Parliament Buildings National Historic Site of Canada
© Parks Canada / Parcs Canada, Catherine Beaulieu 2010.
Wellington Street, Ottawa, Ontario
Historic Sites and Monuments Act (R.S.C., 1985, c. H-4)
1859 to 1865
1916 to 1916
1923 to 1923
Event, Person, Organization:
Government of Canada
John A. Pearson
Thomas Seaton Scott
Peter Lyall and Sons Ltd.
Centre Block, East Block, West Block, Public Grounds, Library
(Name of contributing resources)
Research Report Number:
Existing plaque: Entrance to Peace Tower on Centre Block, Parliament Hill Wellington Street, Ottawa, Ontario
In 1859 the province of Canada began to erect its Parliament buildings. The architectural competition was won by Fuller & Jones for the legislative building and by Stent & Laver for the east and west blocks, housing the departmental offices. The chosen style was a robust Gothic Revival featuring rugged masonry, pointed openings, carved beasts and buttresses. First occupied in 1865, the complex housed the new Dominion government 18 months later. In 1916 fire razed the main block, though the exquisite library survived. The present centre block was designed by John A. Pearson and J.O. Marchand in an austere version of the Gothic style.
Description of Historic Place
Parliament Buildings National Historic Site of Canada is prominently located on a hill above the Ottawa River on Wellington Street in downtown Ottawa, Ontario. Four Gothic Revival style buildings grouped on landscaped grounds, namely the West Block, the Centre Block, the East Block, and the Library. Built 1859-1865 to serve the united provinces of Upper and Lower Canada, the Parliament Buildings were occupied by the House of Commons, Senate and departmental offices of the new Dominion of Canada after Confederation in 1867. The Parliament Buildings have been constantly occupied, and continue to be the real and symbolic centre of Canadian government. Official recognition refers to the four buildings as defined by their footprints.
Parliament Buildings was designated a national historic site of Canada in 1976 because: first occupied in 1865 by the departmental offices of the Province of Canada, the Gothic Revival style parliament buildings housed the new Government of Canada eighteen months later.
The Parliament Buildings were initially conceived to serve the needs of the government of the united provinces of Upper and Lower Canada; however, after Confederation in 1867, they were occupied by the House of Commons, Senate, and departmental offices of the new Dominion of Canada. Originally known as Barracks Hill, the site was chosen for its commanding location, its fine uninterrupted views of the region, and for its three decades of occupation by a military garrison and the Royal Engineers, rendering it a central focus of town social life.
The building complex was dramatically sited on the hill and construction began in 1859. The original buildings were examples of Ruskinian picturesque High Victorian Gothic architecture, designed by two architectural partnerships. Thomas Fuller and Chilion Jones designed the original Centre Block and Library, and Thomas Stent and Augustus Laver were responsible for the East and West Blocks. The buildings were intended to house all government activities with the East and West Blocks reserved for the entire civil service. The Centre Block was sufficiently complete in 1865 to be occupied by government departments, and it was officially opened on 6 June 1866. The Library was begun in 1859, redesigned in 1870, and finished in 1877. Fire destroyed the Centre Block, with the exception of the Library, in 1916. When it was rebuilt a few years later, the building was enlarged and the Peace Tower was completed in 1928. The Gothic style was retained by the architects Pearson & Marchand, although updated to a Beaux-Arts axial plan with Gothic details
The Parliament Buildings play an important symbolic role as the physical embodiment of the Canadian government. This symbolism is most visually manifest in the exterior image of the Centre Block and its Peace Tower, yet the whole grouping is clearly identified with the nation’s capital, particularly because it is not an architectural image developed elsewhere in the country.
Source: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, July 2007; plaque text, 1978.
Key elements that contribute to the heritage character of the site include: its prominent location on a hill facing Wellington Street above the Ottawa River; its Gothic Revival style; the relationship between the buildings; viewscapes in all directions surrounding the site.
Elements related to East Block: its two-and-a-half storey irregular massing and copper mansard roof with dormers, chimneys and towers; its construction using Nepean, Ohio and Potsdam sandstone; the façades with irregular and symmetrical features, including projections and recessions of pavilions and towers; High Victorian Gothic Revival elements, including Gothic windows and doorways, towers, iron finials and cresting; Ruskinian Gothic Revival polychromic colours and textures and rugged picturesque façades;
Elements related to West Block: its two-storey irregular massing and mansard copper roof; its construction using Nepean, Ohio and Potsdam sandstone; its irregular, varying sloped roof with towers, turrets and chimneys; High Victorian Gothic Revival elements, including Gothic windows and doorways, towers, iron finials and cresting; the English Decorated style wings; the principal interior spaces; the 19th- and early 20th-century interior and finishes; the 1874-78 addition and its interior finishes, the former office of Alexander Mackenzie, the Mackenzie Tower, and the spiral staircases; the 1906 extension.
Elements related to Centre Block: its four-storey irregular massing and copper mansard roof, punctuated by dormers and chimney stacks; Beaux-Arts Gothic Revival design elements, its monumentality, symmetrical plan, Gothic windows and doorways, stained and etched glasswork, towers, iron finials and cresting; its steel-frame construction infilled with brick and terracotta tile, and clad in Nepean and Ohio sandstone; the 92-metre Peace Tower, its copper mansard roof, four-sided clock, 53-bell carillon and decoration; its Tyndall limestone Gothic Revival interior with rib and fan vaulting and decorative motifs; its functional layout on an axial plan; the House of Commons and Senate Chamber; its public and ceremonial spaces, including the Memorial Chamber and the Hall of Honour.
Elements related to the Library: its free-standing octagonal massing and hemi-spherical glazed copper dome with gilded lantern; its construction using Nepean, Ohio and red sandstone; the fire-proof materials and features, including iron doors and concrete floors; its High Victorian Gothic Revival style, including its circular plan, chapter house-inspired design, flying buttresses, pinnacles, turrets and iron cresting; the fenestration and Gothic windows with geometrical tracery; the naturally-lit circular reading room, surrounded by a polygonal ring of service rooms; the two galleries with panelled wood shelving, decorated with Gothic motifs; interior decorations and finishes, including the carved stone capitals and corbels, the decorated wrought-iron railings, the ash, walnut and cherry patterned floor and the statue of Queen Victoria; its use as a library supporting Parliament.