Free tours of the Centre Block of Canada’s Parliament are available daily in either English or French. The Centre Block is where the Senate and House of Commons chambers are located as well as the Library of Parliament. Tickets are distributed across the street from Parliament Hill in a small shop at 90 Wellington Street. I came on a particularly busy day in the summer, so I had to wait 2 1/2 hours before my scheduled tour was to begin. This gave me a chance to explore the rest of downtown Ottawa, including the Rideau Canal.
The tour was scheduled to begin at 2:20pm, but by the time I waited in line to pass through security, it was 3:15pm. Other than the time glitch, the tour was very informative and interesting. I learned a lot about how the Canadian government works and the guide did a fantastic job answering everyone’s questions.
The first stop on the tour was the House of Commons foyer. It’s reached by walking down the South Corridor past portraits of the Prime Ministers of Canada. The foyer features relief panels of 25,000 years of Canadian history as well as a glass ceiling.
The House of Commons chamber makes up the west wing of the building. It has seats for 320 members of parliament and 580 people in the upper gallery. The color scheme is green.
Next was a quick stop in Confederation Hall, which sits just inside the main entrance. It’s an octagonal hall supported by limestone columns. An inscription placed in the hall on July 2, 1917, commemorates the 50th anniversary of Confederation:
“1867 JULY 1917 ON THE FIFTIETH ANNIVERSARY OF THE CONFEDERATION OF BRITISH COLONIES IN NORTH AMERICA AS THE DOMINION OF CANADA THE PARLIAMENT AND PEOPLE DEDICATE THIS BUILDING IN PROCESS OF RECONSTRUCTION AFTER DAMAGE BY FIRE AS A MEMORIAL OF THE DEEDS OF THEIR FOREFATHERS AND OF THE VALOUR OF THOSE CANADIANS WHO IN THE GREAT WAR FOUGHT FOR THE LIBERTIES OF CANADA, OF THE EMPIRE AND OF HUMANITY.”
From there, we walked down the Hall of Honour. It was originally meant to hold statues of important Canadians but the plan later changed to honor those who died in World War I. Some state funerals are also held there. Just off the Hall of Honour is the Reading Room, where the governing party’s caucus meets.
At the end of the Hall of Honour is the Library of Parliament. This is the only part of the original building from 1866 that survived the devastating fire in 1916 that destroyed the rest of the Centre Block. The library has over 600,000 items in its collection.
In the center of the library is a statue of Queen Victoria, sculpted by Marshall Wood in 1871. It’s unique because it’s one of only a few that depict the queen as a young woman.
Next, we walked to the Senate foyer, which has a ceiling much like the House of Commons foyer. The foyer features portraits of Canada’s monarchs, including King George V, Queen Victoria, and Queen Elizabeth II.
There’s also a very interesting stained glass window commemorating the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II in 2012. The Diamond Jubilee Window was a gift to the Queen from the Senate and depicts her and Queen Victoria along with their royal cyphers.
The Senate chamber has a red color scheme with murals of World War I on the east and west walls. The throne of the monarch is at the end of the room. The governing party sits to the right of the Speaker of the Senate while the opposition sits to the Speaker’s left.
The final room on the tour was the Salon de la Francophonie. Originally a smoking room, it now serves as a meeting room decorated to showcase Canada’s French identity and history.
After the tour, I took an optional tour of the Peace Tower to get a bird’s eye view of Ottawa and see the Memorial Chamber. This took an extra hour but was well worth it.