Friday, May 14, 2010

the hill - part deux

There was a devastating fire on a cold winter's night in February 1916 in the Centre Block of the Parliament Buildings.

Original Centre Block
Imagine what went through everyones mind, with the young (barely 50 years) country embroiled in the first world war. But it turned out it was not part of anything as sinister as enemy sabotage. It is believed the fire was most likely the cause of careless smoking in the Senate Reading Room.
Firemen Spray Water
The only part of the building to survive was the Library of Parliament (designed by Thomas Fuller) at the back of the building due to someone taking the time to close the big iron doors as he was fleeing.
Library After Fire
Library Windows after Re-opening 2006
In spite of the war, rebuilding took place almost immediately. As you can see from the top archival photo, the new building was built in a more modern Gothic Revival while the original was a High Victorian Gothic Revival (and as such much more ornate). There are 25 different types of stone and marble used in the construction with much of the exterior done in sandstone from a local quarry.
Parliament Fresh Start

Time and the weather has not been kind and a massive renovation project has been underway since 2002 on all three buildings which is expected to take until 2025.
The stone from the gates are slowly being cleaned and restored to their original glory.

this bell was taken from the ruins
of the clock tower destroyed by fire
February 3, 1916
"The fire raced fiercely for hours. the main tower was not touched until about 11pm, and one of the most pathetic incidents of the night, which moved the spectators, was the striking of the midnight hour by the old tower clock. There seemed almost a human touch as its familiar tones boomed out from the mass of flames"

archival photos from CanadaOnline


  1. Wow, what a difference cleaning the stone makes.

  2. SAW: I know!! So you can just imagine when the whole building is done!

  3. Just LOVE those old buidlings, and what a wonderful and interesting post about them. Cheers, A

  4. Those pictures would make a nice wall display. Thanks for the interesting post

  5. Most interesting photos and history. I am glad to know the Library survived the fire.

  6. Such an informative post! You have really done your archival work! Thank you for sharing.


  7. Saj: I am so glad you found it interesting

    Berni: I could see them up on a wall in a library or study...

  8. Persiflage: there had been a most unfortunate incident in the previous parliament library building of Lower Canada (in Montreal) and this time care was taken to make sure the library was fireproofed from the rest of the building - though if the doors hadn't been closed...

    Jan: when I found these archival photos from 1916, I knew I had to write a post surrounding them (afterall it took me a long time searching!)

  9. Impressive pics and history. I'm glad you like a gargoyle or two, too!

  10. Amazing what cleaning can do to the appearance!:) Thanks for sharing the parliament buildings with us!

  11. It looks so great. Wow. Thank you for this History lesson. Fascinating stuff for sure!

  12. What's the big round building in the 3rd and 5th picture? I don't see it in the before and after pics at the bottom.

  13. Totally fascinating! And I loved seeing the cleaning process. Great photos!

  14. Lena: yes, the demise of the gargoyle is a bit sad. I guess we don't need them for drainage or protection, but I rather like the imaginative force of the grotesque.

    Jeannette: you can really so much more detail when the stone is clean and bright!

    Lw/Kaishon: history can be fun and interesting.

  15. Geewits: that is the Library. it is at the back overlooking the river - you can see it in the 2nd photo in 'part un'

    SueAnn: thanks. it looks a little haphazard the way they are cleaning the gates, don't you think? maybe there are different techniques for the different types of stone?

  16. Love the b/w!
    Great captures.
    Have a nice week ahead.

  17. Someday I'm going to get my architect husband to take me on a road trip to Montreal, Quebec, Toronto, the meantime I am enjoying this:)

  18. Beautiful restoration! I can't imagine the number of skilled artisans it must take to recreate such a gargantuan structure! Those windows are so beautiful!

    Thank you for telling us this story, Sanna. I had no idea!

  19. Regina: yes, that anonymous photographer from 1916 was very good!

    Oliag: hurry, before all the best ones are demolished. far too many buildings are left to decay and then become too expensive (or impossible) to restore. there was an article in the weekend paper about whether the 800 million cost of restoring the West Block is worth it. I still say yes, but then maintain it so you don't have to go through this expensive process again.

    Susan: the stonework is truly beyond elegant on that library (IMHO)
    (see also my rant above)

  20. Well, that's at least one happening in Ottawa that I approve of. Remember, you did not hear me say that. :)


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