Banking on a Bathroom at Bank and Riverside

The intersection of Bank Street and Riverside Drive is one of the most important crossroads in the city. Long before the canal was built, the Rideau River was a main travel and trade waterway for the Algonquin people. Bank Street intersects it, going north to the Ottawa River, and south all the way to the Saint Lawrence.



This intersection looms large in my twenty-year experience of living in Ottawa. When I lived in Sandy Hill, my toddler and I would bike to Mooney’s Bay on every possible occasion in the summer. In that era, every house guest we had, wanted to bike up the river to Hogg’s Back, and then back along the “world famous Rideau Canal.”

"I say we ask for something outrageous on this corner: a truly public bathroom. Right on the corner, with signage, open all year round, with hot water, toilet paper, soap – the works! "

Now that I live in Alta Vista, I often walk home across Billings Bridge from errands in the Glebe or Old Ottawa South, especially in winter, as I try to squeeze in a couple of hours of “outside time” during our short winter days.


Over the years of these wonderful foot and bike excursions, with multi generations of family members, there have been occasions when we’ve needed to pop in to Harvey’s Restaurant at Bank and Riverside to use the bathroom. This bathroom was conveniently accessed from the side of the building, so that one didn’t necessarily feel obliged to order something, in exchange for using the loo. (Thanks, Harvey’s!)



Harvey’s was demolished this winter to make way for ambitious new development at this corner. The public currently has the opportunity to weigh in on its priorities. SEE PUBLIC CONSULATION


I say we ask for something outrageous on this corner: a truly public bathroom. Right on the corner, with signage, open all year round, with hot water, toilet paper, soap – the works! What a great message this would send to tourists and visitors, especially those seeing the city by bike or on foot. What a radically inclusive way to say that this is a city for women, parents, caregivers, anyone with a digestive system who likes to be out and about enjoying our great city. It would open the possibility for micro food service to exist on this corner – food trucks or stalls that can’t provide a bathroom of their own. Just add a functioning drinking fountain and we’ve got the beginnings of a real public square.

"...maybe if we found some way to provide decent facilities for both the housed and unhoused, we could show we’re a city that cares about everyone’s health and well-being, in the most fundamental possible way."

The main opposition to this idea is likely to come in the form of concern about a public bathroom being an incentive to homelessness. Give homeless people a clean, heated place to go to the bathroom, and suddenly everyone will want to be homeless, or so I imagine the argument will go.



But let’s approach this concern from the other angle: Homeless folks, like all of us, need to go somewhere. With community centres, libraries and malls closed during the pandemic, many homeless people do not have the option of buying a three dollar latte for the privilege of going in Starbucks. So where do they go? Outside? In parks? I really don’t know. But maybe if we found some way to provide decent facilities for both the housed and unhoused, we could show we’re a city that cares about everyone’s health and well-being, in the most fundamental possible way. I’m banking on it.


JANET MARK WALLACE is a regular blog contributor for Walkable Ottawa.