Do you speak Ottawan?

2 Nov

If you’re a visitor to Ottawa, you might not recognize everything that comes out of a local’s mouth. Here’s a guide to some unique-to-Ottawa expressions that you might find useful!

That's "The Château" (centre) and "DND" (right) in the background of this photo of skating on "The Canal." Read the text for a translation!


Some of the expressions are geographical in nature. You should know, for instance, that “The Hill” refers to Parliament Hill, home of the House of Commons and Senate and the core of Canadian democracy.

The Market” refers to the ByWard Market – not just a building, or a one- or two-day-a-week farmers’ market, but a whole neighbourhood. Bounded roughly by Susssex Drive, Murray Street, Dalhousie Street and George Street, “the Market” is home to a 363-day-a-year outdoor market; shops and boutiques; 120+ bars, restaurants and other places to eat and drink; and a thriving residential district.

If you listen to a traffic report, you’ll hear mention of “The Queensway” but they’re really referring to the main east-west thoroughfare–Highway 417. “The Split” refers to the segment in the east end where Highway 174 splits off to head to the neighbourhood of  Orléans while the 417 continues through eastern Ontario and the Québec border.

The Château” (often pronounced more like “shadow”) refers to the Fairmont Château Laurier. “The Canal” can only refer to the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Rideau Canal. And “ LeBreton Flats” is the area just outside the Canadian War Museum that is also hosts the fabulous  Cisco Ottawa Bluesfest each July.

Before 2003, the downtown area across the Ottawa River from downtown Ottawa was the City of “ Hull“. But following an amalgamation of several Québec municipalities, the correct name is now Gatineau, though many still refer to Hull (or at least the “Hull sector” of Gatineau).

Ottawa went through a similar amalgamation of 11 municipalities to create a new, larger City of Ottawa in 2001. You’ll still hear people refer to Kanata,” “Nepean,” “Vanier,” and “Rockcliffe Park,” among others, that used to be separate municipalities.


As the capital, Ottawa hosts most of the federal bureaucracy and with that comes a love of acronyms that knows no bounds. You’ll hear talk of “DFAIT” (pronounced DEE-fate), “DND,” “PWGSC,” “PSAC,” “the GG,” “PMO” and more. (For those who are paying attention, that’s the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, the Department of National Defence, Public Works and Government Services Canada, the Public Service Alliance of Canada, the Governor General, and the Prime Minister’s Office.)

You might hear those acronyms if you’re hobnobbing in an establishment such as Hy’s Steakhouse or among cabinet ministers’ staffers at D’Arcy McGee’s Pub on Sparks Street, or enjoying your $1 oysters at “Hill Hour” (not Happy Hour) at Métropolitain Brasserie.


Welcome to the Sens Mile, aka Elgin Street.

Ahh, the Ottawa Senators, our local National Hockey League franchise! They’re “the Sens“ and they play at “the Bank” (Scotiabank Place) and you can cheer them on at an establishment on Elgin Street, also known as the “Sens Mile.” If you do, you’ll become part of the “Sens Army.” Some still refer to Scotiabank Place as the “Corel Centre” or even the “Palladium“–both former names of the building. Oh, and “Alfie” is Daniel Alfredsson, the beloved team captain.

Among the university and college teams, cheers on the “Ravens” at Carleton University, the “Thunder” at Algonquin College and, um, the “Gee-Gees” at the University of Ottawa. I’m an alumna, so I can tell you what the heck a gee-gee is: it’s the lead horse in a race.


BeaverTail, anyone? It's not what you might think!

What’s a “chip truck,” you ask? It’s a (usually mobile) truck or cart on the street that serves fast food — usually hot dogs, burgers, fries and “poutine” (French fries, gravy and cheese curds).

Ottawans’ favourite sweet treat is a “BeaverTail” and no, it does not have much to do with the iconic Canadian animal (except that its shape is reminscent of the posterior appendage of the rodent). It’s a hot wholewheat pastry treat topped with a variety of toppings — the most popular of which is cinnamon and sugar.


Ottawa’s “Chinatown” is found on Somerset Street West between Preston Street and Bay Street and “Little Italy is along Preston Street. The French Quarter” is the name given to the former (mostly francophone) municipality of Vanier and “The Village” is the name given to a burgeoning LGBT area of town, along Bank Street (between Nepean and James Streets).

So how ’bout it, Ottawans? Have I missed anything? And for all you visitors out there, are there any terms you’ve heard that haven’t made sense to you? Let us know and we’ll try to help!

17 Responses to “Do you speak Ottawan?”

  1. andrea November 2, 2010 at 9:36 am #

    Funny! But I have to say, I’ve never called ScotiaBank Place “the Bank,” but I have definitely been known to call it the Corel Centre! :)

  2. Olivier November 2, 2010 at 10:01 am #

    Valuable treasure. What about the longest skating area in the world?

  3. ByWard Market November 2, 2010 at 11:11 am #

    Great list! Just one small correction: the boundaries of the ByWard Market are actually – Sussex Dr in the West to Cumberland St. in the East, and George St in the South to St. Patrick in the North, except on Dalhousie where it goes all the way to Cathcart.

  4. Don (@foodieprints) November 2, 2010 at 3:56 pm #

    May I suggest the “‘burg” for Hintonburg?

    There’s also Welli-West for the West Wellington Village…

  5. Don (@foodieprints) November 2, 2010 at 3:59 pm #

    May I suggest the “‘burg” for the Hintonburg neighbourhood?

    There’s also “Welli-west” for the West Wellington Village.

  6. nelly November 2, 2010 at 4:01 pm #

    cute list :)

    how about the OC.

    “stupid OC was late again”.

    • ottawajantine November 2, 2010 at 5:30 pm #

      You’re referring, of course, to OC Transpo, the local transit company! There’s also the STO — la Société de transport de l’Outaouais — the transit company on the Gatineau side of the river. OC Transpo’s buses are red, STO’s are blue!

  7. KC November 3, 2010 at 9:18 am #

    There’s also “Rideau” – which usually refers to the Rideau Centre (rather than Rideau Street or the Rideau Canal).

    Great list!

    • OttawaJantine November 3, 2010 at 10:45 am #

      Good addition, Krystal! I could write reams on “Rideau” (pronounced REE-doe)! When Samuel de Champlain travelled up the Ottawa River in the early 1600s (one of the first Europeans to do so), he noticed that the Rideau River, emptying into the Ottawa River looked like a curtain of water. “Curtain” in French is “rideau”–so that’s how Rideau Falls, and, by extension, the Rideau River, got its name.

      Rideau also became the name for nearby Rideau Hall (home and workplace of Canada’s Governor General); Rideau Street; the Downtown Rideau Business Improvement Area; Rideau Centre (the 180-store downtown shopping mall); even the Rideau Club (a posh private club).


  8. Carolyn B. Heller November 8, 2010 at 10:57 pm #

    A useful list for both visitors and newcomers to Ottawa! I blogged about your post at


  9. Zhu November 9, 2010 at 2:13 pm #

    Great post! I’m glad to see that I know most of Ottawa’s vocabulary. Phew. I guess I adapted well!

    I had never noticed the “Sens Mile” sign though!

    I would also add:

    - U of O
    - The Seaway Valley (this confused me so much when I first came, I really didn’t know what it referred to!)

  10. Mr.G November 9, 2010 at 2:59 pm #

    Definitively this blog will be a great addition to my feed reader! marking this to recommend to my readers this Sunday!

  11. Julien November 9, 2010 at 9:39 pm #

    “Over on Spark” “Sparks and Bank” – referring to Sparks street. “Across the river” refers to Gatineau. Likewise for “Across the border”, which refers to the Ontario-Quebec border, not that between Canada and the US. “Alexandria” refers to a bridge. Likewise for “Mackenzie-King”. “Portage Buildings” refers to the government buildings located in Hull. “Beechwood” refers to an area as well as the street.

    • Laura November 14, 2010 at 8:53 am #

      This is fantastic! Found you through the Zieglers Blog. I’ve been keeping a list of Ottawan (isms?)since we moved here from Toronto a few years ago…they make me laugh.

  12. Anne November 21, 2010 at 10:53 pm #

    How about one I use…”the farm” refering to the Central Experimental Farm which is a jewel in our city?


  1. Sunday Reading #15 - November 14, 2010

    [...] Via Reddit, I found out that there’s an “Ottawan Language”! [...]

  2. Ottawa Race Weekend and Great Glebe Garage Sale « Let’s Go Ottawa - May 26, 2011

    [...] roughly south of Highway 417 (known as the Queensway — check out an earlier post on “Do you Speak Ottawan?“), west and north of the Rideau Canal and east of Bronson [...]

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