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Ottawa, we need to talk: What’s with the weird brown shoes?

By Michael McKenna on May 16, 2012

We’re resurrecting a series that ran in the early days of the blog, way back in 2009 when King of the Hill was still on TV and Poker Face meant more then just being good at card games. The few articles posted in our original “I hate to be a snob about this” series – now reborn as “Ottawa, we need to talk” – allowed people to kvetch about the things in the city that drove them wild. Even Pollyanna had a few Oscar the Grouch moments. To submit an idea for an article, please write to

Michael McKenna is a recent addition to Ottawa and writes for Ask Men.

So I’m new here. And I really don’t want to be that guy, and get things started on the wrong foot… but I think there is something a little strange going on in downtown Ottawa, and wonder if the 613 might benefit from a “fresh set of eyes”.

I’ll get right to it: It’s the shoes. What is going on with the shoes? I am speaking, of course, about those weird sort of brown, neon-accented “sport hiking” sneakers from the ‘90s. You know the ones. Please don’t feign ignorance. You found them at Sports Experts arranged on a cardboard display unit designed to resemble Mt. Kilimanjaro, and emblazoned with product names like “Trainathon X-Terra K2″. The box boasted waterproof uppers and a sole made from “Beryllium Carbonox”. You slid them on over white sport socks, tucked your suit pants behind the tongue, and proceeded to stride down Wellington Street. These are facts. I was there. Don’t make this more difficult than it has to be.

As a newcomer, of course, and a person who is curious about the world that surrounds him, my first instinct was to understand this strange custom. Could it be, perhaps, that all Ottawa social events can potentially turn into midnight hiking marathons at a moment’s notice? Do groups of otherwise well-turned-out Director-Generals (side request: a little “Ottawa cred” for knowing about that) forego dessert, leaving Beckta or whatever, to go trudge up the Gatineau Hills in single file? At ten o’ clock at night? For no reason?

I realize that this is a little far-fetched, but explaining natural phenomena tends to be a long process. Our first explanation (as per above) is always kind of laboured and insane. Take fire, for instance. We had to detour through Zeus and Prometheus and vultures that eat your liver for two thousand years before getting to this sciencey-sounding thing I found on Wikipedia. It’s not easy, and these shoes are no different. Even though I have since abandoned the “impromptu hike” explanation for a series of (somewhat) more reasonable-sounding alternatives (ideal-of-civil-service-related footwear populism, poorly-maintained and puddle-filled government offices, a collective gesture of contempt towards supercilious Montrealers like myself), there remains an element of mystery.

There are, after all, alternatives. I am not proposing that you go completely 514, purchase a set of those two-tone Italian wingtips and spend the rest of your days smoking long, unfiltered cigarettes and caring about soccer. That’s too far. But if you want to appropriately finish off a navy suit, a blazer and jeans, or even that white shirt/black trousers/Jansport-backpack-from-Grade-9 look that we’ll discuss later, there are ways to handle this a little better than what’s currently going on out there.

At WOLF & Zed on Sussex, for example, one can easily purchase a John Varvatos boot that will effortlessly signal to the world that you are a competent adult professional who is not going to run off howling into the forest at any second. Even something like a decent set of Clarks will complement a robust tweed without also feeling compelled to announce your love of Ultimate Frisbee to everyone in the office, street, or (god forbid) restaurant-where-I-am-also-dining.

I recognize that this might raise a few hackles, you know, as nobody likes a pointed word (especially from Montreal, whose sartorial sins range from white patent-leather belts on lower Saint-Laurent to entire torsos of poorly-drawn tattoo monsters on East Sainte-Catherine), but I thought this needed to be said. It’s not the entire solution (see above re: the Jansport backpack, and we’ll discuss the Oakleys another time), but it’s a start.

It’s a way to get out of the woods.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments.

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