The Parliamentary and Judicial Precincts

In 2067, the Parliamentary Precinct and the Judicial Precinct will gain even deeper significance as the central organs of our nation’s identity. The Parliamentary Precinct hosts the Government of Canada’s legislative functions, including the House of Commons, the Senate of Canada and the Library of Parliament. The Judicial Precinct is host to the Supreme Court of Canada, the highest court in our nation’s judicial system. Library and Archives Canada is the institution that preserves our national memory and identity, and makes them accessible to all.

The Gothic Revival Parliament Buildings were constructed between 1859 and 1866. Thomas Fuller and Chilion Jones designed the Centre Block. Thomas Stent and Augustus Laver designed the East and West blocks. The terraces, driveways and main lawn were completed later according to a plan created by Calvert Vaux. Following the fire of 1916, the government redesigned and reconstructed the Centre Block, which was completed in 1927.

In the Holt Report, Edward Bennett recognized and emphasized the prominence of Parliament Hill:

“…Parliament Hill, because of the importance of its buildings and its natural elevation, is and always must be the dominating feature of Ottawa. All other parts of the Government group must be subordinated to this, architecturally as well as actually, and instead of rivalling or competing with it, should increase its relative importance and enhance the beauty and dignity of its buildings.”

Across from the Parliamentary Precinct, an array of significant buildings on the south side of Wellington Street from Bank Street to Confederation Square include the Bank of Canada, the country’s central bank responsible for our nation’s financial system and management, as well as the Langevin Block, housing the Office of the Prime Minister and the Privy Council Office. Other neo-classical buildings grace the street, providing office and meeting space, such as the Wellington Building, the former Bank of Montreal Building (now the Sir John A. Macdonald Building) and the 100 Wellington building.

Since 1914, the federal and municipal governments have controlled building heights in downtown Ottawa. The first height limit was set at 110 feet (33.5 metres), measured from the grade of the sidewalk to the highest point of a proposed building, as outlined in the Holt Report:

“If Ottawa and Hull are to acquire and retain the appearance of the Capital City, full precaution must be taken lest commercial buildings reach such a height as to detract from the beauty and importance of its government buildings. This is true both of the near views and of impressions formed from the first glimpses as one approaches the city, either by railway or highway.”

The Capital’s setting forms a unique and memorable ensemble of great civic, national and international significance, and this setting is the most memorable aspect for many visitors. To ensure that the national symbols in the Capital remain predominant in the visual landscape, the NCC and the municipal governments must reinforce the views protection policy. The NCC will employ contemporary digital modelling tools to evaluate the impact of new development in proximity to the Parliamentary Precinct. The NCC will also work in partnership with the City of Ottawa and Ville de Gatineau to ensure that views protection continues as additional intensification occurs in the urban areas of the Capital’s core.

The federal government must take special care to preserve the character-defining heritage buildings and sites that accommodate its offices and facilities. This will require continuous investment and constant attention to renovate and enhance the buildings and landscapes and ensure that they can support their critical function over the long term.

Key policy directions for the next 50 years:

  1. Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) will complete the restoration and rehabilitation of the Centre, East and West blocks of Parliament in time for the bicentennial of Confederation. This will include the construction of a visitor welcome centre. As the institution of Parliament evolves over the next 50 years, Parliament Hill will continue to foster innovation and excellence in design such that the seat of government reflects Canada’s growth as a nation, while protecting and preserving the heritage attributes and character of the area.
  2. PSPC will complete the visitor welcome centre and landscape plan. Further enhancements to the space will accommodate parliamentarians and visitors with enhanced security and improvements to achieve universal accessibility. The precincts will continue to evolve in a manner that reinforces the historic cultural landscape and picturesque neo-Gothic architecture. This plan foresees the gradual removal of surface parking in the Parliamentary Precinct and Judicial Precinct.
  3. The redevelopment of the blocks on the south side of Wellington Street will provide additional office space for parliamentary and federal government functions, and will ensure adaptive reuse of prominent buildings to enhance the visitor experience in that area.
  4. Over time, the cherished landscape of Parliament Hill will achieve the great vision expressed best by Edward Bennett. The removal of surface parking, the renaturalization of the escarpment, and the addition of new commemorative elements will further enrich the Parliamentary Precinct.
  5. The NCC will support the renewal and reinforcement of the views protection policy to ensure the visual primacy of the national symbols, in such a way that the silhouette of Parliament Hill, overlooking the Ottawa River, remains evocative and the best-known symbol of the Capital, and that its natural rehabilitated escarpment will continue to enhance its daytime and nighttime setting.
  6. Wellington Street will evolve as modes of traffic (walking, cycling, public transit and automobile) change in response to transit and security needs. This creates an opportunity to improve the walkability and aesthetic appeal of the street with new trees, commemorative elements, and attractive lighting and street furniture.
  7. PSPC, in consultation with the NCC, will update the Long-Term Vision and Plan for the Parliamentary Precinct to provide for future accommodations in new and renovated buildings.