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Les Gagne: Ottawa’s Idea Man

Les Gagne: Ottawa’s Idea Man
You may not know the name Les Gagne but you’ve probably taken part in at least one of his ideas. Breathing new life into Sparks Street, Poutinefest, Ottawa’s New Year’s Eve, and Mac and Cheese fest all came from the mind of Ottawa’s idea man. It’s a brain that’s been working in overtime since as long as it can remember.

A native of Pembroke, Ontario, Gagne was the youngest of eight kids and eager to stand out. He played hockey, baseball and football and later picked up guitar because he had plans to be the next John Mellencamp.  He always had something on the go.

“Ideas came naturally and often,” says Gagne. “They have always inspired me and helped carve out my niche in everything I’ve done. One of my biggest challenges has always been choosing which creative idea to run with.”

One of his first had him building a device that attached to a pot and stirred the food allowing the chef to have their hands free to prep other aspects of the meal. Gagne says he feels he was destined for the food business and is driven by the knowledge that everything is possible.

“The key to this is having the will to do it. If there is a problem, there is a solution.”

He finds motivation in simply showing things can be done. The act of creating something out of nothing is the fuel that keeps him going even when some ventures fail. His brief tenure on Sparks Street is now looked back on with some regret.

Gagne was a big part of the overhaul needed on a street that was failing to reach its full potential. There he saw as a garden ripe for cultivation. After being brought on in 2012, he developed a five year plan that brought multiple food festivals, car shows, a farmers market and Latin dance nights to the street now lit up and vibrant with activity. However, it was his idea to bring a New York City style New Year’s Eve party to Sparks that saw his greatest success with crowds packed in for live music and merriment.

Despit his efforts, Gagne was relieved of his duties in 2014. He feels that mixed interests got in the way and eventually lead to them moving away from his vision.

“I can say that pretty much everything I started, created or brought to Sparks Street is still there and serving the street very well. What if I could have finished the job that I started?”

After leaving he took some time to rethink and recharge. He’s thankful for the support of his wife of 19 years, Josee. It’s need when he gets in his idea zone, a place he’s in just as much as his own house. You can’t keep a good idea man down long. Gagne was at it again in short order. He created Capital Ribfest, another Poutine Fest and the Mac My Cheese festival over the last few years but his rampant brain is concocting his biggest idea yet for Canada’s 150TH birthday extravaganza.

Gagne plans to bring two festivals to the city in 2017: I AM CANADIAN 150 and Ottawa Best Fest. Though he’s keeping some of these plans secret for now, he did let on that, with so many tourists flocking to the city for the sesquicentennial, there are plans to showcase the best of what Ottawa has to offer.

“Ottawa is ripe for a lot of new ideas and events because the status quo is no longer the expectation,” says Gagne.

“People are tired of the same old and it's time to bring the world of "what could be" to Ottawa. Through the expansion of my existing festivals along with introduction of several new events, I feel 2017 will be the year that ultimately defines the new Ottawa to the World.”

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