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Exploring LGBTQ2+ friendly Ottawa

Brett and Cameron hold up rainbow umbrellas

Exploring LGBTQ2+ friendly Ottawa

OttawaExternal Link Title is Canada's capital city, but it's so much more than politics. The food, culture and proximity to nature make it a great place to discover, but this charming city is also becoming quite the queer destination for locals and visitors alike. Maybe you even heard the news that the city's mayor shared right before Pride 2019? Ottawa's Mayor came out in a personal editorialExternal Link Title in the pages of the local newspaper. People in Ottawa were thrilled for him.

A couple, Brett and Cameron, sit together on some pride-painted steps in Ottawa

Seeing the city

Ottawa is a beautiful, welcoming city that has an important place in the country's LGBTQ2+ history -  it was here on Parliament Hill that the first-ever public gay and lesbian demonstrationExternal Link Title in Canada took place on August 28, 1971. You can see a vibrant mural called "We DemandExternal Link Title" commemorating that demonstration in the heart of the city's Village. The Village itself covers a six block by two block area of Bank Street downtown--from Nepean to James Streets (north to south) and Kent and O'Connor Streets (west to east). This growing gayborhood is surrounded by well-established and newly blossoming LGBTQ2+ owned and welcoming bars such as SwizzlesExternal Link Title, as well as restaurants and coffee shops, including the lesbian owned coffee house chain, Bridgehead CoffeeExternal Link Title.

LGBTQ Rights mural in Ottawa

Mural commemorating Canada's first demonstration for civil rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons - credit: Tanya Churchmuch

Ottawa's no drag

Drag in Ottawa is exploding, but it's doing so in a way you don't see in a lot of other places. Not only are there regular drag shows pretty much every night of the weekExternal Link Title, but drag kingsExternal Link Title and drag burlesqueExternal Link Title performers are also hitting the stage. If late night parties aren't you thing, head over to the Vanitea RoomExternal Link Title for their monthly drag brunch hosted by the indomitable DevonaExternal Link Title. Or try the Vanitea Room drag dinners that happen twice a month - eat, dance, drink and be merry! A $35 bottomless dinner (and that's Canadian dollars!) includes 1.5 hour bottomless bubbles, supper and a whole lot of entertainment!

Drag queen Devona Coe poses in the park

Devona Coe, host of the monthly drag brunch at the Vanitea Room - credit: Tanya Churchmuch

Drag and then some!

Looking for a different kind of drag dinner? Shanghai RestaurantExternal Link Title has you covered. This family owned and operated, old school Canadian Chinese restaurant opened back in the 1971. Head chef Edward Kwan serves up delicious spring rolls, chow mein and other favorites, but every Saturday night at 9pm since 2005, Edward leaves the kitchen and heads to the front of the house in a brand-new outfit, hairstyle and name: China DollExternal Link Title. She's the Shanghai's resident Karaoke queen, giving her all for a fabulous evening of song and merriment!

Brett and Cameron with the China Doll outside Shanghai Restaurant, Ottawa

Brett and Cameron with the China Doll outside Shanghai Restaurant, Ottawa - credit: Tanya Churchmuch

So much to see

Ottawa is a hotbed of arts and culture, home to seven national museums including the newly renovated National Gallery of CanadaExternal Link Title, the Canadian Museum of HistoryExternal Link Title (where you'll find the unusual "Gay SweaterExternal Link Title"), the Canadian Museum of NatureExternal Link Title , the Canadian War MuseumExternal Link Title (which exhibits the infamous "fruit machineExternal Link Title," a post-WW2 device that was supposed to help identify gays and lesbians. All it did was ruin lives) and more. You can even buy an Equality dollar coinExternal Link Title at the Royal Canadian Mint, commemorating 50 years since Canada took the first step towards decriminalizing homosexuality. To get a full taste of Ottawa's LGBTQ2+ culture, head over to the recently reopened SAW GalleryExternal Link Title. This queer run exhibit space champions diversity in all forms and is one of Canada's leading contemporary artist-run centers. They also host a monthly queer party in their performance space.

Play outdoors

People in Ottawa enjoy their outdoor activities: hiking, biking, skating, rafting, they'll try it all! To see the city on two wheels, visit the LGBTQ2+ owned Escape Bicycle Tours and RentalsExternal Link Title. You can join in on a group tour, book a private tour or just rent bikes for a few hours to discover the city on your own. Ottawa has over 124 miles of bicycle paths--easy paths along the city's rivers and canals, and more challenging ones in beautiful Gatineau ParkExternal Link Title, only minutes from downtown. Visitors are often surprised to see that there's a canal running through the city - the Rideau Canal. In wintertime, The Rideau Canal Skateway is the world's longest outdoor skating rink, right in the heart of the city. Some Ottawans even skate to work!

Brett and Cameron with a staff member of Escape Bicycles, outside the store

Renting a bike from LGBTQ-owned Escape Bicycle Tours is a great way to see the city on two wheels - credit: Tanya Churchmuch

There's always a festival on in Ottawa

August and the brand new WinterPrideExternal Link Title in February. Most winter Prides are all about skiing, but in Canada's capital, it's all about celebrating the community through shows, a community awards night, outdoor activities and more. In October there's also Ottawa Inside OutExternal Link Title, the annual queer film festival and in 2019, the SAW Gallery hosted the world's first 2-Spirit ballExternal Link Title (2-spirit a term used by some Indigenous people to describe their sexual, gender and/or spiritual identity). It's expected to become an annual event every August, held during the city's Alternative Pride Week.


To stay on top of all things LGBTQ2+ in Ottawa, visit Tourism Ottawa's LGBTQ2+ pageExternal Link Title. The Village Legacy project has also developed a guided tour of Ottawa's queer historyExternal Link Title that you can do on your own.