Early on a cloudy Sunday at the Heron Gate complex in Alta Vista Ward, the wet grounds are alive with people. Delicious smells spill out of windows and cumin, garlic, and onion scent the morning air. The crowd is composed of people from many cultures, several who are new arrivals to Canada. Their clothing is as colourful and different as their languages. When asked, residents of the area guess at the many ethnicities present – Somali, Iraqi, Kuwaiti, Afghani, East Indian, Vietnamese – but it is impossible to name them all.
Maureen Stark, born in the west side of Ottawa but now a resident of Alta Vista Ward, appreciates that her children have gone to school with such diverse classmates and had opportunities to witness other cultures. “I love how the community is like a little country,” she adds, waving at one of the children passing. Countless young girls and boys shriek through the playground while their families watch.
Many of the energetic children are too young to attend school, but numerous people living at the complex say they have older children who attend St. Patrick’s Intermediate and High Schools. Today, these young people have traded their tartan uniforms for muddy jeans. Kids are riding their bikes, jostling in the playground or running around one of the many parks that bless Alta Vista Ward.
In Orlando Park, two friends struggle to start an impressive remote-controlled car. One man jokes that they only take it out when the wives say it’s ok. The drone of a toy helicopter fills the ear, interrupting the cicadas and birdsong. Trees surround the park, and the grass is green and unkempt. The woods nearby smell of undergrowth and echo with the laughter of teenage boys attempting to down a large wasp nest.
Nearby, at the Heron Road Community Centre, an Afghani community meeting is held next to a product launch for a coffee company. Two floors below, teenage girls play basketball and customers sweat in the fitness centre. Mohamed Dalmar, a retired man with distinctive eyebrows and frosted hair, sits outside. He and his family are awaiting the start of the Somali community meeting. “Maintenance and safety in the area have been going down,” he declares, “but I stay here because of my community.”
Other residents share his concern, but Alta Vista appears to be a vibrant and diverse ward with many services, families and tight-knit ethnic communities. The proximity to downtown and the availability of shopping centres, mosques, churches and hospitals are just some of the ward’s benefits.