Just a block away from Parliament Hill, the pedestrian-only Sparks Street is in the core of downtown Ottawa. It’s also one of the city’s most historic streets.
Ottawa’s Sparks Street
Sparks Street runs for seven blocks (or just under 1.5 km) through downtown Ottawa. The stretch of five blocks from Elgin to Lyon is closed to all vehicles and is pedestrian-only. The final two blocks, from Lyon to Bronson, are open to vehicles.
This pedestrian-only policy was implemented in 1967 after previous experiments of closing the street to vehicles in the summertime were seen as successes. Sparks Street was the first street in the country to permanently close itself off from vehicles.
The street got its name from Nicholas Sparks, a businessman who owned much of the surrounding property in the 19th century. Today, the street is home to Sparks Street Mall and hosts multiple annual events. The area is also home to numerous historic sites and noteworthy places to visit.
Sparks Street Mall
The focal point of Sparks Street is the pedestrian mall of the same name. While the pedestrian-only section stretches for five blocks, the mall only goes for three (from Elgin Street to Bank Street).
As a lot of the mall is outdoors you are able to walk through and into it at any time. Of course, all the different stores there have their own operating hours. While Sparks Street used to be a massive economic hub in the city a century ago, today it’s a bit less busy. There are still a number of spots to visit though.
Events on Sparks Street
There are some great annual events hosted on Sparks Street. Below are a few of them, and the best part is that they’re all free to attend!
Sparks Street Poutinefest
If you’re a poutine fan then this is a can’t-miss festival. (For anyone reading this who isn’t Canadian, poutine is a French Canadian dish consisting of potato fries, cheese curds and gravy.)
For four days every spring Sparks Street is home to as much poutine as you could ever hope to eat. Seven or so restaurants along the street participate and they are joined by a ton of other vendors who come and join in on the fries, cheese and gravy extravaganza.
Live music is also on hand with all the food. The street’s outdoor setting makes it a great place to hang out and eat when the weather is good.
Like with Poutinefest, Ribfest is exactly what it sounds like. Around a dozen top grillers from all across North America descend on Ottawa to prove they make the best BBQs. With ribs, chicken, sauces and a bunch of non-grilled dishes as well, this event is another food-lover’s paradise. Visitors can also help vote for some of the awards handed-out at the end of the multi-day competition!
To learn more about Ottawa Ribfest, see the Sparkslive.com website.
Ottawa International Buskerfest
Another four-day event, this time in August, Buskerfest brings in around two dozen performers of various kinds each year. There are musicians, magicians, acrobats, contortionists and more all plying their trade on multiple stages along Sparks Street. With great acts from all over the world, come and enjoy the shows yourself and vote for your favourites.
To learn more about the event see the Ottawa Buskerfest website.
One of the biggest events in the entire city, Winterlude is not confined to just one street. That said, Sparks Street played an important role in the 2020 version, serving as the grounds for the festival’s opening ceremonies and big first night party. Sparks Street also served as a host for the 2021 virtual Winterlude.
To learn more about Winterlude see the Tourism Ottawa website.
Places to Eat, Drink and Shop
There are multiple places to stop along Sparks Street when you visit. Below are a few of them.
- A2 Prêt à Porter – a women’s fashion store located at 151 Sparks Street. It focuses on Canadian brands and designers.
- D’Arcy McGee’s – designed and built in Ireland, this well-reviewed pub was literally shipped to Ottawa and re-assembled at 44 Sparks Street.
- Dixon Jewellers – this store at 71 1/2 Sparks Street specializes in engagement rings, custom pieces and repairs. The majority of their items are hand-made in the building.
- Morgante Menswear – as the name suggests this is a men’s fashion store. Located at 141 Sparks street, it’s right next door to its counterpart A2 Prêt à Porter.
- Riviera – a high-end restaurant sitting at 62 Sparks Street. It has a number of wines and cocktails to go with its fairly expensive dishes.
- The Snow Goose – a top-quality crafts store that sells Inuit art. Located at 83 Sparks Street, there are plenty of beautiful carvings, sculptures and prints on display.
As Sparks Street is nestled in the middle of one the most historically significant areas in the city, there are plenty of places worth visiting close by. Here are some of them:
- Parliament Hill – the seat of Canada’s federal government sits just a block away from Sparks Street. Though the Centre Block is under renovations, the area (and the two other main buildings) can all still be explored.
- Confederation Square – a National Historic Site and home to the National War Memorial and Valiants Memorial. It’s directly across the street from Spark Streets’ terminus at Elgin.
- Bank of Canada Museum – a very interactive museum located at 30 Bank Street. It has displays about the history of money and how the global economy and banks in general operate.
- Rideau Canal – one of the most famous landmarks in all of Canada, it’s part of the canal that stretches right under Confederation Square. You can skate it in the winter or paddle it in the summer.
- Central Post Office – right at the end of Sparks Street is this post office headquarters that was built over 80 years ago. The building is also home to the Privy Council of Canada.
Tours of the Area
With so many sites to see, going on a tour is a great option. There are multiple tours that hit Sparks Street along the way, including Escape Bicycle Tours and Lady Dive Tours. Escape tours gives you some nice exercise while you learn more about the city. The Lady Dive amphibus tour, meanwhile, takes you for a ride on a bus that travels across both roads and also through the water!
If ghost stories are more your speed, you can check out The Haunted Walk. Open both during the day and in the evening, taking one of these tours is a great way to learn some of the spookier stories about Ottawa’s past.
For more information visit the official Sparks Street website.
Other articles that may be of interest include the following:
- Hotels in Ottawa
- Museums in Ottawa
- Ottawa Calendar of Events
- Ottawa Attractions and Places of Interest