1826 Commercial District

rideau st circa 1826
Downtown Rideau has played a central role in Ottawa’s commercial and retail sectors since shortly after the area was first settled more than 188 years ago. Lt. Col. John By arrived in 1826 to begin construction of the Rideau Canal and Rideau Street formed part of an original route to Montreal. Just one year later in 1827, Rideau Street emerged as the primary commercial district serving the residents of Lower Town and Upper Town, which it neatly divided. Underground sewers and drains were eventually installed on Rideau Street in 1850. The next year, a sidewalk on the north side of the street was built, and a public water well was installed at the intersection of Rideau and Dalhousie streets. Gas lamps first appeared along Rideau Street in 1854. Despite the significance of the street, it remained unpaved until 1895. Until this time, merchants were forced to sprinkle water on the street twice a day to keep dust from entering their stores and spoiling merchandise.
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1857 Civil Servants

rideau st circa 1857

As the settlement called ByTown grew, it officially became Ottawa in 1855. Rideau Street continued to thrive. In 1857 Queen Victoria declared Ottawa the capital of Canada. With this distinction came the Parliament Buildings and an influx of federal civil servants. Nearby, Rideau Street’s clientele was thereby expanded by these new residents.
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1889 The Department Store Era

freimans circa 1889
The introduction of the department store in the late 19th century had a significant influence on the appearance and structure of Downtown Rideau. In 1889, T. Lindsay and Co. opened Ottawa’s first multi-purpose department store where Rideau Centre is today. By 1901, the north side of Rideau Street accommodated 3 such businesses. Each store was located in a multi-storey building fronting on 2 streets — Rideau and George. This marked the beginning of Rideau Street’s reign as the premier-shopping district in Ottawa, as it became known for its many high quality department stores. A.J. Frieman’s Department Store, now home to The Bay, was Ottawa’s largest. Ogilvy’s, located on the SW side of Rideau at Nicholas emphasized quality and personal service. Two other department stores — Caplan’s, located on the north side of Rideau at Nicholas, and Larogue’s , located on the NE corner of Rideau at Dalhousie, served a broad clientele on both sides of the Ottawa River. By the 1920s, Rideau Street was home to upwards of 50 family-owned retail establishments. These retailers included L.E. Stanley, McKerracher-Wanless, Beardsley’s Shoes, Dworkin Furs, Edelson Jewellers, Letellier Shoes and Trudel Hardware. Many of these businesses remained in operation until the 2000’s with Letellier Shoes and Trudel Hardware continuing to operate in Downtown Rideau today.
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1916 Architectural Landmarks

Chateau Laurier and train station

The construction of 3 important buildings anchoring the western limits of Rideau Street at Sussex Drive had a significant impact on the appearance and structure of Rideau Street. The Transportation Building, (10 Rideau Steet and now an office tower attached to the Rideau Centre) erected in 1916, represents a variation on the Chicago Style of architecture introduced in the 1880’s using innovative technology that led to the construction of tall commercial buildings. Ottawa’s main rail terminal, Union Station (2 Rideau Street and now the federal government’s Conference Centre), was completed in 1916. In that same year, the Chateau Laurier Hotel (1 Rideau Street), with a reputation as the most luxurious hotel in Ottawa, was built. This reputation remains, with the Chateau Laurier continuing to host a great many parliamentarians, foreign dignitaries, and celebrities. All three of these buildings remain prominent assets of Downtown Rideau. The intersection of Rideau Street and Sussex Drive continues to be one of the most prestigious commercial addresses in Canada and the world.
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The 60’s and 70’s – Suburban Competition

Rideau Street 60s and 70s
In the year’s following the Second World War, Downtown Rideau, like many other downtown districts, faced increasing competition from new suburban shopping centres, many of which were anchored by department stores. By the 1970s, this increase in retail competition was compounded in Downtown Rideau when the federal government moved 18% of its downtown workforce to Hull, Quebec. For the first time in its 187-year commercial hierarchy history, Downtown Rideau began to experience a loss of downtown shoppers, and many of its family-owned businesses began to close.
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1983 Rideau Area Project

Rideau Street 1983
As Downtown Ottawa faced a rapidly declining consumer market share throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the local, provincial and federal governments took decisive action to improve the situation. The number, location, and size of regional shopping facilities in Ottawa were restricted and massive investment into public transit downtown occurred. In particular, $166 million was spent on the Rideau Area Project — a joint undertaking of the local, provincial, and federal governments and a consortium of private developers, in 1983. The centerpiece of the Project was the redevelopment of a 35-acre parcel east of the Rideau Canal in Downtown Rideau with frontage on both Rideau Street and Colonel By Drive. On this site, the Rideau Centre and Ottawa Congress Centre (now the Ottawa Convention Centre) were built, along with the 475 room Westin Hotel. This made the Rideau Centre the largest regional shopping facility in Ottawa with 1.1 million square feet. It consistently performs as the 4th highest sales per square foot shopping centre in Canada. Over the years it has included the Eatons and Sears department stores and over 140 retail outlets. The Ottawa Convention Centre is Ottawa’s premier trade and convention facility. At the same time, the Rideau Area Business Improvement Area was formed to market the district under the Downtown Rideau brand and represent its business community. In an attempt to connect the shopping centre with retailers on Rideau Street, and ensure a high volume of transit consumer base for the district, the city closed Rideau Street to through traffic and created the Rideau Transit Mall for transit use only. The Transit Mall included all-weather protected sidewalk enclosures on Rideau Street between Sussex Drive and Nicholas Street. The Transit Mall and Sidewalk Enclosures attracted loitering and vagrant activity that resulted in having a negative economic impact on Downtown Rideau businesses.
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1993 Redevelopment Project

Rideau Street 1993
In the early 1990s, with the recognition that the Rideau Area Project and the Rideau Transit Mall had failed, a further $4.2 million dollar investment in Rideau Street was made by Downtown Rideau property owners, businesses and the City of Ottawa. The purpose of this project was to restore Rideau Street to its previous function as a commercial mainstreet, major east/west artery and an open-air, pedestrian-friendly place. Among the primary physical renovations to Rideau Street was the removal of the Transit Mall and Sidewalk Enclosures, which obstructed views of business storefronts and the re-introduction of mixed-use vehicles (cars) back to the street and straitening of the roadway. In addition to mixed-use vehicles, two-way traffic was returned to streets parallel to Rideau that were used to divert cars off Rideau, and streetscaping elements were added that complemented the architectural character of Downtown Rideau’s historic buildings. These efforts had the effect of returning Rideau Street to a conventional “mainstreet”, by knitting Downtown Rideau back into Ottawa’s bustling urban fabric both functionally and visually, and creating a new pedestrian-friendly atmosphere to attract more Ottawans and visitors to Rideau Street.
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2011 Redevelopment of the Shaw Centre

Redevelopment of the Shaw Centre (formerly the Ottawa Convention Centre) began with the demolition and closure of the former Ottawa Congress Centre in 2008. The new Shaw Centre is a world-class, state-of-the-art facility in a prestigious location along the UNESCO World Heritage Rideau Canal and views of the Parliament Buildings. It tripled its floor space on the same footprint in Downtown Rideau and has over 200,000 square feet of world-class meeting space — 100,000 of which is continuous column-free space. Total capital investment is $159 million, with $50 million each from the federal and provincial governments, and $40 million from the City of Ottawa. The balance is debt-financed. The new facility opened in April 2011. Within its first year the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of all goods and services produced at the Shaw Centre rose from a projected $63 million in June 2009 to over $200 million in December 2010. The new Shaw Centre resulted in the following ROI:

  • employment impact double from 1,200 to 2,900 full time jobs
  • tax revenues exceeded $65 million
  • visitors generated $82.4 million
  • local trade generated $14.2 million
  • 118 FTEs in the local retail industry

$11.3 million in revenues and 141 FTEs in local restaurants and bars
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2013-2018 Introduction of Light Rail Transit

LRT Rideau Station
The City of Ottawa is building a world-class Light Rail Transit (LRT) system called the Confederation Line, to respond traffic congestion throughout the city and to encourage car commuters to switch to transit. The LRT is a state-of-the-art system and Ottawa’s largest transportation infrastructure project since the building of the Rideau Canal in 1826. The Confederation Line will be a significant part of OC Transpo’s integrated transit network by connecting the existing Bus Rapid Transitway (BRT) with a 2.5km downtown tunnel that will move Ottawa faster and in more comfort than ever before. The LRT Rideau station is located under Rideau Street and integration with the Rideau Centre. It will be the most important transfer station, providing transfers between the Confederation Line and the city’s urban bus routes to the east and south. At a cost of just over two billion dollars, it is the largest infrastructure project awarded in the history of the city and has resulted in significant reinvestment and property redevelopment in Downtown Rideau.
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2013-2016 Rideau Centre Revitalization and Expansion

The Cadillac Fairview Corporation Limited made a significant investment in a major revitalization and expansion project at Rideau Centre that took place over a three year period from September 2013 to August 2016. The Redevelopment Project included:

rideau centre rendering

  • A complete interior renovation to a fresh,  contemporary look that features premium finishes including new quartz flooring, enhanced lighting, glass guardrails and modern amenities.
  • A new 35,000 sq. ft. dining hall that offers a one-of-a kind dining experience for Ottawa shoppers featuring 16 premium branded eateries, seating for 850 and state-of-the-art scullery using reusable dishes, glassware and metal cutlery instead of disposable products.
  • A stellar and exclusive line-up of the industry’s best-in-class retailers including Nordstrom and Simons!
  • An expansion that added 230,000 sq. ft. of leasable area over 4-levels, plus a new 3-level underground parking garage.
  • A new exterior façade that re-energizes and animates the area along Rideau Street including a refurbished Ogilvy Building heritage façade.


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2015-2017 National Arts Centre (NAC) Revitalization & Expansion

Opening its doors in 1969, the NAC was built in brutalist architectural style with a geometric concrete structure and minimal tall narrow windows. Now the entrance from Elgin Street replaces this with more visually appealing glass and wood, and just inside is the inviting Equator café. Diamond Schmitt Architects designed the stone tile floor of the renovated spaces to echo the building’s original triangle and hexagon design patterns.

In the fall of 2017, the second floor of the north atrium opened as did the transformed Fourth Stage. In February 2018, the NAC opened the expanded Panorama Room, a 600-seat venue for large events that overlooks the Rideau Canal. It also features newly renovated washrooms (triple the original number) and revamped and relocated Box Office, now on the bottom level.

The showcase architectural feature of the NAC is the 20-metre high Kipnes Lantern, at centre, which will act as a digital display for the theatre, showcasing performances and days of significance. The NAC now offers picturesque views of Confederation Park as well as the East Block and Peace Tower on Parliament Hill, and with its abundance of natural light is a very popular spot for photo shoots.

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2015-2019 Ottawa Art Gallery (OAG) Expansion and Arts Court Redevelopment

The Ottawa Art Gallery (OAG) Expansion and Arts Court Redevelopment project is part of a long-standing vision for the revitalization of Ottawa’s downtown funded by the City of Ottawa, the Province of Ontario, the Ottawa Art Gallery and the University of Ottawa.

The OAG opened to the public in 2017 and features:

  • Environmentally-controlled exhibition and curatorial spaces, event and education facilities, and a café and gift shop (5,860 square metres gross floor area).
  • A 120-seat Black Box Theatre for the University of Ottawa and four classrooms (1,481 square metres gross floor area).
  • A 250-seat multi-purpose screening room with retractable seating and projection booth for film and digital presentations, lectures and other functions.
  • A rooftop terrace and outdoor courtyards.
  • New, barrier-free main entrance on Daly Avenue, new loading docks, and elevators that will connect the OAG, the University of Ottawa Theatre Department and Arts Court on all four levels.

The Arts Court Redevelopment was completed in 2019 and features:

  • Improved east-west pedestrian connectivity through Arts Court, linking it to the new OAG, the University of Ottawa, and to the future Light Rail Transit station at Rideau Centre.
  • Renovation of existing spaces vacated by the OAG provide improved facilities for creation, production, exhibition and performance for some of Ottawa’s leading artist-run centres currently programming at Arts Court, including Saw Gallery, Club Saw, Saw Video, Independent Filmmakers Co-Operative (IFCO) and Artengine (2,014 square metres gross floor area).
  • Enhancements to the courtyard facing Nicholas Street.

(source City of Ottawa)

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2015-2017 Development of Hôtel Le Germain Ottawa and ArtHaus

The sleek, modern design of this complex is a collaboration between Groupe Régis Côté Architectes and LemayMichaud Architecture Design.

For family-run business Groupe Germain Hospitalité, the construction of this 120-room boutique hotel underneath an 82-unit condominium adds to their growing list of distinctive mixed-use developments, allowing them to strategically locate and market their hotels.

The mixed-use formula makes it possible for smaller hotels to locate in central downtown locations that would otherwise be too costly. Hôtel Le Germain Ottawa makes up the first 12 stories of the tower, with the bottom four floors housing the hotel lobby, meeting rooms and other amenities and the eight floors of guest rooms. The top eight stories consist of ArtHaus private condominiums, developed by DevMcGill and they share two levels of underground parking.

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The importance of Downtown Rideau today as Ottawa’s Arts & Theatre District and retail centre stems from its historic role as the primary commercial district of early Ottawa. Located just one block east of Parliament Hill and the Rideau Canal, Downtown Rideau did, and still does, provide a focus for the region’s shopping, hotel and meeting activities. The proximity of Downtown Rideau’s main street- Rideau Street- to many of the capital’s local and national landmarks and attractions further enhances Downtown Rideau’s role as the centre of activity in the City of Ottawa.
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