If you are planning a visit to Ottawa, one of the places that you must visit is Parliament Hill. As home to the central government for the country, the area where it is usually referred to (the collection of buildings) known simply as The Hill has a history that traces back to before Canada was even a nation. The significance of Parliament Hill is that understanding its history and its continuing role in the country today make it much easier to appreciate the nation as a whole.
The site actually began development as a place to centralize government functions for what was then known as the United Province of Canada. Under the rule of the British Crown, the first efforts to clear the land and begin to construct functional buildings took place in 1826. This was not an overnight process. It was not until 1859 that ground was broken for the construction of the first building. The following year saw the first stones laid for the first three buildings on The Hill.
A New Nation
In 1867, The Hill would become the site of the federal government for the entire country. While there was still much to be done in the way of construction, work progressed as rapidly as possible.
The general architecture included Gothic style facades, while the backs of the buildings were configured to match the contours of the cliffs. Each of the three main buildings were expanded over the next few decades as more new provinces were recognized.
The Hill was almost destroyed by fire in 1916. Legend has it that it was the quick thinking of an employee at the Library that saved that building from ruin. The employee closed the steel doors leading into the Library, preventing the flames from advancing. In the decades that followed, the buildings were faithfully restored and expanded to provide space for the increasing needs of the central government.
Around The Hill
Along with guided tours of the buildings proper, visitors can also spend time strolling through the grounds. Statues of famous Canadians, complete with inscriptions of their contributions to the country, are placed around the landscape. The Peace Tower includes a carillon with an intricate set of bells that sounds every quarter hour. Visitors can also enjoy daily concerts held on the grounds, along with periodic national celebrations on holidays like Canada Day.