Canada’s Parliament Hill

Canada’s Parliament is an iconic set of buildings located on top of Parliament Hill. This limestone cliff slopes gently towards Ottawa River in the country’s capital, Ottawa.
Parliament Hill overlooking the frozen Ottawa River
Parliament Hill overlooking the frozen Ottawa River

When Ottawa was declared the new capital of the United Province of Canada in 1858, a parliament building was needed to house the legislature. Thus, architects were hired, plans were approved, ground was broken in 1859 and Albert Edward, prince of Wales, laid the cornerstone in the summer of 1860. The Gothic Revival building was completed in 1876. I had the opportunity to take a guided tour of the Centre Block when we visited Ottawa in January 2011. I have to say this: I’d never been so cold in my life! But I managed to go out and roam the city anyway, of which I’m proud.

Let me show you what I saw and learned.

The tour started at 11.30. They advised us to go there a few minutes earlier to go through a security scanning like that of airports. Thankfully, there was no need to take shoes off. The group was comprised of a very nice lady guide, a middle-aged couple and I. I suppose that groups are larger during the summer (for enquiries, email info@parl.gc.ca).

This is the Centre Block and Peace Tower. The Library of Parliament is at the back. I was walking towards the entrance when a Mountie politely stopped me and asked me questions like why I was there, where I was from and the like. When I said I'm from Argentina, he said "that's along waya away!" and gave a lapel pin with the Canadian flag. I think Canadians are among the nicest and politest people on Earth!
This is the Centre Block and Peace Tower. The Library of Parliament is at the back. I was walking towards the entrance when a Mountie politely stopped me and asked me questions like why I was there, where I was from and the like. When I said I’m from Argentina, he said “that’s along way away!” and gave me a lapel pin with the Canadian flag. I think Canadians are among the nicest and politest people on Earth!

The party met at the Hall of Honour, which divides the Centre Block into east and west sections and separates the House of Commons and the Senate. It also serves as ceremonial space.

Ceremonial entrance of the sovereign and his or her representative from the Senate foyer.
Ceremonial entrance of the sovereign and his or her representative from the Senate foyer.

The Senators debate and revise bills passed by the House of Commons. The Queen’s representative, the Governor General, addresses the Parliament and gives assent to bills.

The Speaker presides over Senate sessions. The Leader of the Government sits to his right and the Leader of the Opposition sit sto his left.  The thrones behind the Speaker are for the Governor General and his/her spouse
The Speaker presides over Senate sessions. The Leader of the Government sits to his right and the Leader of the Opposition sit sto his left. The thrones behind the Speaker are for the Governor General and his/her spouse
The gilt coffered ceiling of the Senate and massive chandelier
The gilt coffered ceiling of the Senate chamber and a massive chandelier
Parliament Hill Ottawa5
The House of Commons has green benches like the British House of Commons
 House of Commons The House of Commons wasn’t in session so we were able to see it.

Th Rorund or Federation Hall is the formal entrance to the Centre Block. Carved symbols of every province decorate the walls and columns.  The central column bears a dedication to those who fought in World War I. The swrils at its base represent Canada's motto: From Sea to Sea.

The Rotunda or Federation Hall is the formal entrance to the Centre Block. Carved symbols of every province decorate the walls and columns.
The central column bears a dedication to those who fought in World War I. The swirls at its base represent Canada’s motto: From Sea to Sea.

The Peace Tower replaces the Victoria Tower that burned down in the 1916 fire and it honours the Canadian men and women who lost their lives in World War I. The clock was a present of the British government to mark the 60th anniversary of the Confederation in 1927. The Memorial Chamber has altars that hold the Books of Remembrance inscribed with the names of Canadian soldiers fallen in battle.

View from the Peace Tower
View from the Peace Tower
Ottawa as seen from the Peace Tower
Ottawa as seen from the Peace Tower
Snow angels!
Snow angels!

The beautiful Library of Parliament (1859-1876) was the only part of the building to survive the fire of 1916. Even though its interior is made of pine, it didn’t burn down thanks to the presence of mind of an employee who closed to fireproof doors. Its exterior design was inspired by the Reading Room of the British Museum. Inside, it’s flooded in natural light and has a wonderful smell of books and pinewood. Unfortunately for me, photography is prohibited inside.

Attention cat lovers! There’s a cat refuge behind the Parliament buildings overlooking the river, called Stray Cats of the Hill. It’s been there since the late 1970s. Cats have been neutered and inoculated against disease. A pensioner that goes by the mysterious name of The Catman of the Hill volunteers to feed the cats and other animals, like raccoons, groundhogs or birdies daily.

Home tweet home
Home tweet home

And it was cold!

Brrrrrr!
Brrrrrr!

CBBH Photo challenge: same subject, different time

Here’s my interpretation of this month’s challenge posed by East of Malaga blog. I chose to show how two urban landscapes, one in Toronto and one in Ottawa, look in different seasons.

A view of St. James Park in Old Town Toronto. In the autumn at left; in the spring at right.
A view of St. James Park in Old Town Toronto. In the autumn at left; in the spring at right.
ottawa
National War Memorial in Ottawa (late spring and in the dead of winter)

If you’re in… Ottawa

We visited Ottawa in the middle of January and, although it may not be the best time to visit, we got to see and do quite a bit. Here’s a few tips that worked for us.

    View from the top of the Peace Tower
  • The ByWard Market, established in 1826,  is a lovely place to visit -even in winter. The indoor market is open all year round, although I saw a couple of vendors brave the low temperatures who put up their stalls on the snowy sidewalks.

  • Ottawa is a pedestrian-friendly cit (weather permitting, of course). So walk around.
  • Walk around the Parliament Hill grounds and take a guided tour of the Centre Block. The Centre Block is where all the action takes place as it houses the Senate and the  House of Commons, modelled after the British House of Lords and  House of Commons, respectively. The Library of Parliament was designed in the High Victorian Gothic Revival style (that’s a mouthful…) and smells wonderfully of old books and white pine. The most fun though is going to the top of the Peace Tower. The views of the city are the best (according to our guide. I can’t argue with that.) The tours are free of charge.

                Centre Block / Parliament Hill
  • The Rideau Canal, which runs through the city, freezes in winters and an 8 kilometre long section becomes a skate rink. There are chalets (change rooms), food and drink vendors and washrooms along the way.
  • People are very kind. They’ll answer all your questions with a smile and even have a chat with you. So talk to people!
  • Fortify yourself against the cold with bowls of cafe au lait with croissant and pains au chocolat at the Boulager Française.
  • Indulge in some retail therapy at the Rideau Center (or use it as a short cut to avoid icy streets) .
  • Learn about the Group of Seven and other Canadian artists (both from European descent and First Peoples) at the National Gallery of Canada.

            National Gallery

Notes from Ottawa

Arriving in Canada was like meeting an old friend; albeit a very frigid one: it was about -18 Celsius. I gasped for air as soon as I crossed the doors of the terminal towards the taxi. We drove past stores like Loblaw’s, Metro, Tim Horton’s, Canadian Tire, all of which brought back so many memories of the time we lived in Toronto.

That evening, quite a lot of people were skating along the Rideau Canal, which runs across the city and freezes in winter. Considerably fewer people were jogging along the canal’s path. I thought to myself “Would I be able to endure the harsh Canadian winter? Probably not, I’d miss the sunny climes I’m used to.” But I’m proud to say that I survived a whole week unscathed.

It's cold!

Our mission in Ottawa was to renew our American visas. Yes, I did say American. You see, the renewal process is started and approved in the US but the cherry of the pie, the actual visa stamp, is obtained at any American Consulate around the world. We chose Ottawa because it was convenient.

For security reasons, you’re not allowed to bring bags, cameras, phones, etc, into the Consulate building. We took nothing but the clothes on our backs and the documents we needed. I put my gloves, pashmina, wool hat and parka through the scanner. A female security guard took my parka, checked the pockets and removed two highly dangerous articles that could potentially pose a security risk: my travel-size lip gloss and chewing gum. She foiled the Chewing Gum Plot.  I was not allowed to bring these items inside and had to pick them up on the way out.

We ate poutine, the quintessential Canadian comfort food, to fortify ourselves against the cold. We found a place called Poutinerie that serves basic poutine with many different toppings. We tried it topped with caramelized onions, peas and mushrooms; pulled pork and bacon and the traditional one, which was my favourite.

Traditional poutine

 

One afternoon, I visited the National Gallery of Canada (or Musée des beaux-arts du Canada for those who live across the river in Quebec.)  I did what I always do at art museums: look at the date of birth (and death, if he or she is not contemporary) of each artist and calculate their age. And if they died young, I feel sorry for them. I seem to spend more time doing that than looking at their work. I wonder why.

I’ve always found Tim Horton’s coffee revolting (although their doughnuts are the best in the world.) But I changed my mind after that last cup of coffee I had at the airport at 5 am before our flight home. Sean ordered a double-double for me and a whole new vista opened up: it was actually quite good.  As it happens, I’d been doing it all wrong. Too bad we were about to leave the country.

5 am cup of coffee at the airport