One of the interesting features of Ottawa is its architecture and Ottawa has many heritage sites. Parliament Hill with its historical neo-Gothic buildings was an area I wanted to discover in more detail. Friday night, just after we arrived in town I was able to snap a few pictures, just before the sun went down. Saturday morning I got up and out by 7:30 am and it was a crisp morning, with perfect blue sky. It was definitely on the cold side, not a good idea to venture out without a hat or a thick scarf.
So it was going to be a bad hair day again, but who cares?.I started off with the area immediately in front of the Lord Elgin Hotel, which includes the National Arts Center, the Government Conference Centre (the former Union Station, Ottawa's main railway terminal), the War Memorial and the Chateau Laurier. Then I marched up to Parliament Hill from where you have an absolutely perfect view over to Hull and the Gatineau Hills. I admired the sculptures " Women are Persons" (referring to women being recognized as their own human beings), and took a number of pictures and video clips of the Parliament Buildings. Parliament Hill is the seat of Canada's Government and consists of the Centre Block, the West Block and the East Block. The Senate and the House of Commons are also located here.
Free tours are generally available every day, except my own discovery was a little bit too early to take the tour. Incidentally Canada's Parliament Buildings have an interesting history. Lower Canada (today's Quebec) and Upper Canada (today's Ontario) joined together to form the Province of Canada in 1841. The seat of government alternated for many years until Queen Victoria was asked to select a permanent capital in 1857.To the surprise of many, the Queen selected the rough lumber town of Ottawa instead of the established cities of Toronto, Montreal, Quebec City or Kingston. One of the reasons was that Ottawa was close to both provinces and located at a safe distance from the American border.
The Parliament Buildings were built between 1859 and 1866 (not including the Library and the Tower). One year after they were finished, Confederation occurred and the buildings were immediately selected to house the government for the newly created Dominion of Canada.The main building of the government buildings is called Centre Block and it is instantly recognizable with its trademark Peace Tower. Visitors can watch the House of Commons and the Senate from the visitor galleries, and free tours are also available. A tour to the top of the Peace Tower rewards you with a great view all over Ottawa.
Canada's war dead are honoured inside the Memorial Chamber. The Library of Parliament Building - the only part of the original Centre Block that survived the desastrous fire of 1916 - is currently undergoing restoration work to bring it back to its former glory.The historic East Block has not changed much since the days of Confederation. The offices of Canada's first prime minister, Sir John A.
Macdonald, have been restored and are available to visit on a public tour.The West Block is not accessible to the public as it houses the offices of the members of parliament. The Peace Tower is Ottawa's trademark and its name is a commemoration of Canada's commitment to peace. The Memorial Chamber is located on the third floor of the Tower, and it honours Canadians who have died in armed conflicts since Confederation.
The Peace Tower also holds an observation area and the Carillon which contains 53 bells weighing anywhere from less than 5 kg to more than 10 tons. The Centre Block was affected by a large fire in 1916. Canada began rebuilding it while still fighting in the First World War. The new structure, designed in the Modern Gothic Revival style by John Pearson and Jean Omer Marchand, was completed by 1922. The Peace Tower was finished later in 1927.
In the summer Parliament Hill offers up a unique ceremony: every day at 10 am the Changing of the Guard takes place, and this year the ceremony will be held every day from June 24 to August 26 of 2006.Parliament Hill with its big open square lends itself naturally as a meeting and entertainment venue. The Canada Day celebrations are held here and they include free concerts, spectacular fireworks, a flight demonstration by the Snowbirds (Canada's precision aerobatic team), and you'll only have to put up with short speeches by Canadian politicians.
Another event coming up for 2006 is a free sound and light show called "Canada: the Spirit of a Country", which will be performed on a daily basis after dark between July 5 and September 10, 2006. Images will be projected onto the Parliament Buildings. Obviously Parliament Hill is not just a boring place for politicians, it is an entertainment venue and meeting place for people from Ottawa, for folks from the rest of the country and for international tourists alike.After my discovery of the Parliament Buildings I walked further west to have a look at the Supreme Court of Canada and the other surrounding buildings. What really fascinated me where the huge plumes of steam that come out of the smokestacks, I don't recall seeing the same types of formations in Toronto.
One person explained to me that the air in Ottawa is calmer as compared to Toronto where we always have wind blowing in from the lake which actually would disperse these clouds of smoke. An interesting sight. This crisp morning walk was the perfect introduction to Ottawa and a good way to burn off calories from last night's carlory-rich evening at Fat Tuesday's. After a rather hearty breakfast at the Lord Elgin Hotel, we set off to begin our day of skating on the Rideau Canal Skateway, the main reason we had come to Ottawa..
Susanne Pacher is the publisher of a website called Travel and Transitions (http://www.travelandtransitions.com). Travel and Transitions deals with unconventional travel and is chock full of advice, tips, real life travel experiences, interviews with travellers and travel experts, insights and reflections, cross-cultural issues, contests and many other features. You will also find stories about life and the transitions that we face as we go through our own personal life-long journeys.
Submit your own travel stories in our first travel story contest (http://www.travelandtransitions.com/contests.htm) and have a chance to win an amazing adventure cruise on the Amazon River.
"Life is a Journey Explore New Horizons". The story with photos is published at Travel Stories and Photos (http://www.travelandtransitions.com/stories_photos/ottawa_parliament_hill.htm).
By: Susanne Pacher