Post by David Gick
Communities are built on the strength of weak ties. While close friendships are important, communities are bound together by the casual, often prescribed, relationships we have with work colleagues, friends of friends, and the people who sell us things. It’s this kind of casual familiarity which makes the neighbourhoods we live in really feel like home.
Ghulam Rasool Chaudhary, who passed away last week at 72, was one of the people who made Centretown feel like home to me.
This must be the same way he interacted with hundreds of people, but he managed to remember me and I found it touching. He remembered where I worked, when I changed jobs, and when I stopped coming in with the same girl.
I didn’t know Mr. Chaudhary personally. He was the owner of Olympia Market on Gladstone Avenue, Ottawa’s first Halal butcher. My interactions with him were always professional and courteous. Mostly, we would make small talk while my order was being prepared. This must be the same way he interacted with hundreds of people, but he managed to remember me and I found it touching. He remembered where I worked, when I changed jobs, and when I stopped coming in with the same girl. He made me feel like a part of the community, even though I only spent four years in the area, and I really appreciated it.
As time went on, I realized he wasn’t only the local butcher. Olympia had become a staple for members of many different communities. More than just meat, though, Olympia is an international pantry. From what I gleaned through our short conversations, Mr. Chaudhary took care to listen to his customers and tried to bring in the things they wanted – especially those things which were hard to find elsewhere. There is forever injeera bread on the shelves and at Christmas time he brought in little cookies – sort of lady fingers covered in icing sugar – from Montreal, which he said were seasonal Greek treats. He spoke sometimes of the large orders he had to fill for restaurants, and I would often see people leaving the shop with prodigious amounts of cubed meat.
He seems to have built a community much wider than the one immediately surrounding his shop: a community of which I was not so much a part of, but was tied to my neighbourhood through him. It was always delightful to experience. I find myself wondering more now about the extent of those ties.
In the past, Mr. Chaudhary had lamented to me the difficulty in finding an apprentice to carry on his work. It was very challenging, he said, to teach somebody the intricacies of all the various cuts of meat dictated by the many cultural traditions of his customers. Just as difficult, I’m sure, is finding someone so likeable and able to make people feel at home in only the way people you don’t really know can.
I have an alarm set on my phone, almost famously amongst friends and co-workers. It goes off at 6:40pm on Sundays and is labeled “Meat man cutoff in 10 min.” It’s a reminder I made myself in the first days I spent living in the area around Gladstone and Percy. I made the alarm because Mr. Chaudhary was disapproving of people coming in at the last minute to place their meat order. It felt like a reasonable request: after all, how many small grocers are open at 7pm on a Sunday? Even though I don’t live in the area anymore, I’ve never gotten rid of the alarm – just in case I do find myself on Gladstone. It’s been like a little piece of digital butchers twine tying me to the area where I felt most at home since leaving my parents house.
Here’s to Mr. Chaudhary, and all our weak ties. You can find his obituary in the Ottawa Citizen.
The illustration of Olympia Market, above, was drawn by the late Ottawa artist Mathieu Trudel (aka Mawt Trood) who died unexpectedly, earlier this year. More of his work is on display at Coqlicorne Bistro (59 rue Laval) until October 12.