“And so it came to pass…” is a highly clichéd phrase for a writer to use. It’s as bad as “Once upon a time.” However, it is appropriate to use because in Ottawa, three features of the community have recently passed into history.
As a Master’s student at the University of Ottawa over a decade ago, I would walk through the By Ward Market on warm summer evenings and see bizarre but amusing things. I remember a man who walked around with two little dogs dressed up in costumes with cone-shaped hats. There were also street corner evangelists from a cult who thinks God is really a collective of space aliens. The one thing I really remember though is the man who would quietly stand or walk along Rideau Street or the William Street Pedestrian Mall with a parrot perched on each shoulder, on a stretched out hand, or on top of his bald head. He was a big hit with tourists or people on their way to the market’s nightlife scene. It turns out that the parrot man’s name was Garry Allen, and he died suddenly on February 16th at age 63. He collapsed in a snowbank by the street near his apartment in Hull, likely from a sudden heart attack. His death came just a few days after his beloved birds had all died in his apartment. The Ottawa Citizen reported the cause of death was fumes from a non-stick frying pan that are fatal to birds but not humans.
Reactions on sites like Reddit have been thoughtful to the memory of the parrot man. He obviously was a source of joy for many people. One woman, a former neighbor of Allen’s, shared a photo of herself holding a parrot at the laundromat where they would frequently meet on wash day. Another neighbor said Allen always passed by their house with the parrots and would stop to entertain their children. “We just broke the news to my son and he cried as he had known him for nearly 3 years,” the parent posted.
Last Saturday, a downtown landmark popular for over 30 years with lawmakers and the journalists who cover them, grilled its last steaks and shook its last martinis. Hy’s Steak House and Cocktail Bar on the ground floor of the Sun Life building on Queen Street opened in 1985. It quickly became the most popular place for after work boozing and schmoozing. Hy’s, with its dark wood interior was a sort of cone of silence. The chance of anything a politician said to a reporter there making it into the news was rare but the nature of the discussion was usually well done.
The management says the closure is due to a lease dispute with the landlord. However, changing times and tastes could also be a factor. The days of hard-drinking politicians and journalists seem increasingly consigned to the past. There’s a much more healthy and family-friendly focus in today’s official Ottawa. John Nater, a Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) in his early 30s from southwestern Ontario, was previously on the office staff of another MP before being elected. He says the prices at Hy’s discouraged him from wanting to see what the place was all about. “A lot of the younger MP’s that I know all have young families who come with them to Ottawa, so it’s less of a party crowd,” adds Nater, who himself has a young family, indicating that after hours beef and booze time is being replaced by family time.
Our final local institution to recently fade away for another year is the Rideau Canal Skateway. The National Capital Commission shut it down permanently on February 25. This winter’s temperatures have gone up and down like a yo-yo, making it difficult to have the 7.8 kilometer/5 mile long rink open. It was only operating for two out of three weekends of the annual Winterlude festivities and had a total season of just 18 days, its shortest ever—which ironically came after its longest season ever, last year. While Hy’s Steakhouse and Garry Allen and his parrots have become part of Ottawa’s cultural history, the Rideau Canal Skateway will be sure to return next winter, but no two skating seasons are ever the same. It has indeed come to pass that three local landmarks and cultural curiosities have become part of the capital’s past.