How hot is too hot? Tourism, restaurant operators say they’ll take the heat over the alternatives

The Tavern on the Falls patio has been busy despite Ottawa's extreme heat warnings. Photo by Tavern on the Falls.
The Tavern on the Falls patio has been busy despite Ottawa's extreme heat warnings. Photo by Tavern on the Falls.

As Ottawa comes to the end of a week of extreme temperatures, some local business owners say the heat is better than many of the alternatives.

Andre Schad, owner of the Tavern Group of restaurants, relies on warm weather. The Tavern Group includes Tavern on the Hill, Tavern on the Falls, and Tavern at the Gallery, all known for outdoor patios overlooking some of the city’s best views.

“In years past, this kind of heat would hurt us, but we’re doing quite well,” Schad told OBJ this week. He noted that with the addition of fans and additional shade, his restaurants are seeing the benefits.

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“With all the rain earlier this year, I think people just want to be outside,” he added. 

Tavern on the Falls, which overlooks the Rideau Falls, had a lineup and a packed patio all evening, he said. “We have live music on Tuesdays and I said (to the band), ‘You don’t have to play if it’s too hot,’ but they wanted to play,” he laughed. “But I think they had a couple cold beers to cool off.

“It’s hard on our staff, which has been a problem,” Schad continued. “But we bring in cases of Gatorade and they take breaks to cool off in the walk-in cooler.”

Schad said heat is often preferable to other alternatives. “We’re completely weather-dependent. When the sky is clear, we have a great view of the sunsets and we’re busy, and if it rains, that’s an obstacle,” he said. “So I’ll take this heat over rain any day.”

Etienne Cameron also prefers heat over rainy conditions “any day of the week.” Cameron, owner of Lady Dive Tours, Cobblestone Tours, and Gray Line Ottawa, said he was surprised that the heat isn’t deterring tourists. 

“It really hasn’t been affecting us much,” said Cameron. “If anything, people are more out and about than ever. I think with this heat, nobody wants to be stuck indoors.”

While Cobblestone Tours also offers experiences during the winter months, Lady Dive Tours and Gray Line are Cameron’s summer tourist attractions, and he said they’ve both seen high traffic this week.

Lady Dive Tours, which features double-decker tour buses and a land-and-water amphibus that takes passengers into the Ottawa River, is always popular, but Cameron said the water-land hybrid experience has been especially sought-after with the extreme heat.

The Gray Line double-decker buses have also seen an uptick, he added, and tourists have even been enjoying the open-air top level. Rather than a deterrent, he said the heat is actually attracting tourists to these experiences.

“People are going out because it’s so nice out, and if anything people are surprised it’s this hot in Canada,” Cameron explained. “It’s not necessarily what we’re used to, but sun is best, with clear skies ahead.

“Rain is the one that’s a problem.”

Indoor tourist destinations such as the Canadian Museum of Nature on McLeod Street are entering the busy season, with traffic increasing as visitors seek shelter from the sun.

Kasia Majewski, acting director of visitor experience at the museum, said visitors have been calling to ask whether the building has air conditioning.

This time of year is busiest at the museum, she said, with both tourist and school groups, in addition to individual visitors. About 70 per cent of visitors are locals, Majewski said, but in the next few weeks, “it will shift to more tourists.”

Majewski said there is “anecdotal” evidence that visitors are seeking the air-conditioned, indoor activities at the museum. “What we’re hearing at the door is relief and happiness at the cold A/C,” laughed Majewski.

Some diners around the city are also prioritizing air conditioning. At The Grand Pizzeria, which has one of the ByWard Market’s largest patios, owner David Mangano said he’s seen a distinct drop in daytime business during this heatwave. Once the sun starts to set and the breeze picks up, the patio gets busier, and “it’s quite comfortable then,” he added.

The patio has shade cover thanks to awnings and industrial umbrellas, but Mangano said there’s no beating the afternoon heat.

“It reaches a point where it’s just too hot to sit outside,” he said. “We have a decent crowd inside, so there is still activity, but with a hot day like this, people are reluctant to walk over and sit outside.”

But when he recalled this time last year, when wildfire smoke took over the city, he said he’d prefer this week’s conditions. “It’s hard to tell how much of a drop there’s been this week, but around this time, our patios were closed down completely from the wildfire smoke,” he explained.

“We lost days of the patio last June due to that, so at least we’re not experiencing that this year,” said Mangano. “The intense heat in the afternoon is pretty hot, but at night it picks up for sure and it’s quite pleasant, actually quite comfortable,” he continued. “Overall yes there’s a drop, but without the smoke, it’s still not as bad as last year.”

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