Patrick McGahern Books: Ottawa bookstore steeped in history

“So often, a visit to a bookshop has cheered me, and reminded me that there are good things in the world.” Vincent Van Gogh


Opened in 1969, Patrick McGahern Books is one of Ottawa’s oldest and most respected purveyors of antiquarian books.

As such, it is almost as rare as the books that line its walls.

It is one of Ottawa’s few remaining independent bookshops, and it specializes in books you won’t find anywhere else: Canadiana, Americana, Arctic, Antarctic, travel, natural history & voyages. It also sells original antique maps and publishes “out-of-print and never-before-published accounts of northern travel” in a series called “Forgotten Northern Classics.”

After closing its doors in the Glebe a few years back, this family run shop has reopened in Ottawa’s historic Byward Market — close to the National Gallery, the Chateau Laurier and Parliament. The new store is just as inviting, interesting and beautiful as the old one (and maybe more so), and — thankfully — their infamous library ladders survived the move:



I really enjoyed looking through their selection of rare and used travel and history books:  it seems the perfect spot for Ottawa book lovers and tourists to pick up a little bit of local history or a souvenir in the form of a book (especially as we are now celebrating Canada’s 150th birthday).


The collection is beautiful — everything from rare and expensive collectors items to beautiful vintage picture books at affordable prices.


Even their bathroom has excellent reading material:


My mother patiently waited as I drooled over every book. Thanks mom!


This edition of the Canadian Girls Annual (below) caught my eye…such a curious cover:


This one is fascinating, and not for sale:


I finally settled on two books from the Britain in Pictures series (which I am in love with):


I always judge a bookstore by its proximity to good food and coffee: this one more than passes the taste test.

Find out more and search/order books online from their 10,000 book collection:


  1. The perfect Sunday in the nation’s capital….all on the same street ….National Gallery to view the Janvier exhibit…now you need a snack…amble down Murray Street to take out a hot chocolate and a croissant from the French Baker. Mosey back towards McGahern Books to browse and buy an interesting little tome. Shop for a while on Sussex and return to Chez Lucien on Murray for the best hamburger in Ottawa.
    Beautiful photos of a memorable day, thanks.

  2. What an amazing bathroom! I couldn’t agree more with your most excellent bookstore evaluation criteria – proximity to good coffee and good food. If there is an overstuffed chair to sit in while considering potential purchases, that would get bonus points from me! Thanks again for your blog.

  3. This was such a satisfying read, once I was able to suppress my envy at your good fortune in being in such as heavenly bookshop, and ohh, the glorious goodies nearby- I will travel miles for good coffee as well as good books – what a lovely post

  4. Wow, what a perfect bookshop! I could spend there hours and hours and explore these beautiful books.
    And even in toilet there are books! They’ve thought about everything. 🙂

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