Ottawa

For this 11-year-old street performer, busking is serious business

Busker Owen Sinclair earned a permit to perform in Ottawa's ByWard Market at the age of eight, but there's still one trick his mom won't let him do.

Owen Sinclair juggles school, busy performance schedule

Owen Sinclair started juggling when he was eight years old. (Bárbara d'Oro/CBC)

When Owen Sinclair first arrived to sign up as a street performer in the ByWard Market three years ago, he got the distinct feeling the other buskers in line were wondering what he was doing there. 

"At that time, I didn't even have a headset and music," Sinclair recalled.

Nevertheless, at just eight, he became one of the youngest performers ever to obtain a busking permit in Ottawa — if not the youngest.

Owen Sinclair says busking is what he wants to do 3:14

Now 11, Sinclair said he fell in love with busking after he was picked out of the crowd during Ottawa International Buskerfest. After the show, he went home and told his mother, "This is what I want to do."

Wanda Sinclair said she encouraged her son to try learning some tricks.

"He was juggling forks and knives in the kitchen and basically anything he could get his hands on," Sinclair said. "So then we bought him juggling balls."

Owen juggles bowling pins, sharp knives and rubber chickens as part of his act. He pays for all his props with the money he earns performing. (Bárbara d'Oro/CBC)

After a year of practising, Owen went back to Buskerfest, where he performed on the street — just for fun — and gained the attention of some busking veterans.  

"They gave him pointers, which was amazing," his mother said. "That encouraged him even more and he learned more skills as he went." 

Soon, Owen was planning his own show, and decided to go for the ByWard Market permit.

Matthew and Tina Warren stopped to watch Owen's show with their daughter, Jojo. They were impressed. (Bárbara d'Oro)

Owen performs mostly on weekends and during the summer when school's out. He takes care of every detail in the show, from the tricks to the jokes to the playlist.

"Every year it takes me like one day or so to write the whole show," Sinclair said. "I  just go outside in my front yard, put out my box and just perform the show to no one. I make changes and I try to end up with a really good show." 

Chelsea's Owen Sinclair has been juggling in the ByWard Market since he was eight 5:27

For audience member Matthew Warren, the young performer's spontaneity is captivating.

"I wasn't sure how he was going to pull off all the tricks. He was really amazing," Warren said. "The way he was speaking, like, he was acting like a full-grown entertainer." 

Tina Warren was also impressed.

"We were just coming back from getting ice cream and we see this kid making jokes. [He's a] great addition to the vibe and very child-friendly. He's so cute!"

Owen with his parents and three siblings. His sisters sometimes help him during the show by playing music and making sure he has the props he needs. (Bárbara d'Oro/CBC)

Still, there are some tricks his mother won't let him learn.

"There's other ideas he's come up with, like fires. It's another thing he wants to do, but we're not going there yet," Wanda Sinclair said.

That's OK, Owen said: there's plenty of time.

"I think I am going to keep doing this for a while."

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