Parliament Hill

Parliament Hill (French: Colline du Parlement), colloquially known as The Hill, is an area of Crown land on the southern banks of the Ottawa River in downtown Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Its Gothic revival suite of buildings, and their architectural elements of national symbolic importance, is the home of the Parliament of Canada. Parliament Hill attracts approximately three million visitors each year.[1] Law enforcement on Parliament Hill and in the parliamentary precinct is the responsibility of the Parliamentary Protective Service (PPS).

  • Parliament Hill
  • Colline du Parlement
Parliament Hill, 2009
LocationOttawa River / Wellington Street, Downtown Ottawa
Coordinates45°25′29″N 75°41′58″W
Built forLegislature of the Province of Canada, Parliament of Canada
  • Calvert Vaux, Marshall Wood (landscapes)
  • Thomas Scott (oversight)
Visitors3 million annually
Governing bodyNational Capital Commission
Official nameGrounds of the Parliament Buildings National Historic Site of Canada

Originally the site of a military base in the 18th and early 19th centuries, development of the area into a governmental precinct began in 1859, after Queen Victoria chose Ottawa as the capital of the Province of Canada. Following several extensions to the parliament and departmental buildings and a fire in 1916 that destroyed the Centre Block, Parliament Hill took on its present form with the completion of the Peace Tower in 1927. Since 2002, an extensive $3 billion renovation and rehabilitation project has been underway throughout all the precinct's buildings; work is not expected to be complete until after 2028.


Previous use of site

Parliament Hill is a limestone outcrop with a gently sloping top that was originally covered in a primeval forest of beech and hemlock.[2] For hundreds of years, the hill served as a landmark on the Ottawa River for First Nations and, later, European traders, adventurers, and industrialists, to mark their journey to the interior of the continent.[2] After Ottawa, then called Bytown, was founded, the builders of the Rideau Canal used the hill as a location for a military base,[3] naming it Barrack Hill. A large fortress was planned for the site following the War of 1812 and the Upper Canada rebellion, but the threat of an American invasion subsided, and the project was scrapped.[3]

Selection as a parliamentary precinct

The Ottawa locks of the Rideau Canal, with Barrack Hill—present-day Parliament Hill—right of centre; 1832

In 1858, Queen Victoria selected Ottawa as the capital of the Province of Canada. Barrack Hill was chosen as the site for the new parliament buildings, given its prominence over both the town and the river,[2][4] as well as the fact that it was already owned by the Crown.[5] On 7 May 1859, the Department of Public Works issued a call for design proposals for the new parliament buildings to be erected on Barrack Hill, which was answered with 298 submitted drawings. The entries were narrowed down to 3, but the panel of judges could not decide on whose design came first or second. Governor General Sir Edmund Walker Head was approached to break the stalemate, and the winners were announced on 29 August 1859.[6]

The Centre Block and departmental buildings were each awarded separately. The first was awarded to the team of Thomas Fuller and Chilion Jones with their Victorian High Gothic scheme of a formal, symmetrical front facing a quadrangle and a more rustic, picturesque back facing the escarpment overlooking the Ottawa River. The team of Thomas Stent and Augustus Laver won the prize for the second category, which included the East and West Blocks.[6] These proposals were selected for their sophisticated use of Gothic architecture, which was thought to remind people of parliamentary democracy's history, would contradict the republican neoclassicism of the United States' capital, and would be suited to the rugged surroundings while also being stately.[6] $300,000 was allocated for the main building and $120,000 for each of the departmental buildings.[7]

Construction and early use

Centre Block under construction in 1863

Ground was broken on 20 December 1859, and the first stones were laid on 16 April of the following year. Prince Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII), laid the cornerstone of the Centre Block on 1 September.[5][4] The construction of Parliament Hill became the largest project undertaken in North America to that date.[8] Workers hit bedrock sooner than expected, necessitating blasting to complete the foundations, which the architects had altered to sit 5.2 metres (17 ft) deeper than originally planned.[5] By early 1861, Public Works reported that over $1.4 million had been spent on the venture, leading to the site being closed in September and the unfinished structures covered in tarpaulins until 1863, when construction resumed following a commission of inquiry.[5]

The site was still incomplete when three of the British North American colonies (now the provinces of Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick) entered Confederation in 1867, with Ottawa remaining the capital of the new country. Within four years Manitoba, British Columbia, Prince Edward Island, and the North-West Territories (now Alberta, Saskatchewan, Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut) were added and, along with the associated bureaucracy, the first three required representation be added in parliament. Thus, the offices of parliament spread to buildings beyond Parliament Hill even at that early date.[5]

Troops deliver a feu de joie on Parliament Hill for the Queen's Birthday Review in 1868.

The British military allocated a nine-pounder naval cannon to Ottawa's British army garrison in 1854. The newly-created government of the Dominion of Canada purchased the cannon in 1869 and fired it on Parliament Hill as the Noonday Gun, colloquially known as "Old Chum",[9] for many years.[10]

By 1876, the structures of Parliament Hill were finished, along with the surrounding fence and gates. The grounds were designed with the help of architects Thomas Scott and Calvert Vaux.[6] Following the death of Queen Victoria in 1901, in late September, Prince George, Duke of Cornwall (later King George V)Queen Victoria's grandsondedicated the large statue that stands on the hill in the late Queen's honour.[11][12]

Fire, incidents and renovations

The parliament buildings the morning after the fire of 1916

On 3 February 1916, a fire destroyed the Centre Block.[13] Despite the ongoing war, Governor General Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught re-laid the original cornerstone on 1 September 1916; exactly fifty-six years after his brother, the future King Edward VII, had first set it. Eleven years later, the rebuilt Centre Block was completed and a new freestanding bell tower was dedicated as the Peace Tower, in commemoration of the Canadians who had lost their lives during the First World War.[14][15]

Thereafter, the Hill hosted several significant events in Canadian history, including the first visit of the reigning Canadian sovereignKing George VI, with his consort, Queen Elizabeth—to his parliament in 1939.[16] A huge celebration on 8 May 1945, marked VE Day;[17] and the first raising of the country's new national flag took place on 15 February 1965;[18] The Queen revisited Parliament Hill on 17 April 1982, for the issuing of a royal proclamation of the enactment of the Constitution Act that year.[19]

In April 1989, a Greyhound Lines bus with 11 passengers on board travelling to New York City from Montreal was hijacked by an armed man and driven onto the lawn in front of the Centre Block. A standoff with police ensued and lasted six hours; though three shots were fired, there were no injuries.[20]

The special Diamond Jubilee window of Queen Elizabeth II alongside Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee window

On 14 September 2001, 100,000 people gathered on the main lawn to honour the victims of the September 11 attacks on the United States that year.[21] The Queen's Diamond Jubilee was commemorated with a specially tinted window in the Centre Block on 7 February 2012, one day after Accession Day.[22]

On 22 October 2014, shooting incidents occurred around Parliament Hill. After fatally shooting a Canadian Army soldier stationed as a ceremonial guard at the National War Memorial, a gunman entered the Centre Block of the parliament buildings. There, the shooter engaged in a firefight with Kevin Vickers, the Sergeant-at-Arms of the House of Commons, and members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, which ended when he was killed by Vickers and RCMP Constable Curtis Barrett.[23][24] Following the incidents, the Parliamentary Protective Service was created to integrate the House of Commons and Senate security forces with RCMP patrols of the grounds.[24]

Since 2002, an extensive $3 billion renovation and rehabilitation project has been underway throughout all the precinct's buildings to bring the Parliament buildings to modern safety standards and to address their deteriorated state; work is not expected to be complete until after 2028.[25][26] The West Block was completed in November 2018 before the House of Commons moved there, and renovations on the Senate of Canada Building concluded in 2019 to accommodate the Senate[27][28] while the Centre Block and East Block undergo renovations.[29] Work on the Sir John A. Macdonald Building was completed in 2015,[30] and the Wellington Building was completed in 2016.[31] An architectural competition is being held for designs pertaining to the city block south of Wellington Street, and a new building, the Visitors Welcome Centre, is being built.[26][32]

Grounds and name

The southern front of the property is demarcated by a wrought iron fence. A portion of the Queen's Gates is pictured in the right foreground.

The 9-hectare (22-acre) area,[33] maintained by the National Capital Commission,[34] is named by the Parliament of Canada Act as "Parliament Hill" and defined as resting between the Ottawa River on the north, the Rideau Canal and the Colonel By Valley on the east, Wellington Street on the south and a service road (Kent Street) near the Supreme Court on the west.[35] The south front of the property is demarcated by a Victorian high gothic wrought iron fence.[36] Named the Wellington Wall, its centre[34] is on an axis with the Peace Tower to the north and the formal entrance to Parliament Hill: the Queen's Gates, forged by Ives & Co. of Montreal.[5]

The main outdoor area of The Hill is the formal forecourt, formed by the arrangement of the parliament and departmental buildings on the site.[37]:48 This expanse is the site of major celebrations, demonstrations, and traditional shows such as the annual Canada Day celebrations[37]:54 and the changing of the guard.[38] To the sides of the buildings, the grounds are dotted with statues, memorials, and, at the northwest corner, a structure called the Summer Pavilion, a gazebo which is a 1995 reconstruction of an earlier gazebo, Summer House, built for the Speaker of the House of Commons in 1877 by Thomas Seaton Scott and demolished in 1956.[39] The gazebo now serves as the National Police Memorium.[34][40] Beyond the edges of these landscaped areas, the escarpment remains in its natural state.[37]:45

In 1976, the Parliament Buildings and the grounds of Parliament Hill were each designated as National Historic Sites of Canada, given their importance as the physical embodiment of the Canadian government and as the focal point of national celebrations.[36][41]

The Parliament of Canada Act renders it illegal for anyone to name any other area or establishment within the National Capital Region as "Parliament Hill", as well as forbidding the production of merchandise with that name on it.[35] Any violation of this law is punishable on summary conviction.[35]

Parliament Buildings

Aerial view of Canadian Parliament Buildings and its surroundings

The Parliament Buildings are three edifices arranged around three sides of Parliament Hill's central lawn, the use and administration of the spaces within each building overseen by the speakers of each chamber of the legislature.[34] The Centre Block has the Senate and Commons chambers, and is fronted by the Peace Tower on the south facade, with the Library of Parliament at the building's rear.[42] The East Block contains ministers' and senators' offices, as well as meeting rooms and other administrative spaces.[43] The West Block is serving as the temporary seat of the House of Commons.[44] The buildings' unifying architecture style is Gothic Revival.[42][45]

Monuments and statues

More than 20 bronze statues are on the grounds, commemorating important figures in the country's history. Most are arranged in the gardens behind the three parliamentary buildings, with one outside of the main fence.[46][lower-alpha 1]

George-Étienne CartierThis was the first statue erected on Parliament Hill, to the immediate west of the Centre Block, at the instigation of Sir John A. Macdonald.[46] From amongst proposals from Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Italy, Louis-Philippe Hébert was chosen to form the monument, which was set up in the 1880s.[46]
John A. MacdonaldHébert was selected from 44 submissions from Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Europe, to sculpt the statue of Canada's first prime minister.[46] It was unveiled on the hill on 1 July 1895.[47]
Queen VictoriaLocated at the north-west corner between the West and Centre Blocks, the statue of the country's first monarch was sculpted by Hébert and first displayed at the 1900 Paris Exposition before being moved to Ottawa[46] and dedicated by Prince George, Duke of Cornwall and York in 1901.[11]
Alexander MackenziePlaced directly to the north of the statue of Cartier, Hébert was commissioned to sculpt this figure at the same time as he was awarded the project of the monument to Queen Victoria.[46] The statue was unveiled in 1901.[48]
Sir GalahadThis is the only statue on Parliament Hill that is not of a monarch or politician, or within the site's fences. It was installed in 1905, on the initiative of the future prime minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, to honour the bravery of his friend Henry Albert Harper, who drowned trying to rescue a girl who fell through thin ice in the Ottawa River in 1901.[49] The statue was created by Ernest Wise Keyser.[49]
George BrownThe competition for these sculptures took place simultaneously, with both being won by George William Hill and installed in 1913.[48]
D'Arcy McGee
Robert Baldwin and
Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine

This dual statue by Walter Seymour Allward has occupied the site at the northeast corner of the parliamentary precinct since 1914.[48]
Wilfrid LaurierThis work by Joseph-Émile Brunet was selected from 40 entries received from around the world and was placed at the southeast corner of the site in 1922.[48]
Robert BordenFrances Loring cast this likeness for the 1957 session of parliament opened by Queen Elizabeth II; it stands at the southwest corner of Parliament Hill.[48][50]
William Lyon Mackenzie KingThis statue was commissioned for the Canadian Centennial in 1967, designed by Raoul Hunter, and stands at the northwest corner of the East Block.[48]
John DiefenbakerIn 1985, Parliament voted unanimously in favour of a motion that would commemorate John Diefenbaker with a statue.[48] Leo Mol was chosen from 21 submissions to sculpt this 1985 work, which stands immediately north of the West Block.[46]
Lester B. PearsonDanek Mozdzenski completed this monument in 1989. The monument rests immediately north of the West Block.[46]
Queen Elizabeth IISituated in the opposite corner of the site from the statue of her great-great-grandmother, the monument was sculpted by Jack Harman and unveiled in 1992, in the presence of the Queen, as part of the 125th anniversary of Confederation celebrations.[46] Due to construction on Parliament Hill, the statue was moved to a roundabout on Sussex Drive.[46]
The Famous FiveThis monument, entitled Women are Persons!, was donated in 2000 to the Crown by the Famous 5 Foundation and is a collection of five individual statues, by Barbara Paterson, of each of The Famous FiveEmily Murphy, Irene Parlby, Nellie McClung, Louise McKinney, and Henrietta Edwardsas well as one empty chair.[51] Due to construction on Parliament Hill, the statue was moved to Plaza Bridge, near the Senate of Canada building.[46]

A number of other monuments are distributed across the hill, marking historical moments or acting as memorials for larger groups of people.

Centennial FlameLester B. Pearson dedicated this fountain and flame on 1 January 1967, to mark the beginning of the Canadian Centennial.[52]
Canadian Police and Peace Officers' MemorialThis memorial includes a recreation of the former Summer Pavilion and honours Canadian police officers killed in the line of duty since 1879.[40] Dedicated on 22 March 1994, the memorial has since been expanded to include the names of fallen officers from all law enforcement agencies, including the Ministry of Natural Resources, the Ministry of Fisheries and Oceans, and the Ministry of Conservation.[48] The first names to be memorialised were inscribed on three granite slabs, with following names being inscribed onto glass panels around the perimeter wall.[53]
Victoria Tower BellUnveiled in 2000, the bell is the original from the Victoria Tower, and is canted to recall the way in which it was found after it fell from its perch in the fire of 1916.[48]
War of 1812 MonumentSeven figures—a First Nations individual, a Métis militiaman, a British infantryman, a Quebec Voltigeur, a woman bandaging one of them, a Royal Navy marine, and a farmer—represent the War of 1812.[54] Also part of the monument is a maple tree planted in soil taken from 10 Canadian battlefield sites and watered at the dedication with water from six oceans and lakes significant in the War of 1812. It was dedicated on 6 November 2014, the 200th anniversary of the war's final battle in Canada, the Battle of Malcolm's Mills.[55]

Surrounding area

The Office of the Prime Minister and Privy Council Building is one of several federal properties situated next to Parliament Hill

Though Parliament Hill remains the heart of the parliamentary precinct, expansion beyond the bounded area described above began in the 1880s, with the construction of the Langevin Block across Wellington Street. After land to the east, across the canal, was purchased by private interests (to build the Château Laurier hotel), growth of the parliamentary infrastructure moved westward along Wellington, with the erection in the 1930s of the Confederation and Justice Buildings on the north side, and then further construction to the south. By the 1970s, the Crown began purchasing other structures or leasing space deeper within the downtown civic area of Ottawa. In 1973, the Crown expropriated the entire block between Wellington and Sparks Streets intending to construct a south block for Parliament Hill, but the government dropped this proposal and instead constructed more office space in Hull, Quebec.[37]:3–5 In 2021, this idea was revisited, with the Ministry of Public Services announcing a building contest for the block.[56]

See also


  1. Due to renovations on Parliament Hill, some statues have been relocated to other places around The Hill.



  1. "Parliament Hill tourist facilities overwhelmed". CTV News. Bell Media. Canadian Press. 6 May 2007. Retrieved 7 June 2021.
  2. Public Works and Government Services Canada (February 26, 2013). "Pre-construction, 1826–1858". Queen's Printer for Canada. Archived from the original on May 22, 2013. Retrieved May 10, 2013.
  3. King, Andrew (13 February 2017). "What if Bytown had become Fortress Ottawa? Some imagined it might". Ottawa Citizen. Retrieved 3 May 2021.
  4. "History of the Hill – Canada's Parliamentary Precinct – PWGSC". Public Services and Procurement Canada. 4 May 2021. Retrieved 6 June 2021.
  5. Public Works and Government Services Canada. "Construction, 1859–1916". Queen's Printer for Canada. Archived from the original on 30 August 2009. Retrieved 5 May 2021.
  6. Public Works and Government Services Canada (27 March 2013). "Building The Hill". Queen's Printer for Canada. Archived from the original on 6 October 2011. Retrieved 10 May 2013.
  7. Public Works and Government Services Canada. "Construction, 1859–1916—How much would it cost?". Queen's Printer for Canada. Archived from the original on 30 August 2009. Retrieved 5 May 2021.
  8. Montgomery, Marc (3 February 2014). "Feb. 03, 1916: When Canada's Parliament burned". Rci | English. Radio Canada International.
  9. "Backstage at Ottawa | The Man with a Notebook". Maclean's. Toronto: Maclean's. 15 June 1944. Retrieved 2 June 2021.
  10. Veterans Affairs Canada (20 February 2019). "Noonday Gun". Queen's Printer for Canada.
  11. "Statue of Queen Victoria". Yale Center For British Art.
  12. Hubbard 1977, pp. 101–106.
  13. Public Works and Government Services Canada. "The Fire of 1916". Queen's Printer for Canada. Archived from the original on 30 August 2009.
  14. Public Works and Government Services Canada. "Peace Tower". Queen's Printer for Canada. Archived from the original on 23 April 2011. Retrieved 9 January 2009.
  15. Public Works and Government Services Canada. "Reconstruction, 1916–1965". Queen's Printer for Canada. Archived from the original on 30 August 2009. Retrieved 5 May 2021.
  16. Harris, Carolyn (22 May 2015). "1939 Royal Tour". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Toronto: Historica Canada.
  17. Crawford, Blair (7 May 2020). "VE-Day 75 years later: 'The greatest mass demonstration of relief and joy ever to be witnessed in Canada's Capital'". Ottawa Citizen. Ottawa.
  18. First official Canadian flag raised. Ottawa: CBC Archives. 1965.
  19. "Proclamation of the Constitution Act, 1982". Library and Archives Canada. 19 March 2013. Retrieved 3 May 2021.
  20. "Gunman Hijacks Greyhound Bus in Canada, Surrenders". Los Angeles Times. United Press International. 8 April 1989. Archived from the original on 24 April 2014. Retrieved 10 May 2013.
  21. O'Malley, Martin (12 February 2003). "Indepth: Canada-U.S. Relations". Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
  22. Johnston, David (6 February 2012). "Diamond Jubilee Window". Governor General's Office.
  23. staff (13 October 2015). "Mounties who helped end Parliament Hill attack still not recognized". CTV News. Archived from the original on 14 October 2015. Retrieved 15 October 2015.
  24. Tumilty, Ryan (1 February 2020). "RCMP feared larger plot in 2014 ottawa rampage; Briefing notes reveal high tensions". National Post. Toronto, Ontario: Postmedia Network. p. A3. ProQuest 2349706379.
  25. Akin, David (1 June 2020). "Parliament's $3B 'mother of all renovations' on time, on budget". Ottawa Citizen. Ottawa.
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  27. Public Services and Procurement Canada (31 July 2015). "Restoring and modernizing the Senate of Canada Building". Queen's Printer for Canada. Retrieved 5 May 2021.
  28. Public Services and Procurement Canada (31 July 2015). "Restoring and modernizing the West Block". Queen's Printer for Canada. Retrieved 5 May 2021.
  29. Public Works and Government Services Canada (31 July 2015). "Restoring and modernizing the East Block". Queen's Printer for Canada.
  30. Public Works and Government Services Canada (4 May 2021). "Rehabilitating the Sir John A. Macdonald Building". Queens Printer for Canada.
  31. Public Works and Government Services Canada (4 May 2021). "Rehabilitating the Wellington Building". Queens Printer for Canada.
  32. Public Works and Government Services Canada (19 January 2016). "Visitor Welcome Centre". Queen's Printer for Canada.
  33. "The Hill Grounds". Queen's Printer for Canada. Archived from the original on May 22, 2013. Retrieved May 10, 2013.
  34. Bosc, Marc; O'Brien, Audrey (2009). "The Parliament Buildings and Grounds". House of Commons Procedure and Practice (2 ed.). Ottawa: Queen's Printer for Canada. ISBN 9782896353217. Archived from the original on March 13, 2017. Retrieved August 5, 2010.
  35. Parliament of Canada Act, R.S.C. 1985, c. P-1, s. 80
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  37. House of Commons (October 22, 1999). "Building the Future" (PDF). Circulation. Ottawa: Queen's Printer for Canada. Archived (PDF) from the original on February 5, 2009. Retrieved January 12, 2009. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  38. Pringle, Josh (3 April 2020). "Changing of the Guard on Parliament Hill cancelled due to COVID-19". CTV News. Bell Media. Retrieved 7 June 2021.
  39. Royal Canadian Mounted Police (6 February 2013). "Canadian Police & Peace Officers' Memorial".
  40. Barnes 2000, p. 213.
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  45. Parks Canada. "Parliament Hill, Complex". Queen's Printer for Canada.
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  52. McIntosh, Andrew; King, Betty Nygaard (2017). "Canada's Centennial Celebrations, 1967". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Toronto: Historica Canada.
  53. Canadian Police Memorial Ride to Remember. "The Memorial Book, the Pavilion and the Memorial Stone".
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Further reading

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