Sarp Kizir is Ottawa’s riotous merry-making everywhere culture man. He is a food writer and opinions columnist for Apartment613. Follow him on Twitter @RoughChopOttawa.
As I write this, Vanier is going through a change. It’s a change that we knew was coming for a while but, much to our surprise, the powers that be decided that the best time to hit the “go” button was during a global pandemic. A time that is stressing everyone out.
Change during normal circumstances is difficult in Vanier, with the power of a few making the future uncertain for so many. Rents increasing, affordable housing becoming scarcer and scarcer, fights over shelter locations, and over-policing and surveillance of marginalized people are all issues affecting the residents of Vanier and the people in the surrounding areas who call this part of Ottawa their home.
Making it a million times more difficult are the industries of construction, infrastructure, and residential development literally shaking the ground beneath people’s feet and making them wonder: Who are they really building this for? Where there are fires incinerating large swaths of retail space where beloved small businesses once operated, construction permits get green-lit immediately after, and new mechanical equipment creeps in as soon as the flames are extinguished. We knew gentrification was coming, but not now, not during a global pandemic, and not at this speed. Something about this just doesn’t feel right—and I’m not alone in thinking so.
Where do Eastview Plaza and Royal Prince Restaurant fit into this picture? Eastview Plaza is located in the middle of a highly sought-after piece of land that has had its fair share of development promises thrown at it. Since 2013, developers have drafted wishful proposals for what they think the intersection of North River Road and Montreal Road should look like. Historically, one can argue that Vanier and the Eastview Plaza have been symbols of change and urban evolution ever since the name of Eastview was changed to Vanier back in 1969, during the post-war boom. At one point Eastview was even considered a “City of the Future.”
With so much change comes a lot of uncertainty, but it wasn’t always that way. There was a time where streets and blocks were spruced up and lined with businesses so that families in the area could have something fun and exciting to do on a Friday night without leaving Vanier. I remember when I was younger, Friday couldn’t come soon enough, because my friends and I were going to meet at the Tagball place on the corner of Montreal Road and Vanier Parkway and shoot each other with CO2 rifles for fun until the place closed down. I have a deep-rooted connection to wanting to see small businesses be successful in the area, no matter what changes the world throws at them.
That’s why I’m invested in helping to bring attention to Jean-Charles Conzier and his Royal Prince Caribbean Restaurant located in the Eastview Plaza, which has been marked for demolition while COVID-19 demolishes the old normal and ushers in a new one.
“The reason why I opened my business in Vanier is because of multicultural diversity,” says Conzier. “The people in the community welcome you with open arms and they are ready to help you achieve your goal.”
Development and construction companies seem to have remained relatively unscathed as the Canadian economy and people’s lives have been upended by one of the most significant events to affect humankind in recent memory. We all understand that now is the time for everyone to come together while we are apart—but we are not coming together for everyone. The disparities affecting marginalized communities in Ottawa have been intensified by the global pandemic. Many front-line and low-wage workers are at a higher risk of catching COVID-19 because of their direct exposure to the general public and the fact that their services have been deemed essential.
“The global pandemic has brought a new set of unprecedented circumstances and challenges to racialized and Black communities.”
In late April of this year, it was announced that Ottawa city councillor Rawlson King would be launching an effort to collect race-based data around COVID-19 to see just how it affected the black community in Ottawa.
“The global pandemic has brought a new set of unprecedented circumstances and challenges to racialized and Black communities that have already been impacted by discriminatory and harmful economic and environmental conditions,” says Councillor King. “In order to address these issues, it is now more essential than ever that public health officials introduce the collection of race and socio-demographic data for use in health planning.”
It should be noted that this work was taken on by Ottawa’s first-ever black city councillor. This is data that even the provincial government under Doug Ford didn’t think was necessary, at a time when leadership in these fields of study are more important than ever. As I write this, I am learning that there is a chance that Ontario may start collecting race based COVID-19 data, almost a week after Councillor King announced that he would.
One of the most obvious disparities I noticed right off the bat when this pandemic hit and small businesses were forced to close their doors was the complete lack of BIPOC-owned businesses on the “support local” lists that started to appear across most social media platforms. Instead of spending too much time asking myself why, I focused on helping the various list creators to be more inclusive. Over the span of about a month, I was able to help populate multiple support local lists in the city with more BIPOC-owned small businesses, and Royal Prince Caribbean was one of them.
“It’s difficult for small businesses like mine,” says Cronzier, “because of all the restrictions they put on the loans the government is providing to small businesses. We do not qualify, so it’s even tougher for us. We don’t know how long we’ll have this business.” Nevertheless, Cronzier is proud to be donating 300 meals a week to help families in the community. “I’m very proud of the people that I work with and my business.”
“Racialized businesses and workers are falling through the cracks.”
“African, Caribbean, and Black communities have requested that there be greater supports for small businesses from the federal government, especially the cluster of Black Francophone businesses on Montreal Road, which are in danger of being closed permanently,” adds Councillor King. “For many Black businesses, the challenge revolves around not reaching the threshold that small businesses need to demonstrate in terms of total paid payroll, a minimum of $20,000.”
“Ultimately, both racialized businesses and workers are falling through the cracks, and this needs to be addressed by revised rules to provide fair access to COVID-19 support programs.”
The depth of the challenge facing Cronzier and Royal Prince was apparent to me when news broke that many business owners in the Eastview Plaza had received notices that their leases would be terminated because the plaza is going to be demolished. When exactly business owners received their lease termination notices depends on who you ask and what the terms of their leases are. In an email to Apt613, Daniel Byrne, Vice President of Development for main+main says eviction notices were issued in November 2019. The news about eviction notices emerged into the public domain while COVID-19 cases in the city were heading towards a peak. By that time, the economy had already suffered tremendously and the future of businesses like Royal Prince became even bleaker.
Here is the Eastview Plaza redevelopment concept touted by Toronto developer main+main. Another development project was also well underway at the same time, the Montreal Road Revitalization. This development effort is focused on upgrading and retrofitting above- and below-ground infrastructure, much like the year-long construction that Elgin Street went through in 2019.
“Due to this pandemic, we’ve lost 95 per cent of our business and Montreal Road is under construction… It’s extremely difficult for small businesses like mine,” says Cronzier.
Vanier businesses like Royal Prince and Rafetna, an African furniture and goods store on Montreal Road, are facing challenges right now that there are no concrete solutions for. Their futures are uncertain, and the only way they can ride out the turbulence is with a combined community effort and an all-hands-on-deck approach. Helping your business pals is more important than ever, but it’s also time we start reaching out and including ALL Ottawa businesses in the equation of community care and small-business promotion. Let’s forge new relationships and start thinking outside of our tight-knit social circles.
I am willing to sit behind the steering wheel and give you a tour of my side of town, but I can only do so much when there is no one willing to take the tour. If you can, please make an effort to come to Vanier, specifically Montreal Road. We are inviting you to explore and support the various shops and vendors that make our neighbourhood rich, vibrant, beautiful, and alive. Come meet our shop owners and community builders and friends while you practice physical distancing. For a list of shops and restaurants you can support in Vanier, please refer to this page. We would love to have you.
Development company that will be tearing down Eastview Plaza. pic.twitter.com/FBA1NGFeGc
— Roughchop Ottawa (@RoughChopOttawa) April 15, 2020