Outdoor Murals of Ottawa Canada

Outdoor murals can breathe life and character into the uniformity of large urban centers. When coordinated, they can demarcate distinct communities, even when isolated they show that here, someone cares. They reduce graffiti in problem areas, they can build community pride. And, they can be a magnet for tourists, as the small town of Chemainus has shown so dramatically.

Here are the ones I have been able to locate in Ottawa. All are painted on, or mounted on, exterior surfaces and have been done with the permission of the property owner. As much as possible, all are shown as the artist saw them, with obstructions removed when possible by perspective control and other techniques.

City-wide Map
Check your neighbourhood and let me know of any I've missed at johnsankey@ncf.ca

Quartier Vanier
Westboro
Corso Italia
School Murals
Isolated Murals
Graffiti Walls
Paint It Up!
Other City Programs
Past Tense

Although Ottawa's economic engine has been dominated by non-governmental activity for many years, any attempt to stand out from the crowd is still frowned upon in the best civil service tradition and hit with bylaw infractions by the dozen. So, until recently outdoor murals were present only in a few areas where a business improvement association succeeded in applying sufficient political pressure to defeat the bylaw bureaucrats.

That antipathy meant that our city played no part in enabling people to appreciate them, let alone protect or promote them. For example, immediately adjacent to the magnificent Corso Italia Heritage Mural, there is a city parking lot. Despite this, until the 2009 rebuilding of Via Italia, the city blockaded views of the murals with parking meters and parking. Many murals in Westboro are similarly obstructed except early Sunday mornings. A superb mural in Vanier is hidden behind a city-approved patio roof. What's more, the positive parts of the city's approach are fragmented: artworks that are part of capital projects are dealt with by one group, Paint it Up! by another, street painting by yet another, underpass murals by yet yet another, while private murals seem to be recorded by the city only when someone complains to bylaws...

Residential murals are still tolerated only on a zero complaints basis, despite Ontario Superior Court rulings that the federal charter of rights and freedoms requires municipal regulators to stick to their constitutionally sanctioned responsibilities for health and safety of their residents and to stay out of aesthetic judgements. Put simply, any 'mark' can be called a 'sign' in Ottawa, and residential areas aren't allowed them under the city sign bylaws. Further, anything anywhere may be arbitrarily ruled as 'graffiti' by a city inspector at any time, even after it has been in place for years, as in the case of the Hot Peppers restaurant ([Map]).

For the most part I've had to find all of the murals shown on my own or with friends. That is slowly changing, and I hope to help move the change along. I'm encouraging the city to separate aesthetic values, art, which is not a proper part of zoning, from commercial signage, a land use, which is. I'm hoping for the surrounding community to have some input on murals, in particular that a mural be permitted if the majority of the surrounding community are in favour of it, rather than having a tiny number of philistines in control as at present.

Please let me know of any I've missed. I thank Marie-Claire Gratton for finding many in Sandy Hill/Vanier and Daniela Graure of the City of Ottawa for keeping me in touch with current city programs.

Contact the Artists

These are the artists for which I have contact information. If you're an artist I haven't been able to identify or contact, I'll appreciate a chance to discuss your work with you.

John Sankey
murals in other cities
Philadelphia Mural Arts program