My Ottawa Life: Erin Benjamin takes us on the best day – and night – ever in Ottawa

Erin Benjamin My Ottawa Life
Editor's Note

My Ottawa Life is an occasional column where we ask local business personalities about their life in the nation’s capital and what they like most about the city.

As president and CEO of the Canadian Live Music Association, Erin Benjamin’s Ottawa life is anything but quiet.

Benjamin is an award-winning community builder, sitting on the Music Industry Arts Advisory Committee with Algonquin College and Ontario Creates, serving as a board member for the Ottawa Board of Trade, and working with United Way Ontario East, to name a few endeavours.

Whether spending time at home in her pool and with her beloved pets or touring through local neighbourhoods, Benjamin’s love for Ottawa knows few boundaries. And, of course, when it comes to live music, entertainment and F-U-N in Ottawa, Benjamin knows where it’s at. 

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In this instalment of My Ottawa Life, Benjamin shares her favourite lunch and retail spots, some of the best music venues and local artists on the scene, and the itinerary for an ideal day in Ottawa.

Where in the city/region do you live?

Over my 20-plus years in Ottawa, I have lived in Centretown, West Centretown and, until recently, Hintonburg. However, in fall 2023 I bought a house in Nepean, longing for a bigger back yard for my dog, I mean kids, no, I actually mean my dog.

What type of home do you have (condo, house, etc.)?

House, built in 1975, with big windows on all sides. The sun shines in it all day long and it’s at the end of a dead-end street filled with great neighbours.

What type of pet do you have?

I talk/post about my dog a lot because she’s perfect. Her name is Charlie, and she’s an almost-four-year-old golden retriever. Context: I could never have a dog because I travelled too much for work. On March 12, 2020, I was on my way to what was supposed to be the Juno Awards in Saskatoon when … well, we all know what happened. I didn’t get on the plane, knew the world was about to change and that my routine would change with it. First thing I did was get a dog – best decision ever. She is company to my beloved 11-year-old rescue cat, Jeremy. Jeremy was well-known to Hintonburg as “the giant flirt who lives at the corner of Irving and Gladstone.” He’s enjoying his senior years by the pool in Nepean now.

What type of car do you drive?

BMW X-1.

What’s your favourite part of town?

OBJ, this is a trick question! I love so many parts of Ottawa, but I guess my heart will always be in Hintonburg – the diversity of vibe, the businesses, shops and local restaurants … and especially the people. I raised my kids in Hintonburg. It will always feel like home to me no matter where I live.

What is your favourite place to eat in Ottawa?

Also a trick question! Ha … here’s a list of my faves … The Elmdale Tavern, Supply and Demand, Cantina Gia, Al’s Steakhouse and, of course, The Third. I could go on …

What is your favourite activity in Ottawa?

Attending concerts! Especially at the Bronson Centre, Red Bird, Live on Elgin, Queen St. Fare, TD Place and the NAC.

What’s your favourite hobby?


What’s your favourite local charity or cause?

The United Way Eastern Ontario does such important and impactful work.

What’s your favourite festival?

I’d fire me if I told you my favourite. Let’s just say that Ottawa’s music festivals are some of the best in the world and we are incredibly lucky to have precious gems like Bluesfest, CityFolk, Jazz, Escapade, House of PainT, Chamberfest, Music and Beyond … not to mention the amazing work of local sector association, Ottawa Festivals.

Who’s your favourite live music artist in Ottawa?

Ottawa continues to produce some of Canada’s best artists. I couldn’t possibly narrow it down to one (especially in my professional role as Switzerland), but I will say that I have been listening to Lynn Miles for decades – she is, and always has been, one of Canada’s greatest songwriters. Her music has always been there for me when I’ve needed it the most.

If you were to play tour guide for a first-time visitor to Ottawa for a day, where would you take them?

First I’d take them to The Third for the best breakfast sandwich in town, followed by some one-of-a-kind shopping at Maker House. Then it’s down to the NAC and a coffee at Equator to catch an amazing emerging local artist at The Fourth Stage. After a quick skate at City Hall, we’d head to North & Navy for sharing plates at the bar in the back and then to the Bronson Centre (just happens to be Dwayne Gretzky!) to dance, dance, dance. Since that show ends at 11 p.m., we still have time to nip over to Elgin and have a pint of Ontario craft cider at the Pump. THAT is a great day.

What’s your favourite retailer in Ottawa?

I have three – Maker House, Trove Fashion and Wild Willy’s Plants and Flowers.

What’s your favourite live music or entertainment venue?

Oooh OBJ! As the leader of Canada’s live music industry, I plead the fifth. But let there be no doubt – Ottawa has some of the coolest, most important live music venues in the country – run by resilient, determined folks who nurture our local venue ladder and make it possible for those of us who live here to be thrilled and moved by live music on a nightly basis.

What type of music do you listen to?

Every. Single. Kind.

Where do you get your hair cut?

My signature look is cropped … weekly … by me … in my house. 🙂

What’s your favourite weekend outing to do with family or friends?

Live music aside? It’s golf … and even better than golf? More golf.

What Ottawa personality, past or present, do you admire?

Mona Fortier – for so many reasons, one of them being her remarkable and seemingly endless amount of positive energy. She defines resiliency, she is a hero to and champion of the community. I greatly admire (and thank) every single female politician, especially Mona.

If you took a staycation in Ottawa, what would you do?

Depending on the season it would include trying new restaurants and checking out music, sporting and other events – especially at Lansdowne (PWHL whoot whoot!!) and the CTC and every/anywhere else. I love Ottawa Tourism’s website, a go-to for me when I’m looking for something new. I walk with my dog, everyday, in some green space somewhere in the region – whether Bruce Pit or Mer Blue. It’s amazing to discover new trails – I’ve been walking in Ottawa for over 20 years and I’ve still not discovered every trail … heading to the Gatineaus to hike would also be top of the list.

What’s  your favourite business event or conference in Ottawa?

I don’t think it’s reoccurring, but the Canadian Urban Institute’s State of Canadian Cities, held on Nov. 30 at the Shaw Centre in 2023 was one of the most compelling, powerful and important business events I have ever attended. Brilliant minds ruled the day. I also try to get to as many Mayor’s Breakfast gatherings as I can – best early-morning networking in town.

What’s your favourite thing to do in Ottawa to pamper yourself?

Again, it would be golf – though it’s equal parts pampering as it is torture. #obsessed

What local business or attraction do you think is one of Ottawa’s best-kept secrets?

It has to be all live music venues and events in this city, which are adding to our quality of life, exponentially and every single day. You might not realize it – maybe you never go to shows … but concert and event activity is making Ottawa better for all of us. Economically, socially and culturally. The live music industry in Ottawa is helping to define the city we are becoming. I’m super excited about the nightlife economic action plan and the work that will unfold around that, not just because I love a good policy framework … but because this kind of strategy has been proven to work. Ottawa is ready.

What’s your favourite season to spend in Ottawa?

You know the answer. 🙂 Golf season! (Happy coincidence that that happens to be festival season too).

What’s your favourite thing about Ottawa?

Access. If you want to try to make a boots-on-the-ground difference here? You can. Our business and professional networks are accessible, open and welcoming. Building relationships with leaders is a tool for lasting change, no matter what your sector. I find leaders – and by that I mean everyone from our mayor, our tech CEOs, or senior cultural leaders and others – we have a mighty advantage by working together. My favourite thing about Ottawa is that so many people seem to understand that. Sure, there is always more work to do. But I see smart people doing that work. It’s an exciting time.

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