Geek spirit invades Ottawa


Set your phasers to stunning, Ottawa; the town that fun forgot has warmly embraced its vibrant geek culture.

Earlier this year, nearly 40,000 fans – including then Liberal-leader Justin Trudeau — made the pilgrimage to pack into Ottawa’s Ernst & Young Centre for Comiccon. Several thousand of them made their way back to the EY Centre this past weekend for Ottawa’s annual Pop Expo.

Isaiah Rose dressed as the Marvel character Deadpool and spent hours in his costume high-fiving children, taking selfies with strangers, and sorting through a bazaar of shops and costumed vigilantes.

Events like the Ottawa Comiccon and Pop Expo not only play host to nearly every hero, villain, ghost, ghoul, warlock and warrior in central Canada, they also encourage Ottawa residents to maintain their geek spirit year round.

Like those who play on Carleton University’s Quidditch team — a team based on the fictional sport from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series — and tabletop roleplaying enthusiasts, like Dungeons & Dragons players, organizing their adventures through

Even LARPing — live action roleplaying — has found a home in Ottawa, from the light and playful Duchy of FelFrost group, to the dark, vampiric sessions of Empire Falls.

In addition to Ottawa’s two Comic Shoppe locations, which have been the vanguard for geek culture in Ottawa for many years, two board game locations have also helped to cultivate Ottawa’s growing nerd culture: Monopolatte and The Loft Board Game Lounge.

Anthony McCanny, manger of Monopolatte, says he rejects the common misconception that Ottawa is a boring city.

“We have a higher concentration of nerds here,” he says. “Ottawa might be a hotspot or a mecca for cool nerd stuff, it’s still to be seen but it’s a cool place to be.”

Ottawa’s growing board game scene

On top of being a board game enthusiast, McCanny is a Quidditch player and a LARPer. He says he believes the heart of board gaming lies in its adolescent nature: how it captures imagination and encourages people to go on great adventures together.

“It’s awesome that we are creating a culture of playing,” McCanny says. “It’s really beautiful this can be a normal part of how we interact with each other.”

It’s not just about the nerds, McCanny says, it’s about sitting children, students and seniors around a table and giving them the opportunity to try something new.

A group of board gamers settles in at Monopolatte, ordering food and drink before picking their game. THE JUNCTION/Cody MacKay

A group of board gamers settles in at Monopolatte, ordering food and drink before picking their game. THE JUNCTION/Cody MacKay

Both McCanny and the owner of The Loft, Mike Hopkins, cite Toronto’s internationally praised board game café Snakes and Lattes as the greatest influence for their business plan in Ottawa.

McCanny says it’s hard knowing whether nerd culture is a fad right now and if the business models of board game cafés will succeed longterm.

“Nerds love stories and they love to love things. And there is a lot of room for using stories in your business model,” he says.

Mike Hopkins says he structured his business model on the idea of embracing life offline.

“It’s about finding something to do collectively as a group where you can put the phones away and unwind,” Hopkins says.

Part of the appeal for customers is The Loft’s location. Only a five minute walk from the from University of Ottawa, the lounge is tucked away in a 149-year-old heritage building.

“I think the ambiance of the place is very unique, it’s a heritage building with a high ceiling and stone walls, and we try to inject a lot of fun into the atmosphere,” Hopkins says.

Hopkins says one of the most refreshing things about running a board game lounge is the even split of men and women coming in to play the games.

Groups gather around to play some games with beer and coffee up at The Loft Board Game Lounge. THE JUNCTION/Cody MacKay

Groups gather around to play some games with beer and coffee up at The Loft Board Game Lounge. THE JUNCTION/Cody MacKay

He adds modern games aren’t about eliminating players; they are more strategic and inclusive, focusing on the social experience rather than beating one another out of a game.

There are many obstacles in owning a board game lounge: pieces go missing, beer is spilt and cards tear. Despite this, Mike has seen a lot of success and is looking to expand. He hopes to incorporate the currently empty downstairs room into a new business project called Level One. Level One will have a similar format as The Loft, but will feature video games instead of board games.

Embrace your Dark Side, then show it off

Back at the Pop Expo, Montreal cosplayer Gaillaume Gagne says Comiccons and Expos are all about suiting up as a character you love.

Gagne, who belongs to the 501st Legion of Star Wars cosplayers, a massive, international organization with nearly 600,000 fans on Facebook, says stepping into a suit and becoming someone else, if even just for a day, is a fulfilling and empowering experience.

Samantha Jennings, who dressed as popular video game character Kratos from God of War, adds cosplay is about embracing your inner geek, meeting new people and just having fun.

She says Comiccon and the Pop Expo provide cosplayers with a safe space to exchange ideas and techniques, as well as form life-long friendships and relationships — relationships they can continue to foster by taking part in Ottawa’s geek scene year round.

Author: Cody Mackay

Share This Post On

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *