Historical Buildings Walking Tour, Ottawa

Historical Buildings Walking Tour (Self Guided), Ottawa

The architecture of Ottawa – formalistic and functional, for the most part – is marked by the city's role as the national capital of Canada. As such, it represents a mix of styles, varying considerably based on the era of construction of any particular object, and reflects the nation's heritage and political significance.

Centermost among these structures is the Parliament Building's Gothic Revival complex, designed to represent the federal authority.

The Peace Tower, a prominent feature on Parliament Hill, stands as a symbol of peace and remembrance. It houses the Memorial Chamber, honoring those who sacrificed their lives for the country. Nearby, the Office of the Prime Minister Building is where the nation's leader conducts crucial governmental affairs.

The Scottish Ontario Chambers, Central Chambers, and Bell Block are remarkable examples of Victorian-era architecture. These buildings showcase ornate details and historic charm, providing a glimpse into Ottawa's 19th-century ambiance.

A jewel along the Rideau Canal, the Fairmont Château Laurier epitomizes grandeur and opulence. This iconic hotel is an architectural marvel, hosting dignitaries and visitors alike in a luxurious setting.

The Connaught Building, a fine piece of Tudor Gothic, is a testament to Canada's commitment to public service. It has been home to various government departments over the years.

The Former Geological Survey of Canada Building and Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica also add to Ottawa's architectural diversity. The former, with its neoclassical design, showcases Canada's scientific endeavors, while the latter, a stunning Gothic Revival cathedral, is a spiritual and artistic masterpiece.

As the living witnesses of Canada's past, these landmarks serve as tangible links to its political processes and cultural heritage. To truly appreciate Ottawa's historical buildings in their variety, consider embarking on this self-guided tour and explore them at your own pace.
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Historical Buildings Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Historical Buildings Walking Tour
Guide Location: Canada » Ottawa (See other walking tours in Ottawa)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 8
Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.9 Km or 1.2 Miles
Author: helenp
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Peace Tower
  • Office of the Prime Minister Building
  • Scottish Ontario Chambers
  • Central Chambers and Bell Block
  • Fairmont Château Laurier
  • Connaught Building
  • Former Geological Survey of Canada Building
  • Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica
Peace Tower

1) Peace Tower

Peace Tower is one of the most prominent buildings in Canada. It is an iconic image that can be recognized by anyone who has seen a Canadian $20 bill. Peace Tower can be found in the center of the Centre Block of Parliament on Parliament Hill.

Peace Tower was built in 1916 as a replacement for the previous clock tower, Victoria Tower, which was lost in a fire. Peace Tower was designed by architects Jean Omer Marchand and John A. Pearson in the same Victorian High Gothic style as the rest of the buildings in the area. The tower is designed with friezes, grotesques, gargoyles, stone carvings and arched windows.

Visitors can explore Peace Tower as part of the free Centre Block tour. Those lucky visitors who arrive at the right time can watch the changing of the guard. On summer nights, tourists can watch the Northern Lights Sights and Sounds show. The show lights up all of the Centre Block with Peace Tower prominently featured.
Office of the Prime Minister Building

2) Office of the Prime Minister Building

The Office of the Prime Minister and Privy Council building, formerly known as the Langevin Block, is an office building facing Parliament Hill in Ottawa. As the home of the Privy Council Office and Office of the Prime Minister, it is the working headquarters of the executive branch of the Canadian government.

Started in 1884 and completed in 1889, the building was the first federal government office building constructed outside the Parliament Hill precinct. It is built of sandstone obtained from a New Brunswick quarry. It occupies a prominent place on Ottawa's Wellington Street, adjacent to the National War Memorial.

The structure is distinctive in Ottawa for its Second Empire Style design because most government buildings from the period were built in the Gothic Revival style. It was designed by the Chief Dominion Architect Thomas Fuller, who also designed the original Parliament Buildings.

The building is not open for public viewing, but one still appreciates its beauty from the outside.
Scottish Ontario Chambers

3) Scottish Ontario Chambers

Situated prominently on Ottawa's Confederation Square, where Sparks and Elgin's streets intersect, stands the Scottish Ontario Chambers—a notable four-story brick building. With its striking multicolored masonry, fenestration, and roofline, this corner structure stands out among its surroundings. Its historical significance is limited to the physical area it occupies.

Constructed in 1883, the Scottish Ontario Chambers showcases excellent aesthetic design, reflecting the Victorian Italianate style. The renowned architect William Hodgson, who also designed the adjacent Bell Block building, was responsible for its creation. This building exemplifies the characteristics of a large-scale late Victorian business block, boasting a well-balanced facade and ornate brickwork.

In comparison to other commercial blocks on Sparks Street during the 19th century, it stands twice as tall and exhibits a functional design. The ground floor serves as retail space, while the upper stories house offices, featuring one of the city's earliest elevators. The meticulous craftsmanship is evident in the intricate stonework and decorative brickwork, including the use of radiated voussoirs crafted from multicolored bricks.
Central Chambers and Bell Block

4) Central Chambers and Bell Block

Central Chambers is a significant structure situated at the intersection of Elgin Street and Queen Street in Ottawa. Recognized as a National Historic Site, the building stands adjacent to Bell Block. Its prominent position faces the Canadian War Memorial located in Confederation Square. Constructed between 1890 and 1893, Central Chambers exemplifies the Queen Anne Revival style of commercial architecture and was designed by John James Browne of Montreal. Originally serving as an office for the Canadian Atlantic Railway, it now serves as the headquarters of the National Capital Commission.

In the 1960s, the NCC acquired the building, which remained unoccupied for a significant portion of the 1970s and 1980s. In 1992, plans were formulated to renovate Central Chambers, leading to the interior being gutted and the facade integrated into a new office tower complex. Its architectural and historical significance was officially recognized in 1990 when it was designated as a National Historic Site of Canada due to its exemplary representation of the Queen Anne Revival style in commercial architecture.

Bell Block is another notable building situated in Ottawa. It is positioned between Central Chambers and Scottish Ontario Chambers. Constructed in 1867 based on a design by William Hodgson (1827–1904), Bell Block has been recognized as a heritage property under Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act. The City of Ottawa also honored it with an "Award of Excellence" for its architectural significance.
Fairmont Château Laurier

5) Fairmont Château Laurier

The Chateau Laurier Ottawa is one of the key attractions in the city. Designed in the Châteauesque style, this historic and stylish hotel stands at the intersection of Rideau Street and Sussex Drive. The Château was built between 1909 and 1912. Originally, it was planned to occupy part of the land belonging to Major’s Hill Park. However, that decision caused controversy and the then Prime Minister of Canada, Wilfrid Laurier, had to step in and assist in finding an alternate place for the project. In appreciation of his efforts, the newly built hotel was named Laurier.

Initially, the hotel's opening was scheduled for 26 April 1912 and was to be attended by Charles Melville Hays, president of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway whose construction company ran the project. Hays was returning from Europe to Canada for the opening ceremony on RMS Titanic and tragically died when the boat sank on her maiden voyage on April 15. The ceremony was, thus, delayed and took place two months later in the presence of Sir Wilfrid Laurier.

After the inclusion of Grand Trunk in the Canadian National Railway, the Château Laurier was designated as the most significant hotel in Ottawa and hosted heads of states, celebrities, royalties, and political personalities. Canadian Prime Minister R.B. Bennett also lived here from 1930 to 1935. In 1999, the hotel's name was changed to Fairmont Hotels and Resorts.

The place is said to be haunted as many guests have admitted to seeing here the ghosts of Charles Melville Hays and a small child. They also claimed to have heard supernatural voices, experienced unexplained shivering and even had the sensation of being watched whilst on the premises.

The Royal Architectural Institute of Canada has put the hotel among the top 500 buildings constructed in the country over the past millennium. It is also known as "the third chamber of Parliament" for having housed many important meetings of prominent politicians and other famous personalities, and also due to its proximity to some of Ottawa's major sites, including the National Gallery of Canada, the Rideau Canal, the Parliament Hill and others.
Connaught Building

6) Connaught Building

The Connaught Building in Ottawa is a historic office building owned by Public Services and Procurement Canada. It's located on MacKenzie Avenue, next to the American Embassy. With a beautiful view of the Byward Market to the east, it is surrounded by MacKenzie Avenue and Major's Hill Park to the west. Currently, it houses the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) headquarters and offices for the Minister and Commissioner of the CRA.

The Connaught Building was designed in a Tudor-Gothic style by chief architect David Ewart. Construction work began in 1913 and was completed in 1915. The building was named after the Duke of Connaught, the third son of Queen Victoria and the 10th Governor General of Canada from 1911 to 1916. With seven levels above ground and one basement level, it stood as an impressive structure.

In 1971, the Connaught Building underwent extensive renovations that involved the addition of two levels. These were created by constructing floors within the generous ceiling heights of the basement and ground floors. Consequently, the building now consists of two basement levels and eight levels above ground on the Sussex Drive side, with the third floor having direct access to MacKenzie Avenue at street level.

The Connaught Building was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1990. Additionally, it has held the status of a "Federal Heritage Building" with "Classified" protection since 1988, signifying the highest level of safeguarding for federally owned structures.
Former Geological Survey of Canada Building

7) Former Geological Survey of Canada Building

The Former Geological Survey of Canada Building is a historic three-story structure situated at the intersection of Sussex Drive and George Street in Ottawa's Byward Market area. It was originally occupied by the Geological Survey of Canada and has been recognized as a National Historic Site due to its age and significance. Throughout its history, the building has housed various public and cultural institutions.

The George Street wing of the building was built in 1863 by businessmen James Skead and Edward Griffen. It was initially Skead's Hotel, but Griffen later sold his share. The building became the George Street Barracks and served as a military barracks from 1864 to 1871. After a period of vacancy, it was purchased in 1875 by William Mills, a restaurateur, and operated briefly as the Clarendon House Hotel.

In 1879, Canada acquired the property for the Geological Survey of Canada. It also hosted the first exhibition of the Canadian Academy of Arts in 1880, which became the National Gallery of Canada's initial collection. The building underwent renovations that year to accommodate the Geological and Natural History Survey of Canada's offices and museum. The museum attracted 9,549 visitors in its first year, contributing to the development of Canada's national museums.
Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica

8) Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica (must see)

Set in the place where the first Catholic chapel once stood, Notre-Dame Basilica is the oldest church in Ottawa that has survived for many centuries. In 1978, the Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Ottawa was officially marked as a historic building by the City Council.

In 1832, a small wooden church, known as Saint Jacques Church, was erected on the site. In 1841 it was demolished with the plan of being replaced by a larger church. The latter was designed in a Neo-classical style by Antoine Robillard and Father Cannon. After the completion of the church's lower section, the construction was handed over to Father Telmon who redesigned it in a more famous Neo-Gothic style. As a result, the building features a combination of styles: Neo-classical in the lower section and Neo-Gothic in the rest of it.

The interior of the church is more brightly painted and more elaborately decorated than the exterior. There are superb stained glass windows and a large number of statues of different religious persons, the most notable of which is the gold-plated statue of Madonna with twin spires. The church and its characteristic architectural features are clearly visible from the nearby Parliament Hill.

Among the notable events that have taken place at Notre-Dame Basilica are the funeral ceremonies of Governor General Georges Vanier and Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier. Visitors are free to enter the church and offer their prayers during the week. Many of the visitors, however, are attracted by the majestic grandeur of the building itself.

Why You Should Visit:
There is no charge to enter and you can have a free English/French tour of the church both upper and down in the hall with another chapel (check out the schedule online).

Pay attention to the details of things such as the marble pillars, which are actually made of wood made to look like marble.

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