Zac and Ottawa: a Love Story

There’s one common denominator between the bulk of my friends in Ottawa and me: none of us were born here.

I was actually born in Peterborough, Ontario, a city of 78,000. Between 1989 and 1995, I moved back and forth between Peterborough and Ottawa with dizzying frequency. Then on the last day of June in the last year of the 20th Century, we made the pilgrimage to Ottawa one last time.

I wanted to write my blog about this city because to me, it is almost like an entity unto itself. Many authors have talked about how certain cities were sort of characters in their writing; Ottawa is a character in my life’s story.

I would go on to discover myself here. My love of writing and music. My convictions and beliefs. My capacity for love. All of it was born here.


Not everything has been a grand, beautiful romance though. I have watched the arts scene fall into a slump. I have seen Sparks Street turn into a ghost town that is only now starting to wake up again. I’ve seen terrible people do terrible things, and sometimes I’ve seen good people do them too.

My first summer here, I witnessed a sexual assault on my future schoolyard and didn’t tell anyone for ten years because I was ashamed that I couldn’t do anything. This is probably the worst thing I have seen, but it was not the last.

The city challenges me. It pushes me to be a better person and to overcome obstacles. I suffer from Autism Spectrum Disorder. When I first moved here, I was hopeless at socializing. I couldn’t make friends to save my life. Today, I am a different person. I can put myself out there and feel secure that people will accept me for who I am, and not label me a “retard” (a label I’d been given on the Peterborough schoolyard).

I was born in Peterborough, but I was made in Ottawa. It’s still not a perfect place but aren't doing terribly. We recently re-elected a forward-thinking and capable mayor. Over the past weekend, Ottawa Pop Expo raised $10,000 for CHEO. Today it was announced that Ottawa police would be making strides towards better understanding domestic and sexual assault cases. And this is just from a cursory scan of recent headlines.

Ottawa gets it wrong sometimes, and it gets it right sometimes. We don’t always get along but we always make it through, and I hope it will be my home for more years to come.


Zac Emery

Zac Emery is an Ottawa-based writer, amateur photographer, and karaoke enthusiast. When he’s not pursuing his interests as a writer or doing course work for Algonquin’s Professional Writing program, he can usually be found pretending to be a rock star in front of a mirror or collecting comic books.

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