Our last morning in Ottawa we were up bright and early to get to the Parliament Buildings for the first tour of the day. We still had a long drive ahead of us back to Guelph so there was no sleeping in this day! We were so early, in fact, that we were there before the tours started! The tours are free but you do still need to get a timed ticket which are on a first-come, first-serve basis. In the summer I can imagine the tickets go pretty quickly but on a cold day in January we didn’t have any trouble getting one.
After passing through security scans, similar to those at an airport, we picked up our tickets for our tour of the Centre Block. We knew we also wanted to see the Peace Tower and with about a half hour before our tour started we headed right up for what was sure to be a great view of the city of Ottawa. Being the early bird paid off as we were the first ones up to the Peace Tower that day and once up there we had the whole place to ourselves! It’s not a very big area so it was nice to be able to just roam around, take our time looking out the windows, and take as many photos of the face of the clock just above our heads as we wanted to. Or maybe that was just me taking all those photos?
The current tower is not the original as that one, the Victoria Tower, burned in the fire in 1916. The current tower was built even taller than the original and now stands about 90 m (300 ft) high. In keeping with the Victoria High Gothic style of the rest of the building it includes about 370 gargoyles, grotesques, and friezes. Today it is a very well known icon, especially amongst Canadians, as we see it a lot with it being on our twenty-dollar bill.
After getting our fill of the views of the city, and testing our eyesight to see if we could find all the Canadian flags within view of the Parliament Buildings (I think the sign in the tower said there were over 20 flags to be found), we then made our way back down with a stop to visit the beautiful Memorial Chamber.
The Memorial Chamber is a quiet and sacred space, that although quite small in floor space, has a soaring ceiling and is full of symbolism and history. It isn’t as well known as the much photographed Peace Tower and Parliament Buildings because it is experienced from within, rather than from afar. I would highly recommend anyone planning to visit to learn a little more about it before your visit because I think it will be even more moving if you know all the elements that were thoughtfully incorporated in to it.
While the Tower was built by a nation grateful for peace, the Memorial Chamber was built and dedicated to the memory of Canadians who died in military service in the struggle for that peace. Originally it was designed in memory of the devastation from WWI, but has since grown to include the names of all Canadians who have died in military service.
Inside the Memorial Chamber the first thing you will likely notice is the Altar of Remembrance which rests on a base made of stone from Belgium. Embedded in the floor around the Altar are nameplates identifying the major battles that Canadians fought in during the First World War- places like Vimy, the Somme, Ypres, and Passchendaele. On top of the altar are one of seven books housed in the Chamber- all Books of Remembrance that list the names of every Canadian who has lost his or her life in military service. One page is turned every morning at eleven o’clock.
Also inside the Memorial Chamber are marble plaques recording Canada’s participation in wars throughout history, as well as plaques devoted to words such as those from John McCrae’s “In Flanders Fields” poem or passages from the Bible. High above everything is beautiful stained glass that allows the light to shine in and fill this beautiful little room.
Read More: Exploring Normandy and Ypres: Essex Farm (where John McCrae wrote ‘In Flanders Fields‘) and Wimereux Communal Cemetery:The Final Resting Place of Lt.-Col. John McCrae
Tickets aren’t required for the Peace Tower or the Memorial Chamber, however during busy times lines should be expected. None of the spaces in the Tower are very big so they will limit the number of people in each space at any given time.
From here it was time to make our way to the ground level where we would be joining our group for the guided tour of the Senate Chamber, the House of Commons, and the Library of Parliament. I must admit that as a kid the proceedings in the House of Commons used to be on television ad nauseam (or at least it seemed so to me when all I wanted to watch was Scooby Doo) and I thought they couldn’t possibly have picked anything more boring to show all the time. My how things change eh? Now I couldn’t wait to learn all about it and if given a chance I would definitely sit in on a session or two!
In my next post I’ll take you on a photo tour and show you these areas of Parliament, some really great architectural details, and tell you a few of the things we learned on our tour. And then we’ll have to say good-bye to Ottawa…at least until next time.