Circumstance and convenience led Gillian Barter and her son Aidan, now 12, to spending the last dozen years in Ottawa’s east-end suburb of Orléans, but she’s nonetheless happy to have ended up there.
“I was on my own with (Aidan), so I moved out there to be closer to my folks, who had moved out here,” she says.
However, she says the experience has been great for both of them and she’s glad to have ended up there.
“Everything is out there, especially now. All the amenities are here, but the community support out here is really good as well.”
There are many young families in the area, Barter says, as she recalls the mom-and-baby group sessions that she and Aidan attended in their early years in Orléans. Now, it’s more about the hockey rinks – outdoor and indoor – and soccer fields, of which there are plenty.
“All the families are pretty close too,” she says. “You get to know everybody.”
Orléans is a community that was split between the former municipalities of Gloucester and Cumberland before being amalgamated into Ottawa in 2001. It has a population of just more than 107,000, according to the 2011 census. That has more than doubled since the mid-1980s, and it currently accounts about 12 per cent of the entire population of Ottawa.
About one-third of Orléans residents consider French their first language, according to the census, which is more than twice the proportion for Ottawa overall.
The francophone nature of Orléans was a selling point for Peter MacKie, who raised two daughters in Orléans – Stefanie, 25, and Brittany, 23 – and is now watching his third child, “We wanted our daughters to speak French,” says MacKie, adding that all three of his daughters are bilingual.
Before moving to Orléans 26 years ago, MacKie lived on the other side of Ottawa – in Kanata. He compares Orléans favourably to Kanata in number of ways, including proximity to downtown and the quality of home one can get for the money.
He adds that, at the time he moved to Orléans, it was more of a “self-contained community” than Kanata, from which often found himself having to travel to other areas such as Bayshore or Bells Corners for shopping. Mackie describes Orléans as “more of a community than a suburb.”
Barter, who grew up in Nepean, says Orléans is not as remote as some might think.
“Being out here I realized that it’s kind of closer than the other suburbs,” she says. “People think Orléans is far, but we’re just off Innes Road. … I find it’s easy to get downtown as well.”
Barter works as a treatment co-ordinator at a dental office downtown while MacKie is a recruitment director for Algonquin College in the west end. Both say they have found it challenging picking up and dropping off their children within the set hours of daycares in their neighbourhoods with their workplaces not in the immediate area.
The City of Ottawa’s website shows only 3.4 per cent of jobs in Ottawa are located in Orléans.
Barter says she’s found most of what Aidan needs right there in Orléans, and that includes sports, parks, social connections and schools. There have been times though when Orléans has seemed like a faraway place for Barter and her son. This was the case when Aidan was being driven out to Monsignor Paul Baxter School in Barrhaven for grades 4 and 5 due to special needs that could not be met at schools close to them.
“He was in a car for probably two to three hours a day,” Barter says, adding she’s thankful to have him closer to home now at St. Matthew High School.
Bob Monette, city councillor for Orléans, has raised three children there who are grown up now and continue to live there, including one who recently had his own child.
“Orléans is a very, very good community to raise children,” he says. “You don’t have the conditions of the downtown core, or Lowertown. You don’t have the drug issues that you see in other communities. You don’t have violence.
“If you watch the news, you’re not going to hear much issues going on in Orléans with major crime or that sort of thing.”
By Derek Abma