Anne Patterson is the creator of Hello Ottawa, a blog that photographs and interviews Ottawans about their relationship with the city, their favourite places, and their lives. When she’s not busy connecting with interesting people in the city, she’s a community manager at a locally-based NGO and the visual anthropology editor at Popular Anthropology Magazine.
You’re relatively new to Ottawa, what were your first impressions of the city?
Well, I first lived here very briefly in 2003, and at that time I found the city kind of overwhelming and difficult to penetrate. I felt like it was a beautiful place, but I didn’t connect with it – I didn’t know how. When I moved away I was glad for the change, but I spent the next seven years thinking about moving back. I’m not sure what it was that grabbed me, but I knew there was more to this place than I had found originally, and I really felt like I needed to give it another chance. I moved back in May of this year, and I’m really glad I did. I think a lot of people have a hard time figuring Ottawa out – it’s so easy to just think of it as a nice, family-friendly government city with a few nice parks, but there’s a lot more to it. There are thriving communities and a real passion for the city if you scrape the surface a little.
In September you launched Hello Ottawa – can you tell us a bit about that project?
Sure! Hello Ottawa is something that I had been thinking about for a good year before I finally moved to Ottawa. I knew, at the time, that I was going to be moving here and I really wanted to find a way to explore and learn about the place in a creative way. I’ve always been interested in photography, and I love learning about people’s lives. Profiling people seemed like a great way to do both of those things while also helping me feel like I was more of a part of the city. I started by putting up a couple of ads on Kijiji and Craigslist asking for volunteers, and from there it’s just snowballed. The response has been incredible. There’s been so much support and enthusiasm for it, I’m constantly amazed.
How do you select who you profile?
For the most part people contact me about being profiled, either because they’re readers or because friends have referred them. There isn’t really a selection process – pretty much everyone who contacts me is welcome to participate, although the response has been overwhelming enough that I may have to reconsider that. Each profile takes quite a bit of time, and there just aren’t enough hours in a day. I have no idea how I’m going to narrow it down – I feel like everyone is really interesting and deserves to tell their story. I’m also trying to reach out to some more marginalized groups and individuals so I can make sure that it’s truly a good cross-section of the community that’s being represented.
How comfortable are the Ottawa residents you’ve profiled with talking about themselves?
Most of the participants so far have been very comfortable with it. I’m not the greatest interviewer, so I try to approach it as a conversation, and then I reassemble the transcript into something resembling a more traditional Q&A. There is the occasional participant who is a little hesitant to talk about anything personal, which can be frustrating, but for the most part I’m usually surprised by how open people are willing to be.
Which profile has had the biggest impact on you so far and why?
That’s a hard one! They’ve all impacted me in one way or another, but one interview I conducted recently really stands out. It won’t be posted for a while yet, so I can’t say too much about it, but it was with a woman involved in the sex trade. It was completely fascinating and I’ve been thinking about our conversation ever since. Hearing about the challenges various individuals and communities face makes me feel like I’m not doing enough to help advocate for the causes I care about.
How have the people you’ve met and photographed transformed your overall view of the city?
This whole project has made the city seem a lot smaller to me. The first time I lived here, I was on my own and had just moved from the small town I grew up in. Ottawa seemed very large and a little incomprehensible. Now that I’m back and doing this project, I feel like I have a much better understanding of the city, and I really see the potential here. It feels like “my” city, not just a place I’m renting an apartment in. Meeting all these amazing people through Hello Ottawa has been great for that. I’ve made some genuine friends, and every person has taught me something new about this place.
How do you hope this blog will impact your readers?
I hope that the project will help people see a side of this city that isn’t immediately obvious. There are so many amazing things happening here, and I think that the people I’m profiling all have really valuable and unique insights. I also think it’s nice just to learn about other people that choose to make Ottawa their home. It helps city life feel a little less anonymous.
What places in Ottawa immediately became your favourite, and why?
I live in the Hintonburg neighbourhood, and I love it. The Hintonburg-Wellington West area is definitely one of my favourite parts of living in Ottawa. There’s a really solid sense of community, and I felt welcomed right from the start. It’s got quite a history, and there’s a lot of change going on – I find it really exciting to be a part of that.
What is on your Ottawa and region to do list?
There are so many things… I haven’t been to most of the museums yet, so that’s definitely at the top of my list. There’s a great theatre scene here that I haven’t really experienced yet – I’m looking forward to seeing some productions. There are also a lot events that go on that I’ve had to miss for one reason or another, so I really want to start making an effort to make sure I get out and experience what the city has to offer.
You’re about to experience your first winter in Ottawa – a notorious stretch of crazy weather that certainly has both its ups and its downs: what are you looking forward to?
Snowshoeing! I’ve owned a pair of snowshoes for about four years now, and I haven’t had a chance to use them yet. I love the snow – I grew up in a part of Alberta that saw some really impressive snow dumps, and since I’ve been in Ontario I haven’t seen anything that compares. I’m hoping for some good snow days!
Why do you think it is important for Ottawa residents to get out and explore this city and its people?
There’s no better way to feel connected to a place, and it really breeds community and a sense of belonging. People often seem to be almost apologetic about choosing to live here – but there’s no reason for that! Ottawa is a great city, and there are so many reasons to love it.
Thanks for the wonderful Q&A Anne! Everyone: be sure to check out Hello Ottawa – it is an awesome project that is truly shining a spotlight on our city and its people.