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. It represents a mix of different styles, varying considerably based on the era of construction of any particular object. Here, amid the monumental structures designed to represent the federal authority, there is an array of buildings featuring Romantic and Picturesque styles, such as the Parliament Building's Gothic Revival complex and more. To explore Ottawa's historic edifices in their variety, take this self-guided walking tour.
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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
  • Centrand 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

The Scottish Ontario Chambers is a building in Ottawa at the corner of Sparks Street and Elgin Street that was built in 1883. It was designed by William Hodgson, same architecture who also designed the Bell Block building next door.

The Scottish Ontario Chambers building is a fine example of Victorian Italianate style and known for its good functional design, excellent materials and craftsmanship. The four-story building is a brick masonry construction featuring heavy bracketing, decorative cornice and corner tower in the Second Empire style. The building turns head thanks to its the elaborate stonework of the high ground floor and red bricks of the upper three floors.
Centrand Chambers and Bell Block

4) Centrand Chambers and Bell Block

Central Chambers is a historical building at the corner of Elgin Street and Queen Street in Ottawa. It faces the Canadian War Memorial at Confederation Square. Central Chambers was built between 1890 and 1893 and designed by John James Browne of Montreal. The building is an fine example of Queen Anne Revival commercial architecture. Formerly serving as an office for the Canadian Atlantic Railway, it now houses the National Capital Commission.

For decades, Central Chamber was one of the most prestigious office buildings in Ottawa. It was designated as a National Historic Site of Canada in 1990.

The three story building next to the Central Chamber building is another historical building, Bell Block, which was built in 1867 to a design by William Hodgson. Bell Block is a designated heritage property by the Province of Ontario.
Sight description based on wikipedia
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 is a historic office building in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, owned by Public Services and Procurement Canada. It is located at just south of the American Embassy. To the east, the building looks out on the Byward Market.

The Tudor-Gothic structure was designed by chief architect David Ewart, who also did the similarly modified Norman style architecture of the Victoria Memorial Building of the Canadian Museum of Nature and the Royal Canadian Mint.

Work began on the building in 1913, but the First World War and other problems intervened, greatly slowing construction. The building was completed in 1915 and first used as the Customs Examining Warehouse by the Canada Customs (then the country's customs and border security agency). The building was named after the Duke of Connaught, third son of Queen Victoria, who served as 10th Governor General of Canada from 1911–16.

The Connaught Building was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1990, on the basis that the building is a testament to Sir Wilfrid Laurier's commitment to the enhancement of architecture in Canada's capital, and as it is one of the best works of David Ewart.

The building has also been designated as a "Federal Heritage Building" of "Classified" Status, the highest level of protection for federally owned buildings, primarily for its architectural significance.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Former Geological Survey of Canada Building

7) Former Geological Survey of Canada Building

The Former Geological Survey of Canada Building is a three-storey, stone building located at the intersection of Sussex Drive and George Street in the Byward Market area of Ottawa. It is named for its former occupant, the Geological Survey of Canada. The building was designated a National Historic Site of Canada as it is one of the oldest remaining buildings in Ottawa, and over the years it has served as home to various public and cultural institutions.

The oldest part of the building (the George Street wing) was constructed in 1863 under the ownership of James Skead, a local businessman, and Edward Griffen. Griffen soon after sold his share to Skead and the building became known as Skead's Hotel. From 1864 to 1871, it was leased to the Crown and served as a military barracks, known as the George Street Barracks. It sat vacant for several years before being purchased in 1875 by restaurateur William Mills, who operated it for a few years as the Clarendon House Hotel. After numerous scandals, including the alleged assault of Mills' daughter by F. A. Martin, MPP for Ste. Agathe, Manitoba, the Clarendon was closed by 1877.

The Government of Canada purchased the property in 1879 to be used as the headquarters of the Geological Survey of Canada.

Soon after its purchase, the building hosted the inaugural exhibit of the Canadian Academy of Arts in March of 1880, with the works from this exhibit later forming the initial collection of the National Gallery of Canada. Later that year, the building was retrofitted to serve as the offices and museum of what was then called the Geological and Natural History Survey of Canada. The museum and its collections, which attracted 9,549 visitors in its first year, would later become the genesis of Canada’s national museums.
Sight description based on wikipedia
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 St. 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.

Opening Hours:
Mon: 11:30 - 18:00; Tue-Sat: 9:00 - 18:00; Sun: 8:00 - 20:30.

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