Pandemic fast-tracks planned improvements to ByWard Market

A plan to transform Ottawa's ByWard Market is still in the draft stage, but many of the changes it recommends, such as beautifying streets and creating more space for pedestrians, are already happening, thanks largely to the pandemic. 

Public realm plan still in draft stage, but many elements already in the works

Starting July 4, a section of Clarence Street will be closed to vehicles to give pedestrians and patios more space during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Hugo Belanger/Radio-Canada)

A plan to transform Ottawa's ByWard Market is still in the draft stage, but many of the changes it recommends, such as beautifying streets and creating more space for pedestrians, are already happening, thanks largely to the pandemic. 

City crews began work on Clarence Street this week to make more room for pedestrians as bars and restaurants expand their patios to allow for physical distancing. Flower boxes and ramps are being installed, and starting July 4, Clarence between William and Dalhousie streets will close to traffic to create even more space.

The street closure will remain in place throughout the patio season, Mayor Jim Watson said this week. 

This pedestrian-first attitude is at the heart of the city's ByWard Market public realm plan. The city is collecting public feedback on the plan now.

The plan proposes a host of changes for the nearly 200-year-old market, including transforming the parking garage at 70 Clarence St. into a new "destination building," building wider sidewalks, adding more benches and creating "flexible streets" that can easily be closed to traffic for events like Canada Day.

The plan expected to go to committee in the fall, but because of COVID-19, many of those elements are already in place.

Workers install a fence for a pop-up patio on York Street on June 25, 2020. (Hugo Belanger/Radio-Canada)

Jasna Jennings, executive director of the ByWard Market BIA, is enthusiastic that some of the proposed changes in the report are already becoming reality.

"We need that help to get people downtown," Jennings said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has gutted many businesses in the market, she said. Under physical distancing regulations, restaurants have struggled to turn a profit without dine-in customers, shop owners are working non-stop to stay afloat, and the area's most reliable customer base — tourists — are gone.

"This plan has been in the works for a long time and ByWard is due for some significant investment in our public realm," Jennings said in an email.

"Investments of this nature will make the Market more attractive to visitors, will provide more public space including wider sidewalks to better accommodate pedestrians and will allow the area more flexibility in hosting events, and changing things up for different seasonal uses."

The plan also proposes more public art, sturdy planters for flowers, spaces for people to gather, and new trees and streetlights. 

The ByWard Market public realm plan envisions wider sidewalks in the downtown neighbourhood. (Hugo Belanger/Radio-Canada)

Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury is calling on the city to use potential stimulus funds to get started on the improvements, even while the city deals with a $192-million deficit

"We want the market to be beautiful, we want it to be welcoming, we want it to be able to transition through the seasons," Fleury said in an interview with CBC's All In A Day.

"The $200-million plan, which is the overall area investment plan, can be phased in," he said. "If we're able to unlock stimulus funding from the federal government or provincial government as part of the COVID stimulus packages, we could begin with a Phase 1 and 2 of the area."

While the plan for the market is an extensive one, Fleury said many of the individual elements are neither overly expensive nor disruptive.

"So there's an opportunity to limit impacts and at the same time make a big difference in really seeing a more beautiful market," Fleury said. 

The closure and beautification of Clarence Street will serve as a summer-long pilot project, the city says on its website.


Laura Glowacki is a reporter based in Ottawa. Previously, she worked as a reporter in Winnipeg and as an associate producer for CBC's Metro Morning in Toronto. Find her on Twitter @glowackiCBC and reach her by email at

With files from CBC's Adrian Harewood and All In A Day

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