The Library of Parliament originated in the legislative libraries of Upper and Lower Canada, created in the 1790s. These libraries were amalgamated when Upper and Lower Canada were united in 1841.
As the new Province of Canada did not have a permanent capital for some time, the Legislature and its library moved from Kingston to Montréal and then alternated between Toronto and Québec City for several years.
Parliament gained a permanent home after Queen Victoria chose Ottawa as the capital in 1857. The Library building, designed in the High Victorian Gothic Revival style by Thomas Fuller and Chilion Jones, opened in 1876. Its circular shape and the use of galleries and alcoves were the inspiration of the first Parliamentary Librarian, Alpheus Todd. He recommended that the building be “spacious and lofty” and wisely advised that it be separated from the Centre Block by a corridor to protect it from fire.
Fire has posed a serious threat to the Library on several occasions in its history. The most disastrous blaze was in Montréal in 1849, when a Loyalist mob protesting the Rebellion Losses Bill burned down the Legislature and destroyed all but 200 of the 12,000 books.
Flames threatened the Library again on February 3, 1916. The fire destroyed most of the Centre Block, but the Library’s iron doors isolated it from the blaze. In 1952, a fire broke out in the cupola of the Library itself, causing extensive smoke and water damage. The Library’s wood panelling had to be dismantled, sent to Montréal for cleaning and fireproofing, and reinstalled. A replica of the intricate parquet floor was re-laid in cherry, oak and walnut.
The Library’s architects felt that only a Gothic Revival building “could be adapted to a site at once so picturesque and so grand.” With its massive flying buttresses and rough exterior of Nepean sandstone, the Library looks as if it were hewn from the craggy bluff separating it from the Ottawa River.
Inside, the variety of textures, colours and handcrafted detail are typical of this style of architecture. Thousands of flowers, masks and mythical beasts have been carved into the white pine panelling. The galleries display the coats of arms for the seven provinces existing in 1876 and one for the Dominion of Canada. In the centre of the room is a white marble statue of the young Queen Victoria, sculpted by Marshall Wood in 1871.
On May 30, 2006, the doors of the historic Library of Parliament building re-opened following four years of conservation, rehabilitation and upgrade. Since then, some of the Library’s extensive collections were moved back in, and Library staff resumed services to parliamentarians on-site. The “new” Main Library Building accommodates a reading room for parliamentarians, a reference desk, an expanded area for visitors on tour, improved storage areas for collections, a rare book room and offices. The upgrade has retained much of the original 1876 character.
For more information about the Library project, please visit www.parliamenthill.gc.ca.
Although its surroundings speak of another era, the Library of Parliament uses the tools of the electronic age to support Parliamentarians in their work.
The Main Branch represents only a fraction of the Library of Parliament’s operations: most Library employees work in other parliamentary buildings. Services are offered in a number of branch libraries and reading rooms.
The Library of Parliament offers information, reference and research services to parliamentarians and their staff, parliamentary committees, associations and delegations, and senior Senate and House of Commons officials.
The skilled staff handles hundreds of requests for information and reference assistance daily, often responding within hours. Specialists in law, economics and other fields provide research and analysis services concerning legislation and public policy issues. A selection of their research papers is available on the Parliament of Canada Website.
Through its services, publications and collections, the Library of Parliament tries to anticipate the needs of a busy Parliament. Current issue reviews, backgrounders, compilations, legislative summaries, reading lists and finding aids are just some of the Library’s information tools.
The Library has more than 17 linear kilometres of materials in its collection, including books, periodicals, government documents, CD-ROMs and videos. Parliamentary clients can also tap into services such as on-line databases, an electronic news filtering system and an on-line catalogue of information right from their desktops.
The Library of Parliament also offers many interesting public programs and activities:
For more information about the Library of Parliament, take a video tour and discover the history, functions and art of Centre Block. Parliament 360 is now available on our YouTube channel.
We produce some public information materials in alternative formats for visually impaired persons.
For more information contact:
Parliament of Canada
Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0A9
National Capital Region: (613) 992-4793
Fax: (613) 992-1273
TTY: (613) 995-2266
Guided Tours: (613) 996-0896