A year in the Glebe
by Daniel White
I have lived in 14 residences in seven municipalities across the country over the past 10 years, none of which has ever really felt like home. I have never been more than a temporary visitor. Most recently, my fiancé Ellen and I were living in Burlington, Ontario when she was offered a job in Ottawa late in 2015. We had to decide whether to stay where we were, close to family with our wedding imminent, or set off on a new adventure together. We didn’t know Ottawa at all as I hadn’t spent time here since my eighth grade school trip. Nevertheless, we opted for the latter.
It was mostly by fluke that we settled in the Glebe in January 2016. We looked around a few different communities in Ottawa but decided that if we were to move we wanted to be in the city. We settled on an apartment in the Glebe for the same reasons I am sure many people choose to live here. Both of us can walk to work. There is an off-leash dog park five minutes away so our hyperactive dog, Cayenne, is less likely to drive us insane. There are some fantastic restaurants and good coffee shops that were especially useful for getting me out of the house during my two months of unemployment following our move. If I dare to dodge the morning traffic on the QED, I can even skate to work when the winter weather cooperates. After spending most of 30 years living in suburbs and relying on a car for everything, it is refreshing to be able to reach every amenity by foot.
We made it through our first Ottawa winter unscathed – I am not sure what all the fuss is about – and were married in May, just in time to spend our first summer in Ottawa as a married couple. Festivals and other fair weather events pervaded the city and weekly markets at Lansdowne, only minutes from home, provided regular inspiration for my home cooking. As far away as we were from our families, Ottawa was finally starting to feel like home. But life tends to add wrinkles to what might otherwise be a flawless picture.
In September 2016, we learned Ellen was pregnant with our first child, due two weeks before our first anniversary. As ecstatic as we both are, we have since had to grapple with a difficult question: where do we want our child to grow up? What place will our family call home? It is one thing for my wife and me to try a different lifestyle in a new city, but when faced with the need to establish roots to create a stable environment for our child, other considerations come into play.
Our social network after a year here is still quite small compared with the one that remains in the town where we grew up. Ellen worries about support systems here. Our families suddenly seem farther away than they did a few months earlier. And yet, something has thus far prevented us from making the decision to leave Ottawa despite the reality that it is bound to make the next couple of years more difficult.
The reason is partly financial. The cost of living in Halton and the Greater Toronto Area is becoming absurd. Even the prices of homes in the Glebe, which we will still never be able to afford without a surprise international book deal, are moderate when placed next to comparable homes in Toronto and its surrounding suburbs. But I have never been one to make decisions solely based on what is economically feasible, probably to my own detriment. Toronto has always been too big for our tastes and sprawling suburbs, while fine for some, elicit in me visions of purgatory. In Ottawa, especially here in the Glebe, Ellen and I have found a happy middle ground.
Our child will be two months from arrival by the time this paper is delivered. We aren’t any closer to knowing where our child will grow up. I suppose the decision will come down to how we manage through the first six months. While remaining in the Glebe likely won’t be in our long-term plans as long as we maintain our goal of home ownership, we just wanted to say thank you to all who have helped make this community feel like home.
Daniel White is a professional cook and freelance writer.
After the Glebe, ‘What next?’
by Diane McIntyre
A few months ago every seat in the Abbottsford House dining room was filled as many “well-derly” members of this community gathered to talk about co-housing. We were all interested in exploring possible future living arrangements that might provide more security and support as an alternative to maintaining our own homes where many now find themselves living alone. Once people move into the Glebe, many want to stay because of the sense of community, the proximity of shops and services and the walkability of our neighbourhood. But most were beginning to think, “What next?”
With friends, I have often mused about buying a mansion or a small apartment building to share, a place where each could have private space but where there would also be common areas for libraries, musical events and where you could have companionship and share meal times when wanted. We talked of hiring support staff to manage the house and garden while we played bridge or ScrabbleTM or ping-pong or golf, or travelled. Perhaps we’d hire a driver, a personal trainer or massage therapist to visit regularly. Cooperative living is nice to think about while we are all relatively healthy but I wondered who would manage it all when some members of a collective can no longer contribute? I put my name on the waiting list two months ago for a large apartment in a building where I had lived before and that I knew already had many social elements that I wanted without my being obligated to manage anything. I already know people in the building who host musical events, that a friend who likes to play ScrabbleTM already has an apartment there, and that there is a nice community garden maintained by a few tenants. I hoped that a big sunny suite would become available sometime in the next 5 to 10 years when I might be ready for a change.
I quickly felt the embrace and comfort of community when I moved into my house on Renfrew Avenue in 1979. This quiet cul de sac next to Central Park provides a safe place where children create street art, play hopscotch and ball, and learn to ride their bikes in the middle of the street. This shared play area brings neighbours out to the front steps and gardens to watch over children. Meeting each other and looking out for each other was a natural extension of using this shared street space, as we are more likely to use front porches or to sit on steps rather than staying cloistered in private back gardens. On this block we share tools, ladders, emergency information and know that we can ask to borrow a cup of milk, a jar of capers or a cake-decorating kit in a pinch.
My next-door neighbour Janie hosted a baby shower for me with all of the ladies and girls on the street (ages 5 to 100) to welcome my daughter to the street over 30 years ago. The sun was shining on my front door and streaming through the windows and I felt very blessed to have the perfect home base and place for her to grow up when I brought Leia home from the hospital on a cold January day in 1985. I gave up my Triumph Spitfire and we walked and cycled everywhere. We restored Central Park by planting 189 trees and bushes with neighbours and the help of the GCA Environment Committee. We lobbied for street lighting on our block and for repair of the stairway into the park. We planned street parties, more baby showers and gatherings as families moved away and new neighbours joined us.
This house has been a wonderful home base for me. My daughter grew up and moved away but still visits often. My gardens have grown and flourished. The dining room table and side patio have provided space for lots of ideas to be shared.
The Hon Robert Layton, my godfather and uncle, lived here while he chaired the Conservative caucus and my cousin Jack moved into his “Dad’s room” when he became NDP leader. The Canadian Voice of Women for Peace has often gathered here and the “Harperman” cross-country protest sing-along coordinating group used it as home base. These walls have lots of good stories to share.
I anticipated living here forever and I have always said I’d be carried away in a box, but by the time you are reading this my house will have another sign in the front garden. The next perfect place is waiting for me to move back. I thought it would take years but I was only on the waiting list for five weeks and not at all prepared to make the decision to move. I called my daughter Leia who coached me towards a decision. “Mom, you have two great options but maybe it is time to move. You have to practice non-attachment. Don’t hang onto the house for me. We will always have good memories and I feel very lucky to have lived on Renfrew Avenue.” She always was the wiser one.
I will continue to shop in the Glebe and I plan to sit on my neighbours’ front steps on Renfrew Avenue sipping wine while watching the next generation of toddlers learn to ride tricycles on many more summer evenings.
Diane McIntyre is a past president of the GCA, past chair of school councils at Mutchmor, Glashan and Glebe Collegiate, and a Whitton Award winner for community activism. She has a lifetime membership in the GCA and wonders if the Glebe boundaries might be extended to include her new home at the Windsor Arms at 150 Argyle Avenue.