by: Brian Clarke
Not too long ago, if we were Byward Market residents, that could have been an entirely appropriate question. We could have had a disagreement and settled it in the public boxing ring. Yes, you read that right – the public boxing ring. But let me back up a bit…
When the Byward Market was first founded, it was a very rough neighborhood. Ottawa was a town with one goal: build the Rideau Canal. To do this, Colonel By, the man in charge of this project, needed big burly men to dig a canal for him. This was in a mystical world without bulldozers.
The majority of big burly men came from France and Ireland. If you’re French or Irish, you already see the problem here. If not, let me summarize it for you: traditionally, the French and Irish have disliked (and I’m being moderate here) each other.
The result of this was a lot of animosity between two populations in the Market. And by animosity, of course, I mean street brawls and a gang atmosphere. I picture it like West Side Story in toques and winter jackets.
To solve this problem, Colonel By built a public boxing ring in the Market so that minor disagreements would be settled one on one in the open, instead of 14 on 12 in a back alley. Did it work? I’m not sure. But the Byward has certainly cleaned up its image from a fight-filled ghetto to one of the city’s premium tourist attractions.
Nowadays, we all have our own perceptions of the Market. Maybe we see it as a place to get drunk and enjoy the nightlife. Or maybe you see it as a nice place to do some summer shopping. Either way, most people in modern Ottawa don’t think of the Byward Market as a place to settle scores. But if there still was a public boxing ring downtown, who would you challenge to a fight?
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