Parliament Hill

Parliament Hill (French: Colline du Parlement), colloquially known as The Hill, is an area of Crown land on the southern banks of the Ottawa River in downtown Ottawa, Ontario. Its Gothic revival suite of buildings — the parliament buildings — serves as the home of the Parliament of Canada and contains a number of architectural elements of national symbolic importance. Parliament Hill attracts approximately 3 million visitors each year.

Originally the site of a military base in the 18th and early 19th centuries, development of the site into a governmental precinct began in 1859, after Bytown was chosen by Queen Victoria as the capital of the Province of Canada. Following a number of extensions to the parliament and departmental buildings and a fire in 1916 that destroyed the Centre Block, Parliament Hill took on its present form with the completion of the Peace Tower in 1927. Since 2002, an extensive $1 billion renovation and rehabilitation project has been underway throughout all of the precinct's buildings; work is not expected to be complete until after 2020.

Grounds and name

The 88,480 square metres (952,391 sq ft) area, maintained by the National Capital Commission, is named by the Parliament of Canada Act as Parliament Hill and defined as resting between the Ottawa River on the north, the Rideau Canal on the east, Wellington Street on the south, and a service road (Kent Street) near the Supreme Court on the west. The south front of the property is demarcated by a Victorian High Gothic wrought iron fence, named the Wellington Wall and in the centre of which, on axis with the Peace Tower to the north, sits the formal entrance to Parliament Hill: the Queen's Gates, forged by Ives & Co. of Montreal. At each southern corner of the quadrangle are also smaller gates for every-day access.

The main outdoor area of The Hill is the quadrangle, formed by the arrangement of the parliament and departmental buildings on the site, and laid out in a formal garden fashion. This expanse is the site of major celebrations, demonstrations, and traditional shows, such as the changing of the guard, or the annual Canada Day celebrations. To the sides of the buildings, the grounds are set in the English garden style, dotted with statues, memorials, and, at the northwest corner, a Carpenter Gothic structure called the Summer Gazebo, a 1995 reconstruction of an earlier gazebo built for the Speaker of the House of Commons and demolished in 1956. Beyond the edges of these landscaped areas, the escarpment remains in its natural state.

Though Parliament Hill remains the heart of the parliamentary precinct, expansion beyond the bounded area described above began in 1884, with the construction of the Langevin Block across Wellington Street. After land to the east, across the canal, was purchased by private interests (to build the Château Laurier hotel), growth of the parliamentary infrastructure moved westward along Wellington, with the erection in the 1930s of the Confederation and Justice Buildings on the north side, and then further construction to the south. By the 1970s, the Crown began purchasing other structures or leasing space deeper within the downtown, civic area of Ottawa. In 1973, the Crown expropriated the entire block between Wellington and Sparks Streets with the intent of constructing a south block for Parliament Hill. This proposal never came to pass; instead, more office space was constructed in Hull, Quebec, such as the Terrasses de la Chaudière and Place du Portage.

In 1976, the Parliament Buildings and the grounds of Parliament Hill were each designated as National Historic Sites of Canada, given their importance as the physical embodiment of the Canadian government and as the focal point of national celebrations.

The Parliament of Canada Act renders it illegal for anyone to name any other area or establishment within the National Capital Region as Parliament Hill, as well as forbidding the production of merchandise with that name on it. Any violation of this law is subject to conviction and punishment.

Parliament buildings

The parliament buildings are three edifices arranged around three sides of Parliament Hill's central lawn, the use and administration of the spaces within each building being overseen by the speakers of each chamber of the legislature. The Centre Block contains the Senate and Commons chambers, and is fronted by the Peace Tower on the south facade, with the Library of Parliament at the building's rear. The East and West Blocks each contain ministers' and senators' offices, as well as meeting rooms and other administrative spaces. Gothic Revival has been used as the unifying style of all three structures, though the Centre Block is a more modern Gothic Revival, while the older East and West Blocks are of a Victorian High Gothic manner.

This collection is one of the most important examples of the Gothic Revival style anywhere in the world; while the manner and design of the buildings are unquestionably Gothic, they resemble no building constructed during the Middle Ages. The forms were the same, but their arrangement was uniquely modern. The parliament buildings also departed from the Medieval models by integrating a variety of eras and styles of Gothic architecture, including elements from Britain, France, the Low Countries, and Italy, all in three buildings. In his 1867 Hand Book to the Parliamentary and Departmental Buildings, Canada, Joseph Bureau wrote: "The style of the Buildings is the Gothic of the 12th and 13th Centuries, with modifications to suit the climate of Canada. The ornamental work and the dressing round the windows are of Ohio sandstone. The plain surface is faced with a cream-coloured sandstone of the Potsdam formation, obtained from Nepean, a few miles from Ottawa. The spandrils of the arches, and the spaces between window-arches and the sills of the upper windows, are filled up with a quaint description of stonework, composed of stones of irregular size, shape and colour, very neatly set together." The sculptural ornament has been overseen by five chief sculptors since the creation of the position in 1936: Cléophas Soucy (1936–50), William Oosterhoff (1949–62), Eleanor Milne (1962–93), Maurice Joanisse (1993–2006) and Phil R. White (2006–present).

The only structure on Parliament Hill to have been purposefully demolished was the old Supreme Court building, which stood behind the West Block and housed the Supreme Court between 1889 and 1945. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s there were discussions to tear down other parliamentary precinct buildings, including the Library of Parliament and West Block for new structures, and the East Block for parking, but none of these plans were carried out. Instead, renovations were undertaken to the East Block, beginning in 1966.

By 2002, a thorough $1 billion renovation project was started across the parliamentary precinct, specifically focusing on masonry restoration, asbestos removal, vehicle screening, parking, electrical and mechanical systems, and improved visitors' facilities. The Library of Parliament and Peace Tower, as well as some exterior areas of masonry on the Centre Block have so far been completed, though focus has shifted to the West Block due to its rapidly deteriorating cladding. Before 2012, when the Centre Block is slated to be closed for five years in order to carry out an extensive interior restoration and upgrade, the inner courtyards of the East and West Blocks will be enclosed and fitted with temporary chambers for the Senate and House of Commons.

Statues and monuments

Most of the statues on Parliament Hill are arranged behind the three parliamentary buildings, with one outside of the main fence.

A number of other monuments are distributed across the hill, marking historical moments or acting as memorials for larger groups of people.


Parliament Hill is a limestone outcrop with a gently sloping top that was originally covered in primeval forest of beech and hemlock. For hundreds of years, the hill served as a landmark on the Ottawa River for First Nations and, later, European traders, adventurers, and industrialists, to mark their journey to the interior of the continent. After Ottawa — then called Bytown — was founded, the builders of the Rideau Canal used the hill as a location for a military base, naming it Barrack Hill. A large fortress was planned for the site, but was never built, and by the mid 19th century the hill had lost its strategic importance.

Choice as a parliamentary precinct

In 1858, Queen Victoria selected Bytown as the capital of the Province of Canada, and Barrack Hill was chosen as the site for the new parliament buildings, given its prominence over both the town and the river, as well as the fact that it was already owned by the Crown. On 7 May, a call was put out by the Department of Public Works for design proposals for the new parliament buildings to be erected on Barrack Hill, which was answered with 298 submitted drawings. After the entries were narrowed down to three, Governor General Sir Edmund Walker Head was approached to break the stalemate, and the winners were announced on 29 August 1859. The Centre Block, departmental buildings, and a new residence for the governor general were each awarded separately, the team of Thomas Fuller and Chilion Jones, under the pseudonym of Semper Paratus, winning the prize for the first category with their Victorian High Gothic scheme of a formal, symmetrical front facing a quadrangle, and a more rustic, picturesque back facing the escarpment overlooking the Ottawa River. The team of Thomas Stent and Augustus Laver, under the pseudonym of Stat nomen in umbra, won the prize for the second category, which included the East and West Blocks. These proposals were selected for their sophisticated use of Gothic architecture, which was thought to remind people of parliamentary democracy's history, would contradict the republican Neoclassicism of the United States' capital, and would be suited to the rugged surroundings while also being stately. $300,000 was allocated for the main building, and $120,000 for each of the departmental buildings.

Development into a national heart

Ground was broken on 20 December 1859, and the first stones laid on 16 April of the following year, and Prince Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII), laid the cornerstone of the Centre Block on 1 September. The construction of Parliament Hill became the largest project undertaken in North America to that date. Workers, however, had hit bedrock earlier than expected, necessitating blasting in order to complete the foundations, which had also been altered by the architects in order to sit 5.25 metres (17 ft) deeper than originally planned. By early 1861, it was reported by Public Works that $1,424,882.55 had been spent on the venture, leading to the site being shut down in September and the unfinished structures covered in tarpaulins until 1863, when construction resumed following a commission of inquiry.

Two years later, the unfinished site hosted a celebration of Queen Victoria's birthday, further cementing the area's position as the central place for national outpouring, and the project was still incomplete when the three colonies of British North America confederated in 1867, with Ottawa remaining the capital of the new country. Within four years, Prince Edward Island, Manitoba, British Columbia, and the North West Territories (now Alberta, Saskatchewan, the Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut) joined the union, and required representation in parliament, along with the associated bureaucracy. Thus, the offices of parliament spread to buildings beyond Parliament Hill even at that early date.

By 1876 the structures of Parliament Hill were finished, along with the surrounding fence and gates. However, the grounds had yet to be properly designed; Governor General the Marquess of Dufferin and Ava sent chief architect Thomas Scott to New York City to meet with Calvert Vaux and view Central Park. Vaux completed a layout for the landscape of Parliament Hill, including the present day driveways, terraces, and main lawn, while Scott created the more informal grounds to the sides of and behind the parliament. In 1901 they were the site of both mourning for, and celebration of, Queen Victoria, when the Queen's death was mourned in official ceremonies in January of that year, and when, in early summer, Victoria's grandson, Prince George, Duke of Cornwall (later King George V), dedicated the large statue that stands on The Hill in the late queen's honour.

Fire, rebuilding, and beyond

The Centre Block was destroyed by fire on 3 February 1916. Despite the ongoing war, the original cornerstone was re-laid by Governor General Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught, on 1 September 1916; exactly fifty-six years after his brother, by then King Edward VII, had first set it. Eleven years later the new tower was completed and dedicated as the Peace Tower, in commemoration of the Canadians who had lost their lives during the First World War.

Thereafter The Hill played host to a number of significant events in Canadian history, including the first visit of the reigning Canadian sovereign—King George VI, with his consort, Queen Elizabeth—to his parliament, on 19 May 1939. VE Day was marked with a huge celebration on 8 May 1945, the first raising of the country's new national flag took place on 15 February 1965, the centennial of Confederation was celebrated on 1 July 1967, and the Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II was marked on 18 October 1977. The Queen was back on Parliament Hill on 17 April 1982, to issue a royal proclamation of the enactment of the Constitution Act that year. In April 1989, a Greyhound Lines bus with 11 passengers on board travelling to New York City from Montreal was hijacked by an armed man and driven onto the lawn in front of the Centre Block. A standoff with police ensued and lasted eight hours; though three shots were fired, there were no injuries. After a second incident in September 1996 where an individual forcibly drove his car into the Centre Block doors and proceeded to jump out and attack RCMP officers who were standing guard, it was decided in the interests of national security that Parliament Hill, which up to that time had been open to limited public traffic on the lower lawn, would be restricted to government and media vehicles only.

The 3rd millennium was rung in with a large ceremony on the quadrangle and the "largest single vigil" ever seen in the nation's capital took place in 2001, when 100,000 people gathered on the main lawn to honour the victims of the September 11 attacks on the United States that year. The following year, Queen Elizabeth II's Golden Jubilee was marked on 13 October.

Building Activity

  • OpenBuildings
    OpenBuildings updated 49 media and uploaded a media file
    Parliament Hill%2C Ottawa
    about 6 years ago via