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In 1857 the Chief Minister of the Legislative Council John A. MacDonald advised the Queen that Ottawa, a small lumber camp where the head of the Rideau Canal was located would make a wonderful spot for a new Capital of Canada. He used the talent and charm of Lady Anna-Maria Head, the wife of Sir Edmund Head, Governor General of the Province of Canada (Ontario-Quebec of today) to show the Queen the watercolours she had made of the hills around the Ottawa River. Sir Edmund lived in those days in Quebec City which was the seat of the Royal Government and had travelled to Ottawa simply to see the sight at the invitation of John A.MacDonald.


Early draft design for the West block of Parliament, mixture of French Chateau and Bavarian folly. The final design will have some elements of this draft.


Central block of Parliament in 1900. Wellington street is not paved yet.

The watercolours of Lady Head were quite beautiful and the Queen was happy to name this mud camp as the site of the future Capital of the Dominion of Canada. Construction of the Parliament buildings started on what will become Parliament Hill and the rest is history. It must have been quite incongruous to have such majestic buildings built in what was no more than a shipping and processing area for the lumber industry with a host of sawmills and other ugly industries and a population of rough necks, Bytown as Ottawa was known had more bars and brothels than schools or churches. The main buildings were completed in 1864 a full 3 years before Canada became a Unified country. The West block suffered a terrible fire in 1897 and was rebuilt the main Central block was totally destroyed by fire in 1916. In both cases the shellack used on the wood panels and floors of the building was to blame as it was highly flammable in an age where all men smoked pipes or cigars.

When the Central block of Parliament was rebuilt in 1922 after the terrible fire of 1916 which destroyed the entire building, both the House of Commons and the Senate were remodelled and enlarged given that the population of Canada had increased and the architectural style under George V (1910-1936) was very different from the fashion under his grandmother Queen Victoria who had died in 1901.


Parliament today, the Senate is on the right side of the photo and the house is   on the left side.

With the creation of a united Dominion of Canada in 1867 people started to think of themselves as Canadians and with the advent of the First World War and the enormous contribution of Canada, people were in a different frame of mind.  Though there was no Canadian Citizenship as such on paper, Canadians were still all British Subjects and will be until the Act of Parliament in 1949, people thought of themselves as Canadians. The First World War had demonstrated that we could achieve things and sometimes do better than other Countries, like Britain.

The interior decoration of the Parliament building reflects the changing history and circumstances in Canada.

I came upon the large paintings inside the Senate Chamber. For years I had assumed that they were part of a collection but did not know exactly which one and how they came about to being inside the Senate Chamber.

During the First World War (1914-1918) Canada contributed some 700,000 men to fight in Flanders. Given that we had no army prior to 1914 this was an extraordinary feat. This number represents 10% of the total population of the country at the time.

Because the army was put together very quickly there was no time to think of an Official War Art department. Other countries like Britain, France, Germany, Russia etc.. had War Artists who would sketch and paint on battlefields to record the action.

Max Aitken Lord Beaverbrook, a native of New Brunswick had moved to England where he had become the first Press Baron and a Member of Parliament in Westminster. Something you could do back then, you could run for Parliament in Ottawa or London. He set-up a Canadian War Art program and recruited Canadian artists, mostly soldiers who had been wounded to return to the battlefield to sketch and record Canadian  troops in action.

At the end of the War some 1000 paintings and sketches formed what became known as the Beaverbrook Canadian War Memorial Fund Collection. Many of the paintings are considered to be controversial and have not been shown since 1919. Others were considered acceptable by the politicians in Parliament and have been on display.


In the Senate several large canvasses where hung in 1922 and have remained ever since.


Landing of the First Canadian Division at Saint-Nazaire 1915 by Edgar Bundy.


Mobile Veterinary Unit in France by Algernon Talmage


Railway construction in France by Leonard Richmond


Arras, the dead city by James Kerr-Lawson


The cloth Hall Ypres by James Kerr-Lawson


The Watch on the Rhine by Sir William Rothenstein 


Returning to the reconquered land by Sir George Clausen


On leave by Claire Atwood

None of the above named artists are Canadians, all are British but were recruited by Lord Beaverbrook to work on the Canadian War Art project. Other paintings are in the National Gallery and in the Canadian War Museum many are still in storage in both museum.


Sacrifice by Charles Sims is an allegorical painting about death and the destruction of battle. We are standing behind the cross with Christ. The mother and child group represents rebirth and regeneration. This painting was only exhibited once in 1919 and then never again until 2000. The angle is strange because it is hanged high on a narrow balcony in the Canadian War Museum. The 9 Coat of Arms at the top represent the Provinces of Canada at the time in 1918. The message is powerful and like other paintings like FOR WHAT by Frederick Varley was very unpopular with the Prime Minister at the time Sir Robert Borden who would have preferred a happy triumphant message.

Finally here is a newly installed stain glass window in the Foyer of the Senate Chamber in Parliament to mark the Diamond Jubilee of H.M. Elizabeth II as Queen of Canada. The window faces South it was installe in 2013.

window EIIR

The stain glass window shows Victoria on the left side with her Coat of Arms and an image of Parliament in 1867. The right pane shows Elizabeth II with her Coat of Arms which includes Maple Leafs and the Parliament as it is today. She will be 89 years old on 21 April 2015 and in September will be the longest reigning Monarch in Canadian and British history.