By Charlie Senack
Hintonburg’s Orange Art Gallery is at risk of closing forever after the building’s landlord said their lease won’t be renewed when it expires in December.
Co-owner Ingrid Hollander said she was “caught off guard” by the news. Orange Art Gallery has occupied the old CN Rail building at City Centre for the last 10 years and was hoping to renew the lease in advance to help with future event planning.
“I was a little in disbelief at the beginning,” she said. “The landlord’s initial response was they wanted to keep their options open. We went back and forth a little bit and it looked like they maybe had a change of heart, but then I got word they would rather just leave the building empty. I asked if somebody else was going to be coming in here and they said no.”
That has led Hollander to question what the long-term plans for the building are. She fears it could be torn down to make way for future residential developments. Not only would that leave the art gallery without a home, but also the loss of Ottawa’s history.
The CNN railroad bank building is 123-years-old and was once owned by Canadian lumber tycoon and railroad baron John Rudolphus (JR) Booth. His lumber complex at one time was the biggest in the world, and the timberlands under his control occupied an area bigger than France.
The building still has some of its original features, including its footprint and Bank vault in the main room.
“I’m not against development. I totally understand that. But I don’t see any reason why this building needs to come down,” said Hollander. “It’s a very unique building. Ottawa doesn’t have much of this kind of old industrial feel.”
When Hollander took over the space with her husband, Matthew Jeffrey, and brother, Jim Hollander, in 2014, they put lots of time, effort, and money into restoring the building’s features. The large archway at the front was exposed, new hardwood flooring was installed, and windows were replaced.
To help potentially save the building, the gallery has asked the city to get heritage designation for the site. The matter could go before Council this fall. If approved, it would stop the building from ever being demolished.
A growing petition has also been started which has garnered hundreds of signatures. Hollander said multiple weddings that have been hosted in the building recently encouraged their guests to sign it in a last-ditch fight for a lease renewal.
Hollander is remaining optimistic that the landlord will consider the pushback from the community and grant a one or two year lease extension. That would allow artists more time to find alternative venues and would give Orange Art Gallery some breathing room to find a new space.
The gallery first opened its doors near the Parkdale Market in April 2010 and moved to their current location in 2014 after they had to vacate their original space. With the same scenario playing out again, Hollander said she doesn’t feel comfortable leasing another property.
“I’m keeping my eyes open but I’d rather purchase a building,” she said. “We put a lot of work into this building to make it what it is. I’m not sure if I’m prepared to do that again with another leased property.”
Orange Art Gallery represents about 25 artists, about half of whom live in the Kitchissippi neighborhood. They have held at least 1,000 events over the past decade and host weddings, receptions and art classes. Recently, an upcoming Hallmark movie called ‘Head Over Heels’ rented the space to pose as a New York art gallery.
“I love creating an atmosphere where people have fun. It’s a really positive business,” said Hollander. “It’s fun to sell art. It makes people happy. Everything we do in this business is to enrich people’s lives.”
While art is the focus of the business model, the crossover between rental venues, classes, and art sales is what makes it work. With a changing art scene in Ottawa, Hollander said just one of these components couldn’t be sustained alone.
When Orange Art Gallery was first introduced to Kitchissippi, Hollander said there were about seven galleries in the Hintonburg area. A first Thursday art walk which promoted the galleries was very popular, she said, and attended by over 100 people monthly. That has all stopped as art sales switched to online. Cube Gallery closed their doors in 2019, and Westboro’s Wall Space Gallery is moving to Old Ottawa South later this month.
“One by one they have all shut down. Artists need a gallery to show their works to the public,” Hollander said. “A lot of people have gone online, trying to sell art on their own but it’s not easy. There is nothing like seeing artwork in person. It’s a bit of a pity.”
Orange Art Gallery will be open until at least December. They can be found at 290 City Centre Ave. A petition encouraging the landlords to change their mind about the lease renewal can be found in the building’s basement.