The Parliament Buildings are not only where out elected politicians debate our policies and our laws, but it also is symbolic of Canadian Confederation. (Did you know: you can mail your Member of Parliament for free? No stamp is required.) Its perch on the rugged cliffs over the Ottawa River is also kind of symbolic of Canada’s rugged geography and how we managed to tame it. The Peace Tower is visible from many points around Ottawa and Hull. For many years, local zoning bylaws forbade buildings from being taller than the Peace Tower, to protect its domination of the skyline.
There are several key buildings you need to recognize: the Centre Block, which contains the Peace Tower, the House of Commons chamber, the Senate chamber, and the Parliamentary Library. The East Block (toward the Chateau Laurier) where the majority party has its offices. The West Block where other parties have their offices, with some overflow to the Confederation Block (closer to the Supreme Court). The Info Tent, between the Centre Block and the West Block to get same-day tickets for tours of the Hill. The NCC InfoCentre (tourist info) is across the street at 90 Wellington Street, and also sells parliamentary souveniers.
Parliament Hill – Centre Block Tours
The parliament buildings were originally built from 1859 to 1866, though the Centre Block was destroyed in a 1916 fire, which left only the Parliamentary Library untouched. Year-round tours of the Parliament buildings, Senate and House of Commons chambers. Daily year-round except Christmas, New Years, and Canada Day.. May 14-Dept 3 9 am to 7:50 pm, Sept-May 9 am to 3:50;.Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve 9 am to noon. Guided tours are held every 30 minutes, and you need to get same-day tickets from the Visitor Welcome Centre. Group reservations for 10 or more 613-996-0896 (note: it is recommended that groups generally need to book these 6 months in advance, and for May & June tours a year in advance)
Following the 1916 fire, the Peace Tower became the new focal point, built to a height of 92 metres (302 ft). It has a carillon of 53 bells, the largest of which is 10,080 kilograms. The Tower is dedicated to the 66,650 Canadians killed in World War I, and has a memorial Chamber that displays the Books of Remembrance. Enjoy the view from the observation deck, which has interpretive panels explaining its significance and help identify key features seen in the surrounding area. Closes ½ hour before last Centre Block tour.
East Block Historic Rooms
Tour four east Block restored Confederation-era room sin the East Block, which were the nerve centre of Canada’s seat of government for Canada’s first 100 years. July to Labour Day 10 am to 5:15 pm. You need to get same-day tickets from the Visitor Welcome Centre.
Whenever parliament is in session, visitors may obtain passes to sit in the public galleries of the Senate and the House of Commons. Question period takes place in both chambers, typically at 1 pm. Audi guide handset provides information about the art and architecture, the key players, and the daily order of business. HofC: 613-992-4793 Senate 613-992-4791. Tip: if tickets are hard to get, try contacting you Member of Parliament.
Parliament Hill Statues
Statues are placed around the Centre Block, depicting famous Canadians and prime ministers A recent addition commemorates the Famous Five, who fought for women’s right to vote (The statue is an exact duplicate of one in Calgary, the home of these women). Free outdoor guided tours called “Footsteps of Great Canadians” view and discuss statues of five prime ministers around Parliament Hill: Sir John A Macdonald, Sir Wilfred Laurier, William Lyon Mackenzie King, John Diefenbaker and Lester B Pearson. Tours take an hour, with up to 30 people, departing from the InfoTent.
Costumed Interpretation/Theatre on the Hill
Costumed visitors from the past may be performing or roaming the halls of Parliament over the summer.
This flame, fuelled by a continuous jet of natural gas mixed with the water in the fountain, was lit at the start of Canada’s Centennial celebrations in 1967. The flames are cool to the touch (NOT recommended, but everyone seems to do it anyway), because the gas burns right above the water. Many people throw change into the fountain for good luck.
The 53 bell carillon of the Peace Tower is used to present concerts Monday to Friday at 2 pm over the summer, for a 1 hour concert. The rest of the year a 15 minute concert is provided at noon (except the week preceding Easter).
Changing of the Guard Ceremony
The Ceremonial Guard parades daily from the Cartier Square Drill hall to Parliament Hill (starts at 9:30) and performs the Changing of the Guard ceremony daily at 10, weather permitting. If yo want a good spot, get to parliament Hill by 9:45 am. The ceremony includes inspection of weapons and dress and the Trooping of the colours. After the guards perform their duties at Rideau hall.
July 1 each year
A variety of activities in the downtown core of Ottawa and Hull to celebrate Canada’s Birthday. Most of downtown is closed to vehicles for this pedestrian festival, with performances at Major’s Hill Park, Festival Plaza (New City Hall), Jacques Cartier Park in Hull, and of course Parliament Hill. 613-239-5000, 1-800-465-1867 http://ww.capcan.ca