new ottawa art gallery opening


This weekend, one of the most highly anticipated projects in Canada’s capital was unveiled- the new Ottawa Art Gallery. This project was years in the making and it didn’t disappoint.

The new art gallery spans six floors and includes more than 55,000 square feet of programmable space, including an an art studio and rotating galleries for historical, contemporary and touring exhibitions.

The weekend’s festivities opened with a gala reception on Friday night where the who’s who of the city came out to get a first look at the gallery.

Aside from the Ottawa Art Gallery’s vast collection of art, the gala featured an eerie yet highly creative performance from the Compagnie ODD dancers and students of The School of Dance Contemporary Dance Programme, choreographed by Yvonne Coutts.

The highlight of the gallery has to be the Firestone Collection of Canadian Art; the personal collection of O.J. and Isobel Firestone. For years we’ve been hearing about this collection, anchored by its collection of Group of Seven paintings, and it was as good as advertised. The Firestone Collection allows visitors to experience Canada, from coast to coast. You feel as though you’ve been transported back in time, experiencing different aspects of Canadian life.

Welcoming visitors from the Daly Street entrance is the Jackson at the OAG, a sophisticated-looking cafe that looks nothing like we’ve seen in a food establishment in the city before.

new ottawa art gallery opening
The facade of the new Ottawa Art Gallery (above left); Kevin Bourne stumbles onto a photo of his family and stops for a quick shot (bottom left); piece from the Firestone Collection (right)

Of course, my personal highlight was stumbling onto a photo of my wife and kids taken by Justin Wonnacott, although I was cut out of the shot.

Saturday morning was the official inauguration, attended by Mayor Jim Watson, Rideau-Vanier councillor Mathieu Fleury, Chief Kirby Whiteduck of the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan, Alonquin elders and the general public. The festivities opened with Anishinābe (Algonquin) performers including the Eagle River Drummers and Kina Nimiwag Dancers.

In his address, the mayor Watson noted, “The opening of the new Ottawa Art Gallery marks a significant moment in our city’s history and culture. The newly expanded facility will serve as Ottawa’s premier hub for our rich, vibrant and diverse Arts Community.”

Throughout the weekend there were whispers of comparisons to New York and they weren’t far off. From the quality of the art, to the two terrasses with views of Sandy Hill and Parliament, to the interior design, this is an attraction that screams “big city”.

The new Ottawa Art Gallery is the latest in a series of projects, including LRT, the Rideau Centre expansion and the Lebreton Flats redevelopment, that point to the big city transformation underway in the capital.

Although the National Gallery of Canada has been in the capital for decades, the difference between the two is their  accessibility. Aside from there being no cost to visit, you don’t feel like you need to whisper or tip toe through the gallery. As an Ottawa resident, the OAG feels like home, as it should.

Kevin Bourne