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Photo courtesy of the Ottawa Local Immigration Partnership

Welcoming Ottawa Week: A free festival is highlighting Ottawa as a welcoming city to newcomers

By Leah Geller on June 12, 2019


June is a really busy time in Ottawa—there’s the Ottawa Jazz Festival, the Fringe, the Dragonboat Festival, Glowfair, Escapade, Summer Solstice Indigenous Festival, and the Franco-Ontarian Festival. The list goes on and on.

Adding to the fun of early summer in the city is Welcoming Ottawa Week, a series of free events highlighting Ottawa as a welcoming city to newcomers. The “Week,” which actually runs June 17–30 this year, is an opportunity to appreciate the amazing contributions of newcomers, while creating opportunities for learning and interaction for all.

There is so much to choose from. I’ve highlighted just a few great free events below. You can find out more by accessing the calendar at

Tastes and Sounds of the Middle East

Tuesday June 18, 12pm–1pm @ Ottawa Public Library, Main Branch

Middle Eastern food is enjoying a renaissance around the world, thanks in part to the success of chefs like Sami Tamimi and Yotam Ottolenghi of Jerusalem cookbook fame. Closer to home, places like Ottawa’s upscale Fairouz and shops like Mid-East Foods are further fueling interest in Middle Eastern cuisine.

Racha Pharaon and Mansour Sweidan came to Ottawa as Syrian refugees just over a year ago and already own and run a successful restaurant called Big Bite Kitchen in the ByWard Market.

You can enjoy food samples from their kitchen, while learning more about Syrian-Jordanian food, at this free event. You’ll also have the chance to listen to Middle Eastern music played on the oud by Ammar Baitalmal.

If you miss the Tuesday event, Racha Pharaon is hosting a second food tasting event at the Elmvale Acres branch on Saturday, June 22 from 3pm–4pm.

Free Henna Art

June 18, 22 and 29 @ Various branches of the Ottawa Public Library

I like the idea of tattoos, but really don’t want the commitment or pain. I figure henna art is the perfect alternative – it’s natural, it’s temporary and, best of all, it doesn’t hurt!

So I am very excited that the Ottawa Public Library will be hosting free henna application by the Henna Lady at five different branches—free of charge. See you there!

  • Greenboro Branch: Tuesday June 18, 6pm–7pm
  • Carlingwood Branch: Saturday June 22, 11am–12pm
  • Manotick Branch: Saturday June 22, 2:30pm–3:30pm
  • Ruth E. Dickinson Branch: Saturday June 29, 11am–12pm
  • Blackburn Hamlet Branch: Saturday June 20, 2:30pm–3:30pm

YOCISO Talent Showcase and “Wrestling with Champions”

Friday June 21, 2pm–5pm @ Mooney’s Bay Beach

Where else would you get to meet with a 12-time Syrian Wrestling Champion?

Mohammed Al-Krad arrived in Ottawa in 2016 as a refugee from Syria and soon after began coaching wrestling as a way to become part of his new home. His story became the focus of an award-winning TVO short documentary.

This year, he initiated a program for newcomer youth through the Ottawa Community Immigrant Services Organization (OCISO) called Wrestling With Champions. Every Wednesday and Friday evening, about a dozen boys ages 10 to 18 learn from him at OCISO’s Newcomer Youth Centre in Ottawa South.

During this special WOW event, Al-Krad will demonstrate wrestling skills and discuss the finer points of the sport. Participants of the program will also exhibit the wrestling techniques they have learned in the program so far.

Persian Dance Workshop by Maria Saba

Saturday June 23, 4pm–5pm @ Nepean Creative Arts Centre

To say that Maria Saba is a high achiever would be an understatement. She came to Canada from Iran, completed her PhD in Theoretical Biochemistry in Toronto and became a scientist and published author.

Saba also performs and teaches dance. In this free event, she’ll be teaching a fun, interactive workshop on Persian Dance for people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds. Her particular style integrates Iranian, East Indian, Arabic and African influences and this one-hour class will include the basic movements to create and perform a short piece as a group at the end.

OCCSC “Transformation” Youth Colouring Event

Saturday June 23, 11am–1pm @ 215 Wurtemburg Street (at Rideau)

Looking for a free, creative, outdoor activity for the kids this weekend?

Last year, artist Claudia Salguero worked with the local community to create a nine-story mural called “Transformation” on an Ottawa Community Housing building in Lowertown, touching on themes of change and diversity.

Claudia will be on hand this Saturday in front of the mural to lead an art workshop for children and youth aged 8–14. They’ll recreate the mural on handouts and create a large chalk drawing out in front. See you there!

Welcoming Ottawa Week runs from June 17–30, 2019. Visit for the complete program and schedule.