Giving Tuesday marks the opening day of the giving season. How awesome is that?! 

Here’s an interesting volun-gig, in preparation for the day: Healthy Minds is looking for a creative and social media-savvy individual who is passionate about mental health and addictions to build their Giving Tuesday campaign. Read more here. Commitment: from now to December 2.

MONEY: Who Makes What?


Originally published in the October 2014 print edition of Ottawa Magazine as part of our Money Talks feature.

The pressure on professional athletes to perform is routinely dissected by deliverable. What if desk jockeys were paid this way? Ottawa Magazine pokes fun at our fascination with six-figure incomes by crunching the salaries — and output — of the city’s top earners.