By Shirley Genga
Ottawa, Canada: When I arrived in Ottawa a number of things captured my attention, the first thing is that while Ottawa is the Capital City of the second largest country in the world, it is extensively populated with trees and water ways.
The second thing is the architecture draws me; you have everything from the usual brick buildings, to elaborate mid-century styles, to more modern and contemporary designs.
However the city’s biggest selling point is Parliament Hill, which houses the offices of the Members of Parliament, the House of Commons and the Senate. It is made up of the Centre Block of Parliament — with its distinctive Peace Tower and Library, and the East and West blocks.
This one area is special, it is not only visually stimulating but it is akin to travelling back in time. Parliament hill is made up of three buildings whose architecture is splendid and rich with a unique interpretation of the Gothic Revival-style, an architectural style that was popular in the late medieval period, and was associated with the great cathedrals in Europe and England.
Further it is a place of many intrigues, and not because it is Canada’s centre of power, but because of the rich history it holds. Over the years Parliament Hill has played different but key historic roles. It first served as a landmark on the Ottawa River for First Nations (various Aboriginal peoples).
Afterwards it was used by European traders, adventurers, and industrialists, to mark their journey to the interior of the continent before it was turned into a military barrack and as a result called Barrack Hill. Then in 1858 it was chosen as the location for a new parliament building after Queen Victoria choose Ottawa then Bytown as the capital of Canada.
The first stones were laid on 16 April of 1859, and by 1876 the structures of Parliament Hill were complete. However a fire struck on February 3, 1916, and the building was destroyed and seven people killed. Thus Parliament was moved to Canadian Museum of Nature (formerly Victoria Memorial Museum) for the next four years.
Never one to lay dormant for long, reconstruction on Parliament Hill began on September 1, 1916, and was completed by 1922, but it came with the additional peace tower, which was completed later in 1927. The Peace Tower was a memorial of sorts, a commemoration of the Canadians who had died in the First World War.
Today senators and members of parliament debate national issues and make laws within the Centre Block, while the East and West blocks act as offices for the public service. Parliamentarians have their offices at Parliament Hill or in buildings nearby. Further, while the East Block is open for tours, the other two blocks are not.
Over the years the hill has also played host to many significant events in Canadian history. The site hosted various historical moments that include: The first raising of Canada’s new national flag that took place on February 15, 1965, the Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II which was marked on October 18, 1977, and celebrations at the beginning of the third millennium.
To date the hill continues to act as the melting point for a number of Canadian celebrations like Canada Day, which happens on the first of July and hundreds of thousands gather for entertainment and a thrilling fireworks show.
Then in the summer time, which is from June to August, the front lawn of Parliament Hill is the locale for the daily changing of the guard ceremony by the Canadian Forces, and at night the public is invited to Parliament Hill from 9.30 pm for the Mosaika, a sound and light show.
The spectacular show which goes on for about thirty minutes uses music, mind-blowing lighting effects, giant images projected onto the Centre Block on Parliament, to tell the story of Canada and its people.