Experience the Past Through the Lens of the Present



Parliament Buldings: The Design

The original Centre Block under construction, 1863.

Without a doubt the most recognizable feature of modern Ottawa is the Parliament Buildings. The centre of Canadian governance both symbolically and literally, the Parliament Buildings are a beautiful addition to Ottawa’s skyline and to Parliament Hill. Once Ottawa was chosen as the capital of Canada, the government issued a call for architectural designs for the buildings; the winning designs were chosen in 1859. The firm of Thomas Fuller and Chillion Jones of Toronto won the contract for the Centre Block; another firm, Stent and Laver, won the contract for the East and West Blocks.[1] Construction officially began when the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII, visited in 1860 and laid the corner stone. As with any major construction project, the initial cost estimates quickly proved to be unrealistic. One major issue was that the proper type of stone was harder to obtain than originally believed; the original plan had been to ferry the stone over the river from Hull but this turned out to be prohibitively expensive and most of the stone was instead brought in from Nepean Township.[2] The initial cost estimate sat around 1 million dollars; by the time the buildings neared completion, three times that much had been spent.

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Parliament Buildings: The Choice

Today, with Ottawa well established as the capital of Canada, it can be difficult to believe that there was ever much debate on the issue. This would seem unlikely to the political giants of a century and a half ago; not only was the choice of capital (for the Province of Canada, not yet the Dominion) one of the most contentious issues of the day, it may well have been the most contentious issue of the decades before Confederation, save for Confederation itself. Ottawa made, at first glance, an unlikely choice; neither large nor historically prominent, cities such as Toronto, Quebec, Montreal, and even Kingston each had better claim to the role. Therefore for the two decades from the creation of the Province of Canada in 1840 to Queen Victoria finally making the choice for Canadians in December 1857, a vicious debate raged across Canada.[1]

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