Parliament Hill, Complex

Classified Federal Heritage Building

Ottawa, Ontario
Parliament Hill Complex (© Parks Canada Agency/ Agence Parcs Canada)
General view
(© Parks Canada Agency/ Agence Parcs Canada)
Address : Wellington Street, Ottawa, Ontario

Recognition Statute: Treasury Board Policy on Management of Real Property
Designation Date: 1987-01-30
Dates:
  • 1859 to 1865 (Construction)

Event, Person, Organization:
  • Thomas Fuller  (Architect)
  • Thomas Stent  (Architect)
Other Name(s):
  • Parliament Buildings National Historic Site  (Designation Name)
  • Parliament Hill Complex - Precinct  (Other Name)
Custodian: Public Works and Government Services Canada
FHBRO Report Reference: 86-52
DFRP Number: 08834 00

Description of Historic Place

The Parliament Hill Complex in Ottawa is composed of four Gothic Revival pavilions that together make up the Parliament Buildings. Surrounding an expansive lawn and overlooking swirling waters of the Ottawa River, the picturesque complex of matching yet different Gothic Revival designs displays a dazzling array of copper roofs, towers pinnacles and iron cresting against the skyline. The designation is confined to the footprint of the building.

Heritage Value

The Parliament Hill complex is designated Classified because it is, in its entirety, a symbol of Parliament and Canadian government; because it is one of the better Canadian examples of design at a larger scale; and because it has been the site of numerous nationally significant events and ceremonies.

The foundation of the design of the Parliamentary Complex was the brilliant siting of the buildings on Barracks Hill. Viewed from the north, the design of the buildings and the treatment of the site together made a High Victorian picturesque composition of international significance. In its more formal southern aspect, the complex was rendered a fully harmonious whole by Calvert Vaux's simple but inspired retaining wall and lawns. The fence along Wellington Street is a significant design and an example of advanced craftsmanship.

Sources:
Staff Report, Parliament Hill Complex, Ottawa, Ontario, Federal Heritage Building Review Office Building Report 86-052.

Parliament Hill Complex, Ottawa, Ontario, Heritage Character Statement, 86-052.

Character-Defining Elements

The character-defining elements of the Parliament Buildings should be respected, for example:

-the relationship between the buildings and the distinctive outdoor spaces around them, which is animated by the tension between its formal, almost austere, centre and its rugged, apparently wild, periphery;
-the Wellington Street fence, which is the original and defining iteration of the
Town/Crown dichotomy;
-the parliamentary lawns, which are the formal centre of the complex and whose essential character is simplicity approaching austerity;
-Calvert Vaux's graceful retaining wall and podium, the basic form-giving element of the space, reinforced by the circulation pattern and grades;
-the spaces between the buildings and the cliff, which were developed in the gardenesque tradition and spoke to Major's Hill Park, which was designed at the same time in the same tradition;
-the essentially wild state of the cliffs, necessary to the splendid image the Hill presents when viewed from the north.

Heritage Character Statement

Disclaimer - The heritage character statement was developed by FHBRO to explain the reasons for the designation of a federal heritage building and what it is about the building that makes it significant (the heritage character). It is a key reference document for anyone involved in planning interventions to federal heritage buildings and is used by FHBRO in their review of interventions.

Reason for Designation

The whole of Parliament Hill as a complex is designated Classified because it is in its entirety a symbol of Parliament and Canadian government, because it is one of the better Canadian examples of design at a larger scale, and because it has been the site of numerous nationally significant events and ceremonies.

The foundation of the design of the Parliamentary Complex was the brilliant siting of the buildings on Barracks Hill. Especially as viewed from the north, the design of the buildings and the treatment of the site together made a High Victorian picturesque composition of international significance. In its more formal southern aspect the complex was rendered a fully harmonious whole by Calvert Vaux's simple but inspired retaining wall and lawns. The fence along Wellington Street is, on its own terms, a significant design and an example of advanced craftsmanship.


Character Defining Elements

The heritage character of the complex lies in the relationship between the buildings and the distinctive outdoor spaces around them. The meaning and heritage character of the complex depends on, and is animated by, the tension between its formal, almost austere, centre, and its rugged, apparently wild, periphery. Parliament presents its formal face to the town: the Wellington Street fence is the original and defining iteration of the Town/Crown dichotomy (to use the current slogan) that of a greater or lesser extent has always informed the urban design of Ottawa. Its placement, linearity, and the regulated access it affords are essential to the heritage character of the complex.

The parliamentary lawns are the formal centre of the complex. Their essential character is simplicity approaching austerity; they represent order. Calvert Vaux's graceful retaining wall and podium are the basic form-giving element of the space reinforced by the circulation pattern and grades. The relationship between the new Centre Block and this podium is part of Pearson's design, and has acquired an historical significance of its own. Photographs showing the retaining wall unencumbered by foundation plantings are very persuasive. It is essential to the complex that the lawns of Parliament retain an extreme simplicity of form and materials as a meaningful contrast with the busier spaces near the periphery and as an elegant complement to the gothic architectural vocabulary.

The spaces between the buildings and the cliff were developed in the gardenesque tradition, and spoke to Major's Hill Park, which was designed at the same time in the same tradition. These were pleasure grounds offering informal, but cultivated, delight in contrast with the formality of the parliamentary lawns on the one side and picturesque wildness of the cliffs on the other. The summer house, bowling green, and planting beds have disappeared from this space; it has now a more or less utilitarian character. This has had the unfortunate effect of making the cliffs seem merely inadvertent and untended, and the parliamentary lawns, almost barren. It would greatly enhance the heritage character of the Parliamentary Complex if the gardenesque park was reinstated in these spaces. Statuary on the hill is now concentrated in this zone; this is appropriate to the style historically enunciated in this area. The introduction of new elements such as statuaries should be carefully managed to respect the historic design intent of the grounds.

One of the wisest landscape decisions taken on the Hill was to preserve the cliffs in an essentially wild state. This is necessary to the splendid image the Hill presents when viewed from the north; the continued maintenance of apparently natural woods on the cliffs is essential. The demarcation of selected views through this fringe of wild out to distant prospects is a part of this design tradition appropriate to the site, but now not much in evidence.