An Icon of Canadian Democracy is Undergoing Major Renovations 

The Centre Block Visitor Centre excavation

Written by Jenna Collignon, Staff Writer at Matrix Group Publishing

Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) is undergoing an immense project to rehabilitate and modernize the Centre Block, Canada’s main Parliament Building, to meet the needs of a 21st century Parliament and can be accessible to Canadians and visitors for generations to come. 

The Parliamentary Precinct has not seen major renovations for more than a century, not since Canada’s original Parliament Building was rebuilt following a fire in 1916.  The Centre Block is a heritage site and, because of this, it must be carefully handled during its extensive rehabilitation to bring it up to code and modern standards.  This rehabilitation will be the largest and most complex project that Canada has ever seen and aims to be completed by 2030, or 2031 at the latest. 

A Carbon-Neutral Project

The Centre Block rehabilitation will not only be a historical restoration, but will also transform the venerable buildings into carbon-neutral, accessible facilities for all.  The Parliament Building is currently one of the federal government’s lowest-performing buildings in regard to energy efficiency.  Once rehabilitation is complete, however, it will become one of the highest-performing buildings in the country.

The project will see existing windows replaced, new insulation added to key areas, and the introduction of proper air filtration systems to improve energy efficiency.  In addition, courtyards will be covered with glass roofs to help further reduce heat loss.  All of the rehabilitated buildings in the Parliamentary Precinct will also be adapted to draw on a renewed District Energy System and will deliver clean energy to Parliament Hill from the Cliff Central Heating and Cooling Plant as part of the Energy Services Acquisition Program.  This will enhance overall indoor air quality and thermal comfort throughout the buildings. 

Senate ceiling assessment

Along with bringing the Centre Block into the 21st century, the buildings will also be upgraded in terms of accessibility in order to accommodate all Canadians.  PSPC plans to make the Centre Block more welcoming to ensure the building meets the needs of all.  As examples, a few of the features will include:

  • Widening of the width of corridors;
  • Large, spacious washrooms with accessible amenities that include grab bars and emergency alarm buttons;
  • Improved lighting and acoustics;
  • Inclusion of Braille, tactile elements, and QR codes on building signage and wayfinding; and
  • Overall improved mobility and space throughout the buildings.

The Parliamentary Precinct intends this project to be a leading example in the development of accessible environments for Canadian builds and rehabilitations going forward. 

Because this is a historical site, there are considerable efforts being made to maintain the heritage value of the buildings.  A goal of the project is to treat the buildings’ various design elements like works of art, and anything that can be removed safely during the rehabilitation will be.  The removed pieces will then be catalogued, protected, and conserved.  Those elements within the building that cannot be removed will be instead covered and protected as much as possible during rehabilitation.

Stained glass removal on site. Photos courtesy of Renelle Briand

Along with protecting the historical aspects of the building, PSPC is also ensuring that the rehabbed Centre Block truly represents Canada’s rich diversity and Indigenous heritage.  Throughout the project, starting early on, PSPC engaged with representatives from the Algonquin Nation to explain the work being done and committed to incorporating Indigenous design into the new Welcome Centre.  PSPC has also worked closely with the National Indigenous Organizations, and with the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg and Algonquin of Pikwakanagan, on the creation of Indigenous content for various interpretive panels that will line the front of the Centre Block construction site. 

There is a lot more information regarding this project to come as the rehabilitation of the Parliamentary Centre Block continues to expand.  And although we may have to wait a decade for its completion,, Canadians can know that these buildings, which have been so significant throughout the history of this country, will continue to reflect and represent all Canadians and their shared values.

“The Centre Block is where democracy thrives, learning flourishes, and free expression is welcomed,” says Anita Anand, Minister of Public Services and Procurement.  “As a place that represents all Canadians and our shared values, it is important to restore this iconic heritage site and modernize it so that it will serve Canadians for another century and beyond.”

The removal of Senate paintings

Fun Facts about the Rehabilitation Project

  • This is the most significant investment in the Centre Block since it was built over 100 years ago.  The major overhaul and upgrade is necessary because the Centre Block does not currently meet modern codes and standards. 
  • Due to this rehabilitation, the energy consumption will be reduced by at least 75 per cent and water consumption will be reduced by over 50 per cent.
  • The project’s new Welcome Centre will be a safe and secure environment for the Parliament members and all the functions for Parliament, and will be an open and accessible space to welcome and engage school groups and the hundreds of thousands of people who visit Parliament each year.
  • Today, an average of 400 workers are on-site each day, with that number expected to increase to over 1,500 workers at the project’s peak.  PSPC is targeting to subcontract at least five per cent of current and future work on this project to Indigenous firms.  90 per cent of the work delivered will flow to small and medium enterprises across Canada. 
  • PSPC has successfully completed several major restoration and modernization projects on some of the most notable heritage assets in the National Capital; the standard for design is high in this context and must be balanced with functionality that serves a variety of uses, notably those of Parliament and the public. 

For more information on the project or to follow the rehabilitation of the Parliamentary Buildings – CLICK HERE.

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About the Author

Jenna Collignon joined the Matrix team in 2019, fresh out of the University of Manitoba with a Bachelor of Honours English Degree.  When asked what she most likes about her position as an editor at Matrix, she has trouble answering. “That’s because,” she says, “what ISN’T there to like?  There is something new on my plate every day, with new challenges and lessons to be learned along with that. It also doesn’t hurt to be part of such a great team.”