Sparks runs from Elgin Street in the east to Bronson Avenue. The Sparks Street Mall, that contains a number of outdoor restaurants and also a number of works of art and fountains, only runs from Elgin to Bank Street. The pedestrian only portion continues for another two blocks westward, with the final two blocks west of Lyon Street being a regular road.
The mall and most of the buildings on the south side are owned and operated by the National Capital Commission. Buildings on the north side of the mall were expropriated by the Government of Canada in 1973 and are currently operated by Public Works and Government Services Canada.
Located one block south of Wellington Street (the home of the Parliament of Canada), Sparks Street is one of Ottawa's more historic streets with a number of heritage buildings. The street is named after Nicholas Sparks, the farmer who, early in the mid-nineteenth century, cut a path through the woods on his holding that would eventually become the street.
When Ottawa was selected as Canada's capital the area became even more important as the street became home to a number of government offices and homes for parliamentarians. One of these was Thomas D'Arcy McGee who, in 1868, was assassinated outside his home at the corner of Sparks and Metcalfe. The street also became Ottawa's commercial hub and was home to a number of the city's banks and the lumber companies of the Ottawa Valley. It once contained the Murphy-Gamble (later Simpson's), Morgan's, C.Ross, and Bryson-Graham's department stores.
The peak of the street was in the early twentieth-century when a number of Beaux-Arts buildings that still stand were erected. At the time, the eastern end of Sparks Street continued across the Rideau Canal on Sappers Bridge. Where the War Memorial and Confederation Square stands today, was the Russell House hotel, and Ottawa's old Post Office. The square was built in the 1930s.
As the city expanded the downtown became less centralized and commerce spread to neighbouring streets. Government ministries, requiring larger offices, also went elsewhere. In 1959 the street's streetcar line was closed, further hurting business.
In 1961 a plan to temporarily transform the street into a pedestrian mall for the summer was introduced in an attempt to improve commerce. The success of these closings convinced the city to close the street permanently to vehicles, North America's first permanent pedestrian mall.
Today, the pedestrian mall is open year-round and extends from Elgin to Kent Streets. In the warmer months, two sidewalk cafes operate. While the mall is quite busy during weekdays, the mall is only lightly used during weekends. The nearby Rideau Centre mall and adjoining Byward Market district are the centre of shopping on the weekends. This has led to a turnover of businesses from the mall and a decline in shopping activities. The National Capital Commission remains committed to operating and improving the mall. The mall's landscaping has been updated. The Commission was successful in bringing the CBC Ottawa Broadcast Centre to a location on the mall, and is seeking to increase business and activity through increasing the number of residences nearby.
Sparks Street is home to the Sparks Street International Chicken & Rib Cook-off every year in late June.
Each year, around the August civic holiday, Sparks street plays host to the Ottawa International Buskers Festival, where buskers from around the world come to showcase their art to tourists and locals in downtown Ottawa.
The eastern section of the street sees a number of the oldest buildings, including Ottawa's post office from 1939; the Ottawa Electric Building, built in 1926 by the founders of the Ottawa Electric Railway, Ottawa's streetcar system, Ottawa's first high-rise: the Bible House/old James Hope building at 61 Sparks, built in 1910; and branches of a number of Canada's banks from the same era.
A pair of notable newer buildings are also on this section of the mall, including the CBC Ottawa Broadcast Centre and the Thomas D'Arcy McGee Building, which is located at the corner of Metcalfe and Sparks.
West of Bank Street, outside of the mall itself, the street is overshadowed by the C.D. Howe Building, the home of Industry Canada on the south and the headquarters of the Bank of Canada to the north. West of the bank is the home of the Department of Justice in the St. Andrew's Towers and the East Memorial Building with other government departments in the West Memorial Building. West of these buildings the street becomes far less notable being home to several hotels and smaller buildings. The final block of the rather short street has the Garden of the Provinces to the north and Christ Church Cathedral, Ottawa's main Anglican church, to the south.
See Downtown Ottawa for a map of the entire area.
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- ottawakiosk city guide, retrieved 19 August 2012
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Sparks Street, Ottawa.|
- Official site of the Sparks Street Mall
- Site critical of the National Capital Commission and its management of the Sparks Street Mall