When you stand on the bank of the Ottawa River in Gatineau, Quebec, (especially by the Canadian Museum of History), and look across the river you see the Canadian Parliamentary buildings. This is the view captured in the above image. The rounded building with flying buttresses in this complex, which is the one in the foreground and closest to the river, is the Parliamentary Library. Before we step inside, let’s take a look at the history of the Library.
A Brief History of the Library of Parliament
Canada’s Library of Parliament began in the late 18th century with the legislative libraries of Upper and Lower Canada. These two libraries were amalgamated in 1841 when Upper and Lower Canada united. It was not until Queen Victoria chose Ottawa as the capital of Canada in 1857 that the Parliamentary Library was to have a permanent home. Before that it had moved between Kingston, Montreal, Toronto and Quebec City.
This Library building is designed in the Victorian Gothic Revival style and was opened in 1876. The building is constructed of sandstone and has a circular shape and uses galleries and alcoves, as well as a high domed ceiling, to make it seem “spacious and lofty”. Wisely, the library was built separately from the Centre Block (where the House of Commons and Senate meet) and is joined to it by a corridor to protect it from the risk of fire.
It turns out that this corridor helped save the Library when fire destroyed most of the Centre block during the winter of 1916. The Library’s iron doors proved an effective barrier against spread of the flames. Unfortunately, in 1952 a fire broke out in the Library itself and caused significant smoke and water damage.
The Library’s white pine paneling was dismantled, sent to Montreal for cleaning and fireproofing before it could be reinstalled. The floor we see today is a replica and includes cherry, oak and walnut.
The Library Today
The library was restored in the early 20th century and reopened in 2006. It still serves a limited function, but most documents in the Library’s collection are housed elsewhere as this Library building is much too small to contain them all. Still, the library is a visual treat and I could use a room like this in my own home!
You get to visit the library when your tour the Parliament Buildings (free, but you need to reserve a time slot). A highlight, besides all the detailed craftsmanship in its construction, is a white marble statue of the young Queen Victoria, sculpted by Marshall Wood in 1871.
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