Friday, May 20, 2011

Welcome to Parliament Hill

For the times when I can't get out to take my own photos I am going to feature different areas as seen in 3D from Google Earth.  I am going to focus mostly on different ports of call for the Major Cruise Lines but thought I would first start with home.

Welcome to Parliament Hill – a symbol of national pride for Canadians and one of the most significant heritage sites in Canada! It is the place where our nation was first created at Confederation, and it continues to shape and define us through the work that happens here.

On February 17th, 1858, the City of Ottawa was officially declared the capital of the United Province of Canada. It was shocking  that this industrial town on the northern edge of the wilderness could seriously be considered for such an honour, especially when the news arrived while the town was locked in the bitter cold of a typical Canadian winter!

Larger, more sophisticated cities such as Toronto, Montreal, and Quebec were in the running as were many smaller but bustling cities such as Hamilton and London. However, Ottawa had two undeniable advantages: it was a safe distance from the border with the United States, and it was right on the line between Canada East (Quebec) and Canada West (Ontario). Politically, it seemed a very wise choice, an early example of one of the defining characteristics of our national identity, The Great Canadian Compromise!

Towering over the Ottawa River between the old Upper and Lower sections of Bytown was a limestone cliff with a gently sloping top. For thousands of years it had stood as a landmark on the ancient river highway as native peoples and later European traders, adventurers and industrialists made their way to the interior of the continent. The builders of the Rideau Canal had used it as a military base and named it Barrack Hill, but the huge fortress planned for the location was never built and by 1858 it had lost its strategic importance.

Greater things were in store for this commanding site, as the government began looking for a place to build a permanent home

Once the architects had been chosen, no time was lost in getting construction underway. Ground was broken on December 20, 1859. The old saying "Haste makes waste" was never more true. No one had taken the time to do any drilling on the site to find out what the rock was like underneath the thin layer of topsoil.

As it turned out, the workers hit bedrock very early and it became clear that they would have to blast out the bed for the foundation. Worse, the architects changed the design so the foundation would have to be 17 feet deeper than originally planned. This slowed the work, which was already behind because of winter conditions. Blasting was also much more expensive and costs began to climb.

The first stones were laid on April 16, 1860. The main type of stone used in all three buildings was Nepean sandstone, a warm ochre-coloured stone which was quarried locally. Other types were used to add colour to the design. Red sandstone from Potsdam, New York and grey Ohio freestone were used to accent windows and decorative details. Grey and green slates were used for the roofs.

The scale of the construction project under way in Ottawa in 1860 was mind-boggling. Nothing this big had ever been done in North America and it was large even by European standards. It is no exaggeration to say that Public Works and the architects were out of their depth
The architects began to make changes to the designs which improved the appearance of the buildings, but also increased the cost. The clerks and managers were inexperienced and had no way of reining in the architects and controlling costs.

Early in 1861, Public Works reported that $1,424,882.55 — more than two-and-a-half times the original estimate — had been spent. In September the site was closed down and the partly finished walls were covered with tarpaulins to protect them from the weather. 1,300 men were thrown out of work. A commission of inquiry was formed in June, 1862 to find out what had gone wrong. The government was determined to solve the management problems and forge ahead.

In 1876, the Library was finally completed, as well as the landscaped grounds. Late in the year the magnificent iron Queen's Gates, forged by Ives & Co. of Montreal, were hung on the main entrance in the Wellington Street Wall. At long last, Parliament Hill was cleared of construction fences, scaffolding and workmen. The young country, not yet ten years old, had a seat of government to rival any in the world for beauty and grandeur.

At 8:37 p.m. on February 3rd, 1916, the alarm was raised that there was a fire in the Centre Block. By the next morning the building was a smoking ruin, encrusted with ice. Only the Library survived because of the foresight of librarian Alpheus Todd in insisting on iron fire doors and clerk "Connie" MacCormac's quick thinking in ordering them to be slammed shut before evacuating the building.

 It was unbelievable. Across the country headlines screamed the news, 'Parliament Buildings Destroyed by Fire', 'Parliament Buildings Gone'. In fact, the departmental buildings were untouched, and the library was saved. But it was bad enough. How could this have happened? Almost immediately, speculation began that a spy had deliberately set the fire but it proved to be something far less sinister.

That evening, a gentleman in the Reading Room in the north west part of the building noticed something, probably a cigar, smouldering in a wastebasket. It happened all the time. As he left the room, he called it to the attention of a clerk but it was already too late. The embers had come to life and spread with amazing speed. The room, panelled with wood, was littered with newspapers and magazines. Within minutes the fire had spread to the corridors and smoke began to fill the building. The interior of the Centre Block was finished with wood, the walls had recently been oiled and the floor varnished. It couldn't have been worse.
The house was sitting that evening when suddenly the doors burst open and a breathless clerk announced that the building was on fire. He later apologized to the house for his abrupt manner but apparently some of those present were still not impressed with the urgency of the situation. Some women in the gallery went back for their fur coats, and perished.

Prime Minister Robert Borden was in one of the offices when he was alerted and escaped by crawling along the corridors on his hands and knees. Others formed human chains to find their way through the thick smoke. Some paused in their flight to grab furniture, artwork or papers. The portrait of Queen Victoria hanging in the Commons was rescued for the second time that night. As the fire intensified, parts of the building started to collapse and some were feared lost under the rubble
The fire lit up the night sky as the city watched the spectacle in horror. From a third storey window a few blocks away, the granddaughter of Thomas Fuller watched as his masterpiece was destroyed. Shortly after midnight the great bell in the Victoria Tower crashed to the ground. There was a high wind out of the north west that night. It caught the fire just west of the library and swept it towards the senate. The fire department worked through the night to bring the blaze under control and it looked as though they had succeeded when it suddenly sprang to life again in the senate. It was still burning the next day.

The scene the following morning was desolate. Piles of rescued furniture were heaped here and there. Groups of shivering firemen wrapped their hands around steaming cups of coffee for warmth. The towering form of the library was shrouded by billowing smoke while the ruined Centre Block was caked with ice.

On September 1st 1916, the original cornerstone, which had been salvaged from the ruins, was laid by Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught, 56 years to the day after it was laid by his brother, now King Edward VII.
After it had been decided that the Centre Block would be completely rebuilt, a team of architects was chosen to produce a design that look as much like the old building as possible. However, many things had changed since the 1850s. New structural techniques and materials had been developed and Public Works had learned some important lessons from the fire. The new building would also be larger than the original and a full storey higher.
John Pearson and J. Omer Marchand planned the new Centre Block with a logical framework of corridors so that access to exits was clear. Instead of wood, the interior walls were Tyndall limestone from Manitoba and the floors were marble. The structure was a modern steel frame but it was covered with the same local Nepean sandstone used for the original buildings.
The government hoped to move into its new building within a year but there was a war on. Materialsand labour were in short supply and expensive. The work continued but slowly.

The first parliament to sit in the new building opened with great ceremony on February 26, 1920, just over four years after the fire.

Text taken from
Next Google Earth City to visit New York City.

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