by Ruth Griffiths
On this day in 1866, the Parliament of the Province of Canada began its fifth session in the still unfinished Parliament buildings in Ottawa. It was the last session as the Province of Canada before Confederation.
The Parliament Buildings are so much a part of the culture and character of Canada that it is hard to imagine them not being there. But renovations underway on Parliament Hill underscore the evolving nature of our nation’s capital buildings.
The original construction on the first Canadian Parliament buildings took 20 years, beginning in 1857. According to a Government of Canada website: “The West Block is being rehabilitated to meet the current and future needs of Parliamentarians, while respecting its heritage character. Rehabilitation work began in 2011, and building occupancy is planned for the opening session of Parliament in fall 2018.”
The West Block was built to house the federal public service. Before it was emptied in 2011, it housed the offices of the Prime Minister, Cabinet, members of Parliament and their staff. It also housed committee rooms and the Confederation Room.
When we picture the Parliament Buildings we usually think of the Centre Block. It contains meeting spaces for the House of Commons and the Senate Chambers with the Hall of Honour separating them. Some parliamentarians also have offices in the Centre Block. A rehabilitation project is scheduled to begin in 2018 and continue for 10 years. While the Centre Block is closed, the newly built West Block courtyard will serve as the home of the interim House of Commons Chamber.
The Centre Block was destroyed by fire in 1916. All that remains of the original building is the Parliamentary Library at the rear of the Centre Block.
While the Centre Block is closed, the newly built West Block courtyard will serve as the home of the interim House of Commons Chamber. The Senate chamber will be housed in the former Union Station.
Renovations to the interior and exterior of the East Block have been ongoing for several decades. The rehabilitation of the northwest tower, which was completed in 2013, served as a pilot project for the upcoming masonry repairs within the East Block’s original wing. Further rehabilitation of the exterior is scheduled for this year.
Renovations to the Parliament buildings are budgeted to cost taxpayers $3 billion.