Canada’s Parliament is an iconic set of buildings located on top of Parliament Hill. This limestone cliff slopes gently towards Ottawa River in the country’s capital, Ottawa.
When Ottawa was declared the new capital of the United Province of Canada in 1858, a parliament building was needed to house the legislature. Thus, architects were hired, plans were approved, ground was broken in 1859 and Albert Edward, prince of Wales, laid the cornerstone in the summer of 1860. The Gothic Revival building was completed in 1876. I had the opportunity to take a guided tour of the Centre Block when we visited Ottawa in January 2011. I have to say this: I’d never been so cold in my life! But I managed to go out and roam the city anyway, of which I’m proud.
Let me show you what I saw and learned.
The tour started at 11.30. They advised us to go there a few minutes earlier to go through a security scanning like that of airports. Thankfully, there was no need to take shoes off. The group was comprised of a very nice lady guide, a middle-aged couple and I. I suppose that groups are larger during the summer (for enquiries, email email@example.com).
The party met at the Hall of Honour, which divides the Centre Block into east and west sections and separates the House of Commons and the Senate. It also serves as ceremonial space.
The Senators debate and revise bills passed by the House of Commons. The Queen’s representative, the Governor General, addresses the Parliament and gives assent to bills.
The Peace Tower replaces the Victoria Tower that burned down in the 1916 fire and it honours the Canadian men and women who lost their lives in World War I. The clock was a present of the British government to mark the 60th anniversary of the Confederation in 1927. The Memorial Chamber has altars that hold the Books of Remembrance inscribed with the names of Canadian soldiers fallen in battle.
The beautiful Library of Parliament (1859-1876) was the only part of the building to survive the fire of 1916. Even though its interior is made of pine, it didn’t burn down thanks to the presence of mind of an employee who closed to fireproof doors. Its exterior design was inspired by the Reading Room of the British Museum. Inside, it’s flooded in natural light and has a wonderful smell of books and pinewood. Unfortunately for me, photography is prohibited inside.
Attention cat lovers! There’s a cat refuge behind the Parliament buildings overlooking the river, called Stray Cats of the Hill. It’s been there since the late 1970s. Cats have been neutered and inoculated against disease. A pensioner that goes by the mysterious name of The Catman of the Hill volunteers to feed the cats and other animals, like raccoons, groundhogs or birdies daily.
And it was cold!