During my family’s trip to Ottawa last weekend, we made a visit to Parliament Hill on Sunday morning. It turned out to be a great time to go! Not only is downtown street parking free on Sundays, but it is also less busy inside Parliament so you’re able to see more and go into rooms that would otherwise be limited during the week. I’ve had the chance to travel to many different cities in different countries to see all their culturally significant buildings and admire the architecture. It got me thinking about how I haven’t seen as much of that here in Canada as I would like to. I hope that this little preview of Parliament Hill and the pictures from our trip to Ottawa will encourage you to come see our Nation’s capital. I’m hoping to come back again in May myself and see the Tulip Festival.
In 1841, Lower Canada (now Quebec) and Upper Canada (now Ontario) joined to form the Province of Canada. Its seat of government alternated for many years until 1857 when Queen Victoria was asked to select a permanent capital.
The original Centre (see above), East and West blocks of the Parliament Buildings were built between 1859 and 1866, but were burned down on February 3, 1916, when a small fire started in the Commons Reading Room in the Centre Block. It claimed several lives and if an employee had not closed the Library’s iron doors in time, thousands of irreplaceable books would also have been lost too.
After the fire, Parliament moved to the nearby Victoria Memorial Museum (now the Canadian Museum of Nature), but started to rebuild while still fighting in the First World War. The war had a major influence over the architecture and design of the new Modern Gothic Revival style structure and can be seen throughout the building. The building was completed by 1922, with the Peace Tower was finished later in 1927.
The House of Commons Chamber, at the west end of the Centre Block, is decorated in green in the tradition of the British House of Commons. The rectangular Chamber is made of white oak and Tyndall limestone from Manitoba. The stone’s freckled surface contains 450-million-year-old fossils.
The Chamber’s ceiling is made of softly coloured linen canvas, painted with symbols from coats of arms. Stained glass windows depict the floral emblems of Canada’s provinces and territories as they existed in 1967.
It was fun to see this room in real life, instead of on TV all the time!
The Library building is in the High Victorian Gothic Revival style and opened in 1876. It’s the only remaining room from the original building from when the fire destroyed most of the Centre Block.
The galleries display the coats of arms for the seven provinces existing in 1876 and one for the Dominion of Canada. In the centre of the room is a white marble statue of the young Queen Victoria, sculpted in 1871.
Thousands of flowers, masks and mythical beasts have been carved into the white pine paneling. Everywhere you look, there is something different to see.
The ceiling is tall and detailed, adding to the spaciousness of the room.
Although the library archives has gone digital, the card catalogue drawers are still there.
In 1952, a fire broke out in the Library causing extensive smoke and water damage. The Library’s wood panelling had to be dismantled, sent to Montréal for cleaning and fireproofing, and reinstalled. A replica of the beautiful intricate parquet floor was re-laid in cherry, oak and walnut.
In the east end of the Centre Block is the Senate Chamber. This is where our Head of State meets Parliament, whether it is the reigning monarch or the governor general. The red carpeting and upholstery, and the gold leaf ceiling had to the regal design. The Chamber’s upper walls are lined with murals depicting the First World War.
Below them, images of Canada’s flora and fauna are carved in stone and wood.
The names of former governors generals are carved in the ceiling.
In the Senate foyer there are many portraits of Canada’s sovereigns since Confederation, including Queen Elizabeth II.
Among these portraits if a full-length painting of Queen Victoria from 1842, which has survived no fewer than four fires. In 1849 it hung in the Parliament building in Montreal, when a mob set fire to the building over a controversial bill. Four men, including Sir Sandford Fleming, rushed into the burning building to save the painting. It then moved to a hotel in Montreal for save keeping, which another mob set fire later that year. Again the portrait was saved by cutting it out of it’s frame and rolling it up to fit out the door.
In 1854 the painting escaped yet another fire in Québèc City when a fire destroyed most of the interior of the building. Thankfully the painting was among the furnishings pulled out of the building. The last time the painting was saved was in 1916, when fire engulfed the old Parliament Building in Ottawa, and it was one of the few artifacts to survive.
Throughout the building there is beautiful carvings everywhere you look.
I spotted this little owl and badger tucked away above a plaque.
My sister spotted a tiny squirrel in one of the carvings on the ceiling. Can you spot him?
On the way into the Memorial Chamber, there was a carving to commemorate all the animals who helped with the war effort in the First and Second World Wars, including deer, donkey,s
The Memorial Chamber is dedicated to the memory of Canadians who have died in military service. The room itself is stunning, with intricate carvings and stained glass windows throughout. In this window, the Assembly of Remembrance, the figures of saints and warriors stand guard over the names of those commemorated in the Chamber.
The first thing visitors see as they pass under the Memorial Cross is the Altar of Remembrance, resting on steps of stone quarried in Belgium. Embedded in the floor around the Altar are brass nameplates identifying the major actions in which Canadians fought in the First World War: names like Vimy, Passchendaele, the Somme and Ypres.
Protected by a glass case and watched over by statuettes of kneeling angels, is the first Book of Remembrance. It contains the names of the 66,655 individuals who lost their lives in the First World War. After the Second World War, a second Book of Remembrance listing 44,893 names was eventually placed in the Chamber in 1957.
Around the room are five more beautifully bound and illustrated Books of Remembrance inscribed with all Canadians who have lost their lives in military service to our country.
Pages of the Books of Remembrance are turned every morning at eleven o’clock, allowing for each page in each Book to appear at least once in the course of a year.
The Peace Tower was named in commemoration of Canada’s commitment to peace. On the third floor is the Memorial Chamber, and then it continues up with 53 bells followed by the Observation Tower.
Once up in the Observation Tower, you can see the clock face above you. There is still another 100 feet that needs to be climbed for staff at the tower to change the Canadian flag every day.
You can see all around Ottawa from up in the tower. From here you can see the East Block and behind that is the National War Monument.
Facing north you can see the intricate roof of the library we were in earlier.
Back out in front of the Parliament is the Centennial Flame, to commemorate the 100th year of confederation in 1967. The Flame is fuelled by natural gas and surrounded by a fountain with the shields of 12 of Canada’s provinces and territories (except Nunavut because it was not created until 1999)
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I hope you enjoyed some of our trip to Parliament Hill and that it inspires you to come see this lovely city and it’s heritage.