A walk through Ottawa echoes with more and more memories the longer you live here.
It could come from the coffee shop where you had your first date with your partner. The drive between your house and theirs. The street you had your first apartment together.
Feelings and experiences accumulate and attach themselves to places you pass everyday.
You could brush this off as the process of coming to call a city home, but Cassandra Marsillo sees the intimate stories of Ottawa’s streets as public history. And she is doing something about it.
Marsillo, a graduate student in public history and former Montrealer, started Ottawa Love Stories as a project for class. She has now come to see Ottawa through the love stories of strangers. She maps them out and turns them into songs.
“Ottawa Love Stories is what I like to call a sonified adventure map,” said Marsillo.
Marsillo receives Ottawans’ love stories via email. The sender tells their Ottawa love story with a list of landmarks and their emotional significance in the relationship.
From there, Marsillo charts the path of each love story on Google maps. She then takes the coordinates of each spot and puts them in an algorithm that sonifies the path of each couple—making each mark on the path a note that rings out.
The result is a love song, if you can call it that.
“The songs are pretty weird,” laughed Marsillo. “They’re kind of fast-paced, kind of dramatic.”
The songs also sound pretty similar. The sound of Ottawa reverberates beneath each unique arrangement of notes, because all of the coordinates within the city start with the same two digit pairs.
So far, there are seven “inaugural” songs, as Marsillo calls them, and a few in the works.
One anonymous lover is giving her partner their song as a birthday gift. She was jogging when she heard about the project on the CBC.
“I’m kind of interested in how cities can be transformed in our imagination based on the kinds of relationships we develop when we live in them,” she said. “I really feel that very clearly about Ottawa, because I’ve had this intense romance for the past couple years.”
So she shot off a basic synopsis of her love story and its locations to a voice she’d heard on the radio.
“Although she was a complete stranger, she just seemed like somebody I could talk to,” the anonymous participant said. “I guess it has something to do with her being interviewed on the radio.”
Marsillo says there is a level of honesty that is “so genuine” in the submissions she receives.
“It’s one of those things where I feel like I could go for coffee with some of these people tomorrow and we would just chat it up,” she said.
Some just send a couple of words with each location, like “first kiss.” Others send their full names and lengthy, detailed stories—even including where they work, or why they felt they needed to put their story on the map.
“I feel like knowing that people want to participate in this and are so open, and are cool with having these weird songs tell the story of their super-important relationships . . . it makes Ottawa seem more exciting to me,” said Marsillo.
Right now, the songs live online. But Marsillo hopes that in the future an Ottawa Love Stories app could have people interacting with the history in a very real way.
“I want to have the paths of the stories on the app, and I want it to sonify as you’re walking,” says Marsillo.
“People have experienced these places in different ways—that’s history,” says Marsillo. “I think it sheds light on the stories behind the buildings or the streets we cross everyday, and it’s a way to put your story there.”
– Submit your own love story at: firstname.lastname@example.org
– Check more from Ottawa Love Stories: www.instagram.com/ottlovestories