Parliament Hill

Parliament Hill

View of Parliament Hill from across the Ottawa River.
Copyright 2011 [Roy Tennant], FreeLargePhotos.com

Parliament Hill is one of the most significant heritage sites in Canada. Covering about 143,000 square meters of space, it is made up of the East, Centre and West Blocks, and the Library of Parliament. The Parliament Buildings are made in a Gothic Revival style with copper roofs that have oxidized into a highly-recognizable green patina.

Visiting Parliament

If you are planning a visit, please note that there is no parking available on the Hill and only authorized vehicles are permitted on the Hill. There are numerous public and municipal parking lots located nearby. Also, all visitors are required to go through security checkpoints, so allow extra time for line-ups. All tours are FREE. For groups less than 10, you go to the Visitor Welcome Centre or the White Info Tent (during the summer) to get same-day tour tickets. But be warned, they reserve the right to change tour times, routes and schedules, especially if Parliament is in session.

Guided tours of the Centre Block and the East Block are given in English and French, usually by history majors, and you’ll learn a wealth of information and history in the 20-60 minute tour. The architecture inside the buildings is spectacular, and definitely worth the visit. There are also souvenirs available at the Parliament Hill Boutique.

For further information, and to double-check the schedule, go to www.parliamenthill.gc.ca and follow the link under “Features” to “Take the Inside Tour”.

About the Parliament Buildings

The Centre Block
The Centre Block (pictured above) is probably the one most recognized. It is home to the Senate, the House of Commons and the Library of Parliament and the Peace Tower. It was rebuilt between 1916 and 1927 after the original was destroyed by fire in 1916.

The Centre Block: Library
The Library is the only building from the Centre Block that survived the devastating fire of 1916. The fully-functioning library’s collection supports the activities and decisions of Canada’s democratic Parliament. In 1952, there was a fire in the dome attic. Major work began in 2002 to conserve, rehabilitate and upgrade the building to its former glroy.

The Centre Block: The Peace Tower
The Peace Tower is a large freestanding bell tower that is a major focal point of the Centre Block. It was named the Peace Tower in honour of Canadian men and women that died in World War I. The tower’s walls are made of Nepean sandstone and rise 92.2 m (302 ft. 6 in.) from its base to the bronze flagpole. The tower has an observation deck, a carillon of 53 bells, Memorial Chamber and a clock with four faces, each with a diameter of 4.8 m (16 ft.).

The East Block
Today, the East Block contains many senators’ offices. Sir John A. Macdonald and a number of Governors General once had offices in this block. At one time, the East Block contained 6 massive vaults, used to store the nation’s treasures before the Bank of Canada took over. The vaults are now converted to offices, with the original vault doors intact. In 1910, a wing was added to the rear.

The West Block
The West Block was also built in the 1850s, with later additions of the Mackenzie Wing and Tower, and the Laurier Tower and Link. The West Block houses Ministers, Members of Parliament, their employees, committee rooms, and the Confederation Room. It’s claim to fame: it is featured on the Canadian five dollar bill.

The Grounds
Besides the numerous statuary and memorials on the grounds of Parliament Hill, you will find the Centennial Flame directly in front of the Centre Block. The Flame was lit for the first time in 1967 by Lester B. Pearson to celebrate Canada’s 100th anniversary. The Centennial Flame is surrounded by the shields of the Canadian provinces and territories and shows the date that the province or territory joined Confederation. The flame is put out for one week twice each year for maintenance.

Changing of the Guard

At the annual inspection of the Ceremonial Guard.
Copyright 2011 [Sgt Serge Gouin, Rideau Hall]

Free of charge, performances are held every morning at 10:00 a.m. on Parliament Hill in Ottawa beginning in late June to the end of August annually. The Ceremony is a colourful spectacle of pomp, pageantry and music. The Guard starts its parade at 9:30 a.m. from Cartier Square Drill Hall and ends at Parliament Hill at exactly 10 a.m. every morning, rain or shine. The Guard assembles at Cartier Square Drill Hall (Laurier Avenue at the Rideau Canal), marches north on Elgin Street, then west along Wellington Street to Parliament Hill.

The first parade is generally conducted on the Friday before Canada Day (July 1) and the final parade is on the last Friday in August.

The Ceremonial Guard is made up of two regiments: the Governor General’s Footguards and the Canadian Grenadier Guards, with their own regimental band and pipers. The ceremony lasts half an hour and involves 125 soldiers in busbies and scarlet tunics.

Public Duties by the Ceremonial Guard include the mounting of Guards at the residence of His Excellency, the Governor General of Canada;

  • performing the daily ceremony of Changing the Guard on Parliament Hill at 10:00 a.m.
  • providing daily sentries at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the National War Memorial
  • the mounting of Guards of Honour for visiting heads of state or other dignitaries
  • participating in official public or military functions in the Capital
  • performance of public concerts or other ceremonies to promote the Canadian Forces.

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