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Parliament Hill (colloquially The Hill, in French: Colline du Parlement) is an area of Crown land on the southern banks of the Ottawa River in downtown Ottawamarker, Ontariomarker. Its Gothic revival suite of buildings the parliament buildings serves as the home of the Parliament of Canadamarker, 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 Bytownmarker 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 Blockmarker, Parliament Hill took on its present form with the completion of the Peace Towermarker 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.


The entire area of Parliament Hill measures , bounded on the north by the Ottawa River, on the east by the Rideau Canalmarker, on the south by Wellington Street, and on the west by a service road near the Supreme Courtmarker. The south front of the property is demarcated by a Victorian High Gothic wrought iron fence, in the centre of which, on axis with the Peace Towermarker 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 a Carpenter Gothic gazebo at the north west corner. 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 1889, with the construction of the Langevin Blockmarker across Wellington Street. After land to the east, across the canal, was purchased by private interests (to build the Château Lauriermarker hotel), growth of the parliamentary infrastructure moved westward along Wellington, with the erection in the 1930s of the Confederationmarker and Justice Buildingsmarker 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 Streetsmarker 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 Chaudièremarker and Place du Portagemarker.

Parliament buildings

The Centre Blockmarker contains the Senate and Commons chambers, and is fronted by the Peace Towermarker on the south facade, with the Library of Parliamentmarker at the building's rear. The Eastmarker and West Blocksmarker 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 Britainmarker, Francemarker, the Low Countries, and Italymarker, 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 [sic] 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 only structure on Parliament Hill to have been purposefully demolished was the Old Supreme Court building, which had been behind the West Block, and housed the Supreme Courtmarker 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.

Figure Portrait Statue Notes
Sir George-Étienne Cartier This was the first statue put up on Parliament Hill, to the immediate west of the Centre Block, at the instigation of Sir John A. Macdonald. From amongst proposals from Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Italy, Louis-Philippe Hébert was chosen to form the monument, which was set up in the 1880s.
John A. Macdonald Louis-Philippe Hébert was selected out of 44 submissions from Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Europe, to sculpt the statue of Canada's first prime minister. In the 1880s it was unveiled at the south east corner of the Centre Block.
Queen Victoria Located at the north west corner between the West and Centre Blocks, the statue of the country's first monarch was sculpted by Louis-Philippe Hébert in 1900, and dedicated by Prince George, Duke of Cornwall and York in 1901.
Alexander Mackenzie Placed directly to the north of the statue of George-Étienne Cartier, Louis-Philippe Hébert was commissioned to sculpt this figure at the same time as he was awarded the project of the monument to Queen Victoria. The statue was unveiled in 1901.
Sir Galahad This is the only statue on Parliament Hill that is not of a monarch of politician, or within the site's fences. It was put up in 1905 at the initiative of former Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, in order to honour the bravery of his friend Henry Albert Harper.
George Brown This statue was created by George William Hill, and erected in 1913, just north of the monument to Alexander Mackenzie.
D'Arcy McGee The competition for this sculpture took place simultaneously with that for the rendition of George Brown, and was won also by George William Hill. It was unveiled in 1913, at its location north west of the Library of Parliament.
Robert Baldwin and
Sir Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine

This dual statue sits at the north east corner of the parliamentary precinct, was designed by Walter Seymour Allward, and put up in 1914.
Sir Wilfrid Laurier Out of 40 entries received from around the world, that of Joseph-Émile Brunet was selected and realised at the south east corner of the site in 1922.
Sir Robert Borden Frances Loring cast this likeness for the 1957 opening of parliament that was presided over by Queen Elizabeth II; it stands at the south west corner of Parliament Hill.
William Lyon Mackenzie King This statue was commissioned for the Canadian Centennial in 1967, designed by Raoul Hunter, and erected at the north west corner of the East Block.
John Diefenbaker This statue was initiated by an Act of Parliament, and Leo Mol was chosen from 21 submissions to sculpt the piece that dedicated in 1985, and stands immediately north of the West Block.
Lester B. Pearson In 1989, Danek Mozdzenski was commissioned to form this monument that rests immediately north of the West Block.
Queen Elizabeth II Found in the opposite corner of the site from the statue of her great-great-grandmother, the monument was sculpted by Jack Harman and unveiled in 1992, in the presence of the Queen, as part of the 125th anniversary of Confederation celebrations.
The Famous Five This monument was donated in 2000 to the Crown by the the Famous 5 Foundation, and is a collection of five individual statues of each of The Famous Five Emily Murphy, Irene Parlby, Nellie McClung, Louise McKinney, and Henrietta Edwards as well as one empty chair. It is located at the east edge of the precinct, to the south of the statue of Queen Elizabeth II.

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

Monument Image Notes
Centennial Flamemarker Lester B. Pearson dedicated this fountain and eternal flame on 1 January 1967, to mark the beginning of the Canadian Centennial.
Canadian Police Memoriummarker This memorial was designed and constructed to honour Canadian police officers killed in the line of duty since 1879. Dedicated on 22 March 1994, the memorial has since been expanded to include the names of fallen officers from all law enforcement agencies, including the Ministry of Natural Resources, the Ministry of Fisheries and Oceans, and the Ministry of Conservation.
Victoria Tower Bell Unveiled in 2000, the bell is the original from the Victoria Tower, and is canted to recall the way in which it was found after it fell from its perch in the fire of 1916.


Parliament Hill is a limestone outcrop with a gently sloping top that, for hundreds of years, 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 Ottawamarker then called Bytown was founded, the builders of the Rideau Canalmarker 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 it 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, then Governor General Sir Edmund Walker Head was approached to break the stalemate, and the winners were announced on 29 August 1859. The Centre Blockmarker, departmental buildings, and a new residence for the Governor General were each awarded separately, and the team of Thomas Fuller and Chilion Jones, under the pseudonym of Semper Paratus, won the prize for the first category with their Victorian High Gothic scheme with 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 Eastmarker and West Blocksmarker. 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' capitalmarker, 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 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 Islandmarker, Manitobamarker, British Columbiamarker, and the North West Territoriesmarker (now Albertamarker, Saskatchewanmarker, the Yukonmarker, Northwest Territoriesmarker, and Nunavutmarker) 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 Frederick Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood, Marquess of Dufferin and Ava, sent chief architect Thomas Scott to New York Citymarker to meet with Calvert Vaux and view Central Parkmarker. Vaux completed a layout for the landscape, 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, dedicated the large statue that stands on The Hill in the late queen's honour.

Fire, rebuilding, and beyond

Canada's 9/11 memorial service.

The Centre Block was destroyed by fire on February 3, 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 Statesmarker that year. The following year, Queen Elizabeth II's Golden Jubilee was marked on 13 October.

See also


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