Just before the Christmas break, Parliament and the Senate in Ottawa closed down for the last time in the Central block. For the next 15 years they will sit in temporary locations. The House of Commons will sit in what was the Courtyard of the West Bloc, a building that dates back to 1864 when Ottawa was still a mud town and the Senate will move to the old Railway Station across the street.
Since 2000 what are the 3 main buildings of the Parliament in Canada have been undergoing major renovation and retrofitting. Both the West and East blocs are original to 1864 and only minor cleaning and repair had taken place in the last 136 years. The West bloc was designed to house offices for members of Parliament and some Federal government departments. The East bloc was designed to house the Office of the Governor General, the Cabinet and the Department of Foreign Affairs. With the years and the growth of the Canadian Government after 1918, all that changed. The original Central bloc burnt to the ground in a spectacular fire in 1917 caused by a cigar butt left in a reading room. Only the Library of Parliament survived the massive fire because the Librarian seeing the smoke at the end of the corridor had to good sense of closing the steel doors thus protecting the Library from the flames. So in 1919 new Central bloc was inaugurated, the new building had an entire steel skeleton, a novelty then and a very tall clock tower now called the Peace Tower. However since then again little renovations had been done. The building though magnificent was having more and more mechanical system failures in the last few years.
The renovated West Bloc re-opened last week with the House now sitting in a very modern room for the next 15 years, the cost of this one building $863 million dollars CDN. It is a smaller building than the Central bloc and most Members have their offices in other buildings in the Parliament district, but that did not stop the media and some members of complaining about the small building. I worked in that building in 1979-81 and I do not remember it being that small, it is very grand inside with marble floors and grand staircases.
The Senate which in Canada and according to our Constitution is an un-elected body now sits in the Old Union Station, which was closed in 1965, converted into a government conference centre but mostly unused for years. It was a very badly neglected building with water infiltration etc. It too was completely renovated at great cost.
But that is not all, other buildings around the area, like the Confederation Building, the Justice Building, the Old Metropolitan Life building at Wellington and Bank street, the Bank of Canada, the Supreme Court all have been renovated or are about to be renovated. The total cost is estimated at around $3.1 billion dollars, but the Central bloc alone will probably cost $1.2 billion to renovate. The reason for such high cost is that the buidings are full of sculptures, stained glass windows, chandeliers and artifacts, so the work has to take place around it all without damaging or displacing any of it.
The photo above shows the great Lion clutching in his paws the Coat of arms of Canada, he stands at the main door of the Central bloc under the Peace Tower, you can see how the stone is intricately carved with flora and fauna of Canada, well the inside is just the same, it all means something. In the distance on the photo is a part view of the West bloc.
Computerized rendition of the West Bloc with the big blue roof covering the old Courtyard.
The new visitor entrance located between the West Bloc and the Central Bloc on Parliament Hill.
The temporary House of Commons built inside the Courtyard of the West Bloc, 20 steel columns hold up the glass roof. The public galleries are far larger and there is also many more seats for the Members of Parliament, in the next 15 years to population of Canada will increase so the architects thought of adding extra space to the existing 338 member seats.
The Senate building
This is the old waiting room of the railway station transformed. The permanent furniture has not been installed yet, this is just a mock up of plain wood desk.
This bronze wall was installed with images of the rockies, the door leads into the Senate Chamber. The employees of the Senate negotiated the return of one of the old waiting room seat with tiffany lamps from the museum where it was sent in 1966. A nice touch to the old railway station.