The Ottawa Rickshaws Blog

Street-level Perspective of Ottawa
The Rickshaw Retrospective: Child Labour

The Rickshaw Retrospective: Child Labour


By Adam Slight

Children ranging from ages four to fourteen represent a large part of our clientele throughout the summer.

The younger children are fun customers to have. Sometimes they come on rickshaw rides with their parents, but often their parents send them alone with an older sibling. The older children can be fun clients as well, although pre-pubescence can make them just as annoying as the drunken bar hoppers at night. During May and June, grade 8 students flock to Ottawa from all over Canada with their schools to learn about Canada’s capital, and obviously, to gain a thorough practical education in rickshaw studies.

In general, younger kids (4-8 years old) are the ideal customers. They weigh very little, they don’t heckle, and they laugh their butts off when you pull them around town (usually they laugh so hard that they can’t speak and you think they may be suffocating. Nope. Just laughing harder than anyone can after the age of 6). Also, you always get a tip: their mommies and daddies give them some money to carry over to you afterwards, for cuteness points. It’s also amusing hearing the kids’ parents describe to them what rickshaws are before they actually take the ride:

“It’s like a horse carriage, except pulled by a person.”

“He carries you all over the city in a little wagon, like a taxi.”

I have since added “Horse-Man” to my resume.

Suburban Mississauga kids droppin’ gang signs like they’re hot!

The older children as equally valued as customers, but for another reason. While these children are fairly light, they are also abundant for the harvest. As I mentioned above, grade 8 children come from far and wide to Ottawa on school trips to see its historical sites, and learn about parliamentary history. At several points during most of these trips the children are released into the ByWard Market to buy candy, McDonald’s, and novelty t-shirts, booze, and cigarettes with their parents’ money (kidding about the last two). Many times I have thanked the rickshaw gods for blessing me with the money of the parents of Barrie, Markham, Ajax, St. Catherine’s, Sault-Saint Marie, and Edmonton.

We call this “The Kids Rush,” or to be accurate, a season filled with daily “Kids Rushes.” During this season we follow a very systematized strategy to garnering as much business as we can from this abundant but fleeting market.

During Kids Rush Season, runners maintain a very precise schedule. From Monday to Friday, every runner makes sure they are ready at our kiosk in the Market at 11 am on the dot. By about 11:20 the madness begins. Buses filled with 12-year-olds start pouring into the Market, releasing them into the wild. We would often joke that during this time we don’t see kids running around, we see $5 bills. We begin to heckle the kids as they walk by (for some reason taunting works best in selling our service to 12 year olds). Once a runner gets a fare with some popular kids in the rickshaw, there is a domino effect, and soon enough every kid in the market wants to try a rickshaw ride (or 10 rides in a row, in some cases).

This becomes a very competitive time for us as we attempt to gather kids into our rickshaws. We can be seen yelling to the kids, trying to coerce them into spending their money on us instead of fast-food or beer helmets. This can elevate into full-blown arguments with the children, which I have succumbed to many times (I’m just getting revenge for all the times kids were mean to me when I was 12).

Competition rises between the other runners because there is a time limit every day to get as much business as possible. We try to fill our rickshaws and run the tour as fast as we can so that we can be the first to arrive back at the kiosk for the next kids lined up for a ride. It is truly and utterly exhausting. It is also very rewarding.

If you child asks you for a rickshaw ride, how could you deny them this happiness??

By the end of the Kids Rush, you’re exhausted and hungry and dehydrated from basically sprinting non-stop for two hours. You’re also quite rich though. And if you’re lucky, the kids come back that night for supper and you start the cycle over again at 7pm.

One night in late June, during my first year of running, a group of 13-year-old girls approached me, asking for a “free” rickshaw ride. The idea of a free rickshaw ride is a strange myth that has proliferated throughout the masses, but I can assure you, they don’t exist. I told the girls that I would take them for $10, like I would anyone else. They assured me that they didn’t have the money, so I jokingly suggested that they busk in order to raise enough to come for a ride. Surprisingly, they actually took my advice to heart. They placed a hat down on the pavement and did some kind of Miley Cyrus dance that, being 13 year olds, they happened to have choreographed. In nothing shorter than 15 minutes, they had raised close to $8, so I took mercy on them and gave them a small discount.

Sometimes I think I’m too nice.