Public Grounds of the Parliament Buildings National Historic Site of Canada
© Parks Canada Agency / Agence Parcs Canada, Catherine Beaulieu, 2010.
111 Wellington Street, Ottawa, Ontario
Historic Sites and Monuments Act (R.S.C., 1985, c. H-4)
1873 to 1875
Event, Person, Organization:
Government of Canada
Public Grounds of the Parliament Buildings
Research Report Number:
Existing plaque: Parliament Hill, west side of Grounds, Ottawa, Ontario
In 1873 the Department of Public Works contracted with New York landscape architect Calvert Vaux to design a plan for the public grounds on Parliament Hill. Superseding a design by the English sculptor Marshall Wood, Vaux's design was implemented in 1873-75. A terrace connecting the access roadways integrated the dominating Parliament buildings with the departmental buildings. Small geometric flower beds, diagonal walks and a central fountain, long since removed, ornamented the lawn. While changes in planting have altered the effect of Vaux's design, its major features are still clearly discernible.
Description of Historic Place
Public Grounds of the Parliament Buildings National Historic Site of Canada is prominently located on Wellington Street above the Ottawa River in downtown Ottawa, Ontario. The site is comprised of the four Parliament Buildings (Centre Block, East Block, West Block and the Library) and the grounds surrounding them. The grounds are landscaped with flower beds, mature trees, an upper terrace and roadways; and contains commemorative monuments and statues of varying styles and sizes. The site also features several associated buildings recently built behind West Block. Official recognition refers to property no.08834, which includes Centre Block, East Block, West Block, the Library, and the auxiliary buildings built behind West Block.
Public Grounds of the Parliament Buildings was designated a national historic site of Canada in 1976 because: it is a good example of landscape design.
Constructed between 1859 and 1865 in the Gothic-Revival style, the Parliament Buildings were initially conceived to house the government of the united provinces of Upper and Lower Canada. The government first occupied the buildings in 1865, and after Confederation in 1867 the buildings were occupied by the House of Commons, the Senate, and the departmental offices of the new Dominion of Canada. With the change of government, commissioning a landscape design for the grounds became an important concern.
In 1873 the Department of Public Works contracted well-known New York landscape architect Calvert Vaux to design a plan for the public grounds on Parliament Hill. Superseding a design by English designer Marshall Wood, Vaux's design was implemented during the second half of the 1870s. Vaux’s design accentuated the differences in elevation between Centre Block and East and West Blocks with the construction of an upper terrace and projecting bays and stairs. Three sets of stairs linked the two levels, and at either side, curving ramps carried the road to the primary entrance of Centre Block. His design also included various roadways to integrate the dominating Parliament Buildings with the departmental buildings. Small geometric flower beds, diagonal walks and a circular plaza with a fountain ornamented the lawn.
While Calvert Vaux’s design was being implemented, additional work was undertaken to develop less formal gardens and the Lover’s Walk to the north of the buildings, in accordance with the ideas of Chief Architect of the Department of Public Works, Thomas Scott. Although the outline of Vaux’s design is still evident, it has largely been superseded by other designs. For example, the fountain and the diagonal walks have been removed and the crisp outline of the terrace retaining wall has been blurred by shrubbery. Fourteen statues have also been erected since the implementation of Vaux’s design. The first statue built behind the buildings was that of Sir George-Etienne Cartier, unveiled in 1885. Other statues followed including those of Sir John A. MacDonald in 1895, Alexander Mackenzie in 1901 and Queen Victoria, also in 1901. Pathways, flower beds and an ornamental summerhouse were added behind the buildings in subsequent years, although the flower beds and summerhouse are no longer present, as parking needs replaced much of the early landscape design. The Public grounds of the Parliament Buildings is often the focal for national celebrations and expressions of democracy.
Sources: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, November 1976; July 2007.
The key elements that contribute to the heritage character of this site include: its prominent location on Wellington Street in Ottawa; its dramatic siting on a hill overlooking the Ottawa River; the 9-hectare, Picturesque style landscape that rises from Wellington Street and falls sharply behind the Library at the forested cliff that bounds the river; the formal character of the landscape designed to integrate the Parliament Buildings, to emphasise the differences in elevation between Centre Block and East and West Blocks, and to create a public park-like space; the integrity and abundance of natural elements, including the mature trees and shrubs and the cliff-side environment; the landscaping elements including the expansive lawns, formal gardens and flower beds, shrubs, pedestrian walkways, light fixtures, stone and wrought-iron fencing, stairs and parking lots; the various roadways that integrate the Parliament Buildings and the surrounding landscape; the design, placement and extent of the fence that bounds the site on Wellington Street, featuring a low stone wall topped by a single tiered wrought-iron fence with Gothic tracery, and regularly spaced stone piers with Gothic details (some with surmounting light fixtures); the Queen’s Gates, centrally located in line with the Peace Tower, designed in the High Victorian Gothic style, featuring a three tiered wrought-iron main gate with arches and Gothic tracery, bounded on either side by a stone pier with Gothic details; the Centennial Flame in its placement, location and extent; the design, placement and extent of the upper terrace, including the detailed retaining wall of stone construction with light fixtures mounted on the wall, the three sets of projecting bays and stairs constructed in stone that link the two levels, the curving ramps that carry the road to the primary entrance of Centre Block and the asphalt and concrete surface of the terrace; the two identical flagstaffs of stone construction with Gothic details, located on either side of the upper terrace; the footprints of Centre Block, East Block, West Block, and the Library in their placement and extent; any auxiliary buildings or structures on the site, including the visitors’ pavilion behind West Block and the Summer Pavilion of painted wood construction with a copper roof; the various statues and monuments on the site in their placement and extent including, the statues of Sir Wilfred Laurier, William Lyon Mackenzie King, Sir John A. Macdonald, Sir George-Étienne Cartier, Robert Baldwin and Sir Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine, Thomas D’Arcy McGee, George Brown, Alexander Mackenzie, John George Diefenbaker, Queen Elizabeth II, Queen Victoria, Lester Bowles Pearson, Sir Robert Laird Borden, the Famous Five, the Victoria Tower Bell, and the Police Memorium; the footprint, design and composition of the Lover’s Walk overlooking the Ottawa River; any surviving elements from Vaux’s original design including the diagonal walkways that converged on a circular plaza, the fountain and the small geometric flower beds; any surviving evidence of the pathways, flower beds and summerhouse added behind the buildings; the spatial and historical relationship with the Parliament Buildings, Office of the Prime Minister and Privy Council, Rideau Canal and Confederation Square National Historic Sites of Canada; the viewscapes from the site toward the Ottawa River.