Building a seat of government
The political climate in Ontario and Quebec was often volatile, sectarian and divisive - public demonstrations frequently turned violent. Government buildings were favourite targets of demonstrations - Quebec parliament buildings were arson targets twice before 1867. The location of the permanent seat of Government had to be settled, and reinforced by this violence, permanent Parliamentary buildings needed to be built.
In March 1857, the Legislative Assembly passed an appropriation of ?225,000 for the erection of permanent Government buildings. On May 7, 1859, a call to architects to submit designs for the new Government buildings was issued by the Department of Public Works. In total, 16 designs by 14 competitors were received. The winning architects would receive ?250, and the second place competitors received ?100.
Title/description: Proposed design for the Parliament Buildings
Creator: Artist unknown
Identifier: Library and Archives Canada
Copyright: Government of Canada
Title/description: Old Centre Block, Parliament Buildings, Ottawa. East and West elevation.
Creator: Fuller and Jones, architects
Identifier: Credit: Library and Archives Canada / RG11M
Copyright: The Crown
The designs received were varied and creative. Ten were of classic or Italian style, the remaining six consisted of the Norman or Gothic styles. The designs were judged on a set of requirements including:
- Fitness of plan and interior arrangements
- Economy of construction - cost
- Adaptation to specific local materials
- Adaptation to site or position
- Adaptation to climate
- Economy of warming and ventilation
- Beauty of design
- Conformity with conditions in regard to information
- Safety against fire
The judges chose Gothic Revival, which has been termed Canada’s first national style. Linked with Westminster, the home of British parliament completed in 1852, a contemporary named Wilfred Egleston described it as a “romantic and picturesque type of architecture generally thought most suitable for the incomparable setting”.
The new Parliament buildings were constructed out of local sandstone, quarried at the property of Mr Augustus Keefer in Nepean Township, the arches over the windows and door lintels were red sandstone from Postdam, New York, and the dressings were of gray, Ohio freestone. The roofing was dark slate from Vermont, decorated with a band of light green slate from the same place. The Ottawa Citizen reported the arrival of the first cargo of stone for the Government buildings at Prescott from Ohio on April 17, 1860.
Title/description: Staff - Parliament Buildings Construction Site. L-R: J. Lebreton (Lebrett?) Ross(?), Engineer; René Steckel; Charles Baillargé; William Hutchison; G.B. Pelham; F.P. Rubidge, Assistant Chief Engineer; John Bowes; J.H. Pattison (Patterson?); J. Larose; Arnoldi; T. Fuller; Kelly(?)
Date: [ca. 1865]
Identifier: City of Ottawa Archives
The Architects Fuller and Jones were selected to build the centre block; Architects Stent and Laver were selected for the east and west blocks. The remaining link was a contractor for construction. The Ottawa Citizen reported on November 15, 1859 that the deadline for receiving tenders for the construction of the building expired at noon that day. By November 18the Citizen announced Ottawa Mayor McGillivray’s decision: “McGreevy of Quebec has the contract. He is a first-rate contractor.” Construction could begin.
Construction Begins – Conditions and wages of the workers
Title/description: View towards east from Parliament Hill, Parliament Buildings – Construction, 1861. On mount. S. McLaughlin Photo: / (Verso:) Lower Town / (Stamp:) D.A. McLaughlin, Photographer to Dept. of Public Works and Railways & Canals
Creator: Samuel McLaughlin, Photographer
Identifier: Library and Archives Canada / Samuel McLaughlin / C-000610
Title/description: Centre Block, Parliament Buildings under construction.
Creator: Samuel McLaughlin, Photographer
Identifier: Library and Archives Canada / Samuel McLaughlin / C-003039
The Public Works commissioner appointed Samuel McLaughlin (1826-1914), as the official photographer for the construction process. He was mandated to capture the official construction process.
The construction process began in 1860. The Ottawa Citizen reported on January 17, 1860 that excavation of the chosen site was ongoing and that labourers were “carting down the old […] remains of some of the buildings formerly occupied by the military as barracks.” The Citizen also reported the presence of the architects and the contractor within the city, and the effects of the rapid increase in population
In [a] few days - stone-cutters, masons, carpenters and host of other tradesmen in addition to the force already employed – increase rent of dwelling houses – which are becoming scarce. Ottawa Citizen, April 17, 1860 (Tuesday)
To complete such a monumental project required the efforts of hundreds of labourers. The Ottawa Citizen reported on February 17, 1860, that the site was a mess of “excavations, carpenters, blacksmiths and stonecutter’s shops; the old barrack buildings had been turned into offices for the contractors.” There were 400 to 500 men working in 200 teams. The schedule of prices submitted by Thomas McGreevy in his original tender shows the extensive cost of materials and labour.
Parliament Buildings, Ottawa, Canada West. Messrs. Fuller & Jones, Architects.
“Schedule of fixed Rates and Prices for Labour and Material supplied on the ground and required in the erection of the New Parliament Buildings, City of Ottawa, forming the basis of the accompanying Estimate and Tender. The scale of rates here following to be allowed in valuing work progress estimates, as well as for alterations, additions, or works dispensed with, and also for extras – to be measured and calculated solely by the Architects or the Clerk of Works.”
|Wagon, team and Driver
||.20 to .75 dollar/cubic foot, cutting and fixing
||.20 to .50 dollar/cubic foot, cutting and fixing
||1.00 dollar/cubic foot, cutting and fixing
|Carpenter and Joiner
|Framing concealed roofs, timber rough
||4.00 dollars/1000 feet, B.M.
|Framing in open roofs, timber wrought
||4.00 dollars/1000 feet, B.M.
|Framing in floor joisting
||3.00 dollars/1000 feet B.M.
*This schedule of prices was submitted by Thomas McGreevy, contractor of the Parliament buildings, in November 1859, however it was not accepted at that time. It was submitted as evidence, exhibit 18, during the commission of Enquiry on August 26, 1862 by S. Keefer.
In comparison, the pay rate for the Government workers and Ministers
Pay rate per annum:
- Deputy Minster and technical branch’s chief engineer - $4000
- Architect - $3200
- Mechanical engineer and chief clerk- $2000
- Clerks – $4000 to $1300
- Messengers - $300 to $500
The wages for parliament site workers were fair. The Ottawa Citizen reports in its year-end summary for 1860,
All applicants connected in any way with stone trade were employed–at Parliament for fair wages [and] Not a single man was discharged from these works. Ottawa Citizen, January 4, 1861
Title/description: [Lunch on the Hill: a Parliament construction worker enjoys the view.] Parliament Buildings - construction. Centre Block showing north-west section and the buttresses of the Library.
Creator: Samuel McLaughlin, Photographer
Identifier: Library and Archives Canada / Samuel McLaughlin / C-10005
Title: Construction of Parliament Buildings, Centre Block.
Creator: Samuel McLaughlin
Identifier: Library and Archives Canada / Samuel McLaughlin / C-18016
The demand on workers was sometimes high when managers demanded deadlines:
roofing of the right wing of Departmental Buildings was commenced on Wed and is now progressing rapidly - in 5 weeks Parliament Buildings will be undergoing the same operation. Artisans and others engaged on Library Building- now work 5 am to 8 pm- so determined are the contractors that the work shall not delay. This energy on their part has a withering effect on the faint hopes of some but pleasing for the friends of the new capital. Ottawa Citizen August 2, 1861
Conditions on the building site could also be dangerous. There were multiple reports of men falling off walls, sometimes from as high up as 30 feet. In August of 1861, mason Charles Devlin died when he fell 24 feet from the scaffolding of the West Block and suffered severe internal injuries.
Title/description: Mason's Scaffold on the centre Block . East Block of the Parliament Buildings during construction.
Creator: Elihu Spencer, photographer; Department of Public Works
Date: [between 1860 and 1870]
Identifier: Library and Archives Canada / Elihu Spencer, Department of Public Works /LAC PA-126920
The Visit of the Prince of Wales
The construction of Canada’s first permanent Seat of Government was heralded by the Prince of Wales, who was invited to lay the cornerstone of the centre block in September of 1860. His visit was accompanied by much pomp and ceremony - efforts were made to beautify the city because, as the Ottawa Citizen stated on August 18, 1860 “The laying of the foundation stone of the capital of United Canada by the Crown Prince is an event such as has never been witnessed on this continent.” It was also hoped that a warm welcome from Ottawa would foster support to Canadian grievances to Britain in the future.
[I]t will be the first occasion on which he will be publicly recognized as the Heir-Apparent and he will see in the demonstrations of the Canadians something of a political rather than of a personal and individual character[…] in after, when he occupies a more elevated [?] he will gratefully remember that his ‘first appearance’ as the representative of sovereign power and the warmth of feeling evinced towards him will make him more disposed to redress any grievances of the Canadians and more anxious to give his support to measures calculated to promote the prosperity of that country. Ottawa Citizen June 6, 1860.
Welcoming events included the erection of ‘triumphant arches’, speeches, musical concerts, parades etc. When the Prince arrived in Ottawa he was to be greeted by 150 birch bark canoes, with crews in uniform, with the intent to
“bid him welcome and forming a semi-oval in front of the steamer and escort Her to the landing.” (Ottawa Citizen June 16, 1860)
On the day of the ceremony, September 1 1860, the prince laid the foundation stone, a block of white marble from the Arnprior quarries (Ottawa Citizen). A lunch was held on the lawns for the workers and their families. Various parties were held across the city to mark the historic event. Having the heir-apparent officially sanction the construction of Canada’s Parliament Buildings strengthened Ottawa’s emerging identity as the capital city.
Construction is halted and an inquiry is held
By the fall off 1861, construction of the buildings was halted - the cost of construction had far exceeded expectations and the halt brought about an economic upheaval. Suddenly hundreds of artisans and labourers were without work. In 1860, the Ottawa Citizen had listed Trade as ‘exceedingly good’ with store keepers’ stock low due to high demand, and ‘Customs revenue for the year will exceed ? 16,000’. The abrupt change in employment meant that jobs available for the artisans and workers were not easily available. The Citizen reported in the Fall of 1861 that the ‘approach of winter causes a suspension of the work and nearly 3,000 men must suffer temporary inconvenience’. Outside observers reported however, that Ottawa grew and increased in size, and more importantly the perception that ‘Upper, Lower and Middle Town- the latter portion – erected within a year – shape[d]… an important city which was previously scattered’ Ottawa Citizen, January 11, 1862. It was during the halt of construction at the Parliament Buildings that those same artisans and workers constructed many of the social structures, such as churches and schools, hotels and residences.
On June 7, 1862, a special Commission of Inquiry was initiated to investigate. The Commission sat from August 4 to September 19, 1862 with further sittings in December 1862 and January 1863. The report was transferred to the Attorney-General of Canada West for consideration and report.
The Report of the Commission of Enquiry, 29 January 1863, found that:
- The proposed site for the new buildings had never been properly examined by the Government to determine the depth of the bedrock, and construction was approved based on incorrect information. As the bedrock was in fact much thicker than anticipated, the construction of the building foundation required more time and more money to complete.
- McGreevy, for unknown reasons, was improperly awarded a contract to construct the buildings, despite that his original tender did not follow regulations (such as proper schedules of cost).
The design of the buildings did not adequately factor in the cost of heating and ventilation systems. As well, any work completed for the heating and ventilation was allowed by the Deputy Commissioner
“to be undertaken proceeded with and paid for, without estimates being made or called for, without contract, without any check, any schedule of prices or any arrangement whatever as to the terms or prices of the work.”
Title/description: Construction of Parliament Buildings, Western Block ca 1861. Inscriptions:(recto) 3./Departmental Buildings./Western Block.
Creator: Samuel McLaughlin, Photographer
Identifier: Library and Archives Canada / C-018354 / Samuel McLaughlin
Title/description: Construction of Parliament Buildings, Centre Block, from the roof of the West Block. Main tower in the course of construction.
Identifier: Library and Archives Canada / Samuel McLaughlin / C-018353
The architects did not adequately supervise the progress of the works. For example, they did not check or measure the foundation walls until the walls had reached the level of the basement floors - many of them were out of place, useless or too thick. New foundation walls had to be constructed. The reported stated “much of the mismanagement and many of the errors are directly or indirectly attributed to them [the architects].” They had allowed extra work to be completed without the permission of the government, performed superfluous work, and allowed a Mr. Morris to assume an authority he did not possess on the job site.
Despite these findings, the architects were permitted to complete the work. The Commission justified this decision based upon two arguments:
- Great inconveniences would arise if new architects were hired to complete the work.
- “The hardship is felt too of depriving them of credit of carrying out the buildings to completion. It is therefore Respectfully recommended that they continue – but their duties and allowance be distinctly defined before anything further is done. This [Commission] respectfully suggests that in allowing 5% on the whole expenditure, the expense of the present measurement of work shall be deducted for proper measurement as was intended to be made by them under the original arrangement but that no allowance be made for them for the superfluous and unnecessary work.”
Construction resumed in 1863 and the buildings were occupied for the first time in 1866.
The final cost :
Center Block - $1,373,633.
East Block - $699,775.
West Block - $518,352.
for a total of $2,591,760.
The library, finished in 1877, cost an additional $301,812. The original allotment for construction of all the Parliamentary Buildings was $1,093,500 - the project exceeded that budget by $1,498,260, and with the library factored in, the true over-expenditure reached just over $1.8 million.
Title/description: Parliament Buildings.
Creator: Alexander Henderson, 1831-1913 Photographer
Identifier: Library and Archives Canada / Alexander Henderson / PA-185230
The work on the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa was completed because the Province of Canada needed solidarity. As taken from the Quebec correspondent of the Citizen on an ‘Order of the Day’ from the House of Commons, May 19, 1861:
“that whereas the circumstances of the country had very much changed since the Queen’s decision, and whereas, a confederation of all the British North American Provinces had been proposed by the Government, it was inexpedient to proceed with the erection of the Public Buildings at Ottawa until that question was decided or some other constitutional change rendered necessary by the state of the Province had been made.