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Zoning Study on Creative and Performance Venues

Project Status: 

Zoning Study on Creative and Performance Venues

Did you know?

  • Ottawa recently won two International Festival and Special Events Awards, beating out all North American Cities of over 1 Million residents
  • We have a uniquely-bilingual music sector, unrivalled elsewhere in Canada
  • We have more than 2,500 composers registered to collect songwriting royalties in the Ottawa area
  • We are proud of 2,000+ local English and French bands who choose to work and live here
  • We are supportive of our National Arts Centre Orchestra, and its youth orchestra
  • We have 40+ local recording studios and music production spaces
  • We host festivals all year long, including Bluesfest, the largest blues festival in Canada and the second most significant in North America
  • We have the most important French music festival in Ontario, known as Contact Ontarois
  • Ottawa-area has several small-scale, high-end music instrument and equipment makers, some with international clients incuding Pat Methany, Paul Simon, Herbie Hancock
  • Our music industry is a significant economic driver, providing 3,000+ local jobs
  • We have more residents under the age of 34 then we do over the age of 45 years+
  • Our young population seeks vibrant night life and cultural experiences
  • Live Music Venues are popping up all over Ottawa’s urban and suburban areas
  • Live music events occur regularly in all types of spaces: book and record stores, restaurants, breakfast diners, cafés, ice cream shops, places of worship, and warehouses, and even children’s stores
  • We have dedicated French and English local music radio stations, websites and blogs, as well as the local monthly newspaper, Ottawa Beat

We have the talent
We have the audience
We have the will of the local music industry

Now we need to talk about how to grow the industry, enable venues to thrive both day and night, and create rules that consider noise and other impacts so that residents, live music patrons, musicians, bar owners, venue operators and promoters may all live “in harmony”.

We need to ensure that our planning approach enables the live music night economy to thrive while respecting the needs of residents living and sleeping near live music venues, and of nearby businesses.  For purposes of this study, the word venue includes nightclubs, bars, restaurants, cafés, retail stores, places of worship and warehouses where live music events take place.


In 2012, Council approved the Renewed Action Plan for Arts, Heritage and Culture (2013-2018). Two of the key strategies are to ‘preserve and develop cultural and creative places and spaces’, and to ‘celebrate Ottawa’s unique cultural identity and build access to culture for all’.

For the 2015-2018 Term of Council, as part of the Economic Development Strategy, Council has approved an Economic Development vision that, in part, includes an initiative to support and grow the music industry in Ottawa.

The 2014 Connecting Ottawa Music: A Profile of Ottawa’s Music Industries report suggests that Ottawa is poised to become a Music City, in the same vein, though perhaps not to the same Universal renown as Austin Texas, London, England or Nashville, Tennessee, at least in the short term.  In The Mastering of a Music City (Music Canada), an important recommendation is that music should be recognized as a commercial industry.  In this regard, the City’s Economic Development Department (now part of th Planning, Infrastructure and Economic Development Department) provided a seed grant for the purposes of creating the Ottawa Music Industry Coalition (OMIC).  OMIC has played a significant role in fostering the live music opportunities in the City, hosting Music Mondays for the industry as well as providing grants and performance space for purposes of allowing upcoming singer/songwriters and bands to practice prior to setting off on music tours.  OMIC sits on the Junos 2017 committee and is responsible for providing micro-grants to local artists who wish to participate in showcases leading up to the Junos in April 2017.

Given the breadth of the local music industry, music is a significant economic driver in the Ottawa-Gatineau region, providing employment to some 3,000+ residents. 

Ottawa has a number of significant factors that indicate its readiness to meet the definition of a Music City, including not only the facts listed in the Did You Know section but also the following:

  • two English University radio stations devoted to playing and promoting local musical acts, in addition to CBC radio programming that introduces songs by artists in upcoming local performances
  • a French radio station that promotes local francophone and bilingual artists
  • music education programming, in the local elementary and secondary schools, as well as at the University of Ottawa
  • music production courses at Algonquin College
  • numerous music schools across the City
  • The Ottawa Music Industry Coalition (OMIC), and French equivalent APCM that actively represent local artists to the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce, local BIAs, the City of Ottawa and sit on the Junos 2017 Committee.
  • OMIC hosts numerous events, including Music Mondays, monthly seminars on all of the aspects of music as a career; provide micro-grants to songwriters and musicians for showcases leading up to 2017 Junos
  • “Le Fab” , the French organization that is committed to developing emerging Franco-Ontarian musicians
  • Shenkman Arts Centre  that provides their stage(s) for free for musicians and bands to rehearse prior to going on tour
  • Music entrepreneurs who host two music festivals, Megaphono and Arboretum, whose principal purpose is to showcase local talent to national and international agencies and music businesses, helping local musicians’ careers to expand beyond the Ottawa region
  • Contact Ontarios, the premier francophone music festival that draws French artists from across Ontario and Quebec
  • audiences that listen to both English and French artists
  • local promoters and posterers
  • several small-scale, high-end music instrument businesses, including a renowned luthier, a manufacturer of guitar-effects pedals, and a manufacturer of high-end speakers, some with international clients incuding Pat Methany, Paul Simon, Herbie Hancock
  • live music support companies, for sound and lighting, event operations and security
  • local agents for business management purposes
  • a monthly, free local music newspaper, the Ottawa Beat
  • numerous music production companies, recording studios and music video production businesses
  • the National Arts orchestra, as well as a youth Orchestra
  • music associations for all types of music, ranging from classical through grundge, punk, garage, house, pop and rock to country, rockabilly and folk, with all manner of lesser-known styles of music represented
  • numerous music blogs and local music event websites
  • the Ottawa XYZ Map ( that identifies the location of all types of cultural events, including live music

Less known are the all-night music and live DJ events at undisclosed locations, advertised mostly through social media and house parties that are by invitation only.  As long as these remain unknown, they do not result in land use conflicts with neighbours. However, there are some live music venues that garner repeated noise complaints. 

Study Purpose

This study will consider where such events might result in conflict, and what zoning regulations and other procedures might be reasonable to reduce and mitigate conflict.

The City of Ottawa is becoming known as a significant hub in the music industry, to such an extent that the local industry is experiencing a significant lack of appropriate performance venues. Musicians and festival organizers are performing and programming in coffee shops, used bookstores and churches in addition to restaurants, bars, nightclubs and other types of indoor and outdoor venues. Local musicians/music organizations have indicated that in addition to an insufficient quantity of live music venues, there is also an incomplete range in the size of these, which hampers many emerging musicians and musical groups from having appropriately-sized venues within which to perform in a way that is consistent with the growth of their audiences, according to the Connecting Ottawa Music study.

As noted, the music industry consists not only of songwriters, musicians and live venues, but of those that support live music. In addition, there are active Franco-Ontarian music organizations, including the local Orleans-based “Le Fab” which is committed to developing emerging Franco-Ontarian musicians. Ottawa hosts the largest franco-Ontarian festival which attracts francophone artists from across the country. According to Connecting Ottawa Music (2014), the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada (SOCAN) indicates that there are 2503 members registered to collect royalties in the National Capital Region – and not all musicians and indie bands are members of SOCAN which means that there are far more involved in the music industry than statistics provide. 

Ottawa is poised to become a ‘Music City’: a place with a vibrant music economy that delivers economic, employment, cultural and social benefits. Music Cities are able to draw tourists as well as creative talent, small business entrepreneurs, academics, technology start-ups and design firms, who in turn, drive economic growth. To help realize these economic development and cultural opportunities, it is important that the City’s Comprehensive Zoning By-law allow a mix of types and sizes of performance/event spaces to meet the needs of the music industry and the demand for live music by the City’s residents.

Although the number of artists and small music companies has increased in Ottawa, along with interest in providing live music in non-traditional venues, the Zoning By-law has not kept pace. Overall, the current zoning framework does not account for the normal development of new nightlife areas or districts as may be expected with the city’s population growth, beyond what existed in the late 1980s.

In the context of the Arts and Culture Master Plan, the Economic Development Strategy, and the upcoming 2017 celebrations that will have Ottawa play host to significant large-scale entertainment and put the city in the spotlight nationally and internationally, it has become necessary to revisit the regulatory framework that relates to performance venues and live entertainment.

This Zoning Study will consider creating a zoning strategy and framework to enable the development of cultural and creative places and spaces throughout the urban and rural areas that will be available to all those with an interest in the creative and performance arts.

The purpose of the study is to:

  • consider appropriate zones and locations for creative places and spaces, and in particular for spaces that may be used for live music performance venues;
  • consider the notion of cultural hubs and/or corridors and their location within the urban, suburban and village areas;
  • consider multi-purposes for existing and future live venue spaces for a variety of cultural, creative and performing arts applications some of which may be undertaken during the regular 9 to 5, while others would occur during the “other 9 to 5”;
  • review current non-traditional spaces, such as book stores, cafés, restaurants, places of worship and warehouses, that are being used for live music performances and determine whether and to what extent zoning regulations are needed to permit live performances in non-traditional venues;
  • consider land use impacts, including noise and patron-related impacts and determine what zoning and other regulations and processes would mitigate any impacts associated with the night economy;
  • review existing zoning and other regulations in effect in major Music Cities; and
  • create zoning regulations that will permit a greater number and type of cultural and performance venues, while recognizing and mitigating any land use impacts associated with the use, as a legacy of Canada’s 150th anniversary year in 2017.

Concurrent with the zoning study is a review of the City’s Noise By-law.

Next steps

Discussion Paper on Creative and Performance Venues

For a more in-depth discussion of the issues concerning creative and performance venues, please visit this site in March 2017 when our Discussion Paper will be released for review and comment.

As We Heard It

Stay tuned! We will post some of what people have to say about the Creative and Performance Venues Discussion Paper this Spring.

Zoning Proposals

We expect to produce our zoning recommendations for public circulation in mid 2017.

Committee and Council Dates

We plan to bring a report to Planning Committee and Council in the Fall of 2017. We'll post more details as we get closer to the date.

For information, please contact us:

Creative and Performance Venues Zoning Study
c/o Beth Desmarais
Ottawa City Hall, Mail Code 01-14
110 Laurier Avenue West, 4th floor
Ottawa, ON K1P 1J1
Fax: 613-580-2459