on June 12, 2009
On a summer business trip to Ottawa in 1998, I joined a free tour of the Parliament buildings. (Every 15 minutes in either French or English). There is a tour of just the grounds or a tour of the main building, the Center Block where the House of Commons, Senate, committee rooms, library and Peace Tower are. You can only go in the building alone if you are going up inside the tower. Otherwise you must be with a tour for security reasons and all visitors must pass through an airport-like metal detector. The present buildings were erected after a fire, completed in 1922. The structure is very similar to the building that existed on the site previously, built in 1865. The Peace Tower was built in 1927 as a war memorial. The interior floors are Quebec marble and many of the walls are Manitoba limestone and you can even find fossils in the limestone! Parts of the building are ordinary halls and offices but some have lovely stone arches, stained glass ceilings and paintings of the Governors General and Speakers of the House line several halls as well. The House of Commons currently seats the 301 Members of Parliament. We saw the massive ceremonial mace that must be on the speaker's table when Parliament is in session but currently was in a glass display case. Parliament officially opens later in September for the fall session. The carpet here is green to represent the common folk whom the members represent. The foyer in front of the Senate is again full of arches and paintings of monarchs back to Victoria. That particular painting has an interesting history. This painting was rescued from fire in all of the previous 3 capitol buildings she was hung in, Kinston, Montreal and the old Ottawa building. Is this lucky? Or unlucky since all of her former homes burned down? The other paintings were reproductions of the originals. The Senate is predominately red representing royalty and it is here in the throne behind the Speaker's Chair where Queen Elizabeth II would sit with Prince Philip were she to be present at the opening of Parliament. Otherwise, the Governor General and spouse, as the Queen's representatives, sit there instead. The walls contain murals and there are two huge chandeliers that are said to weigh over 2 tons each hanging from either end of the room. There are only 104 Senators here and they debate bills that are too controversial for the House of Commons. The Senators are appointed, not elected so they don't fear reprisal from the electorate. The House, Senate and committee rooms contain electronic devices for translation into French and English for the members sitting and participating.We were taken to a modern committee room and had a quick peek into the library, the one that survived the fire. It's round with a vaulted ceiling. The shelves around the room on these two levels have intricately carved woodwork. There are plenty of windows so it's bright and sunny and the room is dominated by a statue of Queen Victoria in classical dress. There are several rooms below this containing more important and older documents in a humidity and temperature controlled atmosphere. This is the only place in the building where photographs are not allowed in any form as it disturbs people using the library for work. The modern age has arrived here too with computer terminals on many of the desks. At the end of the tour I took the 8-person elevator to the top of the Peace Tower. The observation deck is under the clock which chimes with up to 52 bells of varying sizes every 15 minutes. You can see the bells through a little window as the elevator rises! There is a display room near the elevator on the bottom floor too, with several displays on the buildings and on Canada and Ottawa. The view from the inside observation area is lovely on a sunny day and you can see quite a way up and down the Ottawa River and across the river to the Quebec city of Hull where the new Museum of Civilization sits.
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