The beauty of Canada’s Parliament buildings at night
The sky was very cloudy when I visited Ottawa last week and constant rumbling sounds from above reminded us of a lurking thunderstorm. Thankfully few showers later it all fizzled away and I seized the opportunity to visit Ottawa’s most notable attraction, the Parliament Hill.
A collection of Canada’s federal administrative buildings, the Parliament Hill consists of three edifices arranged around three sides of the Hill’s central lawn. The Centre Block contains the Senate and House of Commons, and is fronted by the Peace Tower on the south facade, with the Library of Parliament at the building’s rear. The East and West Blocks each contain ministers’ and senators’ offices, as well as meeting rooms and other administrative spaces.
I visited Parliament Hill during the night as well as in broad daylight. My favourite time to enjoy the campus was undoubtedly during the nighttime. Here’s why:
1. Fewer tourists
The Parliament Hill attracts three million tourists each year, most visitors arriving during the summer months. City tours as well as tours shuffling tourists between Toronto and Montréal often stop in Ottawa for few hours, emptying busloads of camera wielding crowds. The crowds disappear at night, leaving you a much quieter ambiance to enjoy the sights.
Visiting Parliament hill: The grounds around the parliament building are open 24/7. Tours of the building itself are only held during the day and there are a number of tours throughout the day. I strongly recommend taking an elevator up the Peace Tower for gorgeous views of Ottawa and Gatineau.
2. Mood lighting (i.e. spectacular photos)
Gothic buildings look extra Gothic in yellow neon lighting. Due to a thick fog, the buildings looked almost Hogwarts-ish (Harry Potter reference). The Parliament building is nicely lit up and each corner of the building looks very pretty. I spent a lot of time taking pictures here while Chad got extremely bored and left me abandoned.
During summer months, the building is vividly lit up and a sound-and-light show dazzles visitors every night.
3. Better appreciation of architectural beauty
In 1858, Queen Victoria selected Bytown (now Ottawa) as the capital of the Province of Canada. A year later proposals were selected for their sophisticated use of Gothic architecture, which was thought to remind people of parliamentary democracy’s history, would contradict the republican Neoclassicism of the United States‘ capital in Washington DC.
While the manner and design of the buildings is unquestionably Gothic, their arrangement is uniquely modern. The parliament buildings also departed from the Medieval models by integrating a variety of eras and styles of Gothic architecture, including elements from Britain, France, the Low Countries, and Italy, all in three buildings.
The mail building (centre block) is laden with ornamentation and decoration. Themes range from animals and plants, stained glass windows containing floral patters representing various provinces of Canada, faces of humans and mythological creatures from European and Native Indian stories and various abstract sculptures and carved patterns. It is difficult to observe many of these elements during the day esp when the sun is shining bright.
↑ Peace tower and entrance to the building
Ottawa is not a big tourist destination in Canada and the city has a big small-city feel to it. Top tourist sights in Ottawa include: The Parliament Hill, notable museums (e.g. Museum of Nature, Museum of Civilization), Byward Market, Rideau canal, etc. I hope to visit again during Winterlude, the winter festival, to enjoy what Ottawa does best: celebrate winter.