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Monday, 5 September 2016

Our Apprentice in Canada - Parliament Building Ottawa

Ottawa Parliament Hill

I have heard a lot, from Canadians mostly, about the beauty of their parliament building. To someone who grew up in Europe, where there is an abundance and appreciation of traditional architecture, the thought of Canada having fascinating classical architecture was a little foreign. It never occurred to me that as a member of the commonwealth, Canada would have inherited some beautiful British style gothic revival architecture. During my very first day in Ottawa I headed to Parliament Hill and decided to see this much beloved building in person.

The first feature that stood out was the amount of building work and reconstruction that was happening. The hustle and noise of the main road that connected the Parliament building to down town, took away a little of it’s intended regal effect. It was built on the banks of the iconic Ottawa River that separated Quebec from Ontario, which once made the city so strategically and logistically valuable that Queen Victoria made it the capital of Canada in 1859.

This elegant Gothic revival building has a history of fire, terrorist attacks and police stand offs, but it still maintains all of its original beauty. The ongoing renovations that will go on until late 2021 promise to further recover features that have not stood the test of time.

I went to see a master at the site, who spoke of his French education in stonemasonry, to find out a little more about the technical features.

The stone is Sandstone which was quarried from Ohio and nearby Nepean, and brought over by train and ship. He explains that this stone in particular is able to withstand the harsh Canadian winter and constant salt that is scattered on all surfaces. I asked him why the features are not very glamourous compared to other gothic revival buildings of that magnitude. He believes that the building was intended to replicate 13th century Gothic with modifications to suite the climate. This means that a lot of the ornamental work was reworked by the stonemasons to be more rigid.

Proud stone masons presenting their final work

The absolute trophy of the entire main building are the delicate carvings of the arches that frame the doorway. Their symbolism isn’t particularly complex or mysterious, still tell a story of allegiance to the British monarchy and of Canada’s individuality. These arches need to be studied further!

Lion on the left hand side

Unicorn on the right hand side

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