How parliamentary buildings are rehabilitated

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If you have visited or seen the Parliament Buildings recently, you will have noticed the scaffolding around the West Block. You may also have noticed the work being done on heritage buildings on nearby Wellington and Sparks Streets.

Many of these buildings are well over a hundred years old. Back then, these building were not built to withstand earthquakes. As well, their fine exterior stonework is crumbling, their roofs need repair and their windows need to be brought to current energy standards. Also, the buildings' plumbing, electrical, information technology and other systems need to be upgraded.

The Library of Parliament: An example of successful modern rehabilitation

Built in 1876, the Library of Parliament holds a special place in the history of Canada. It is the last remaining part of the original Centre Block and the only section to survive the fire of 1916.

By the end of the last century, the exterior of the Library of Parliament was seriously deteriorated. It was last rehabilitated over a half century ago following another fire in 1952.

In 2002, major work began to conserve, rehabilitate and upgrade the Library inside and out. This would ensure that it would remain an efficient and modern parliamentary resource. As well, it would remain a destination for visitors and an architectural wonder for future generations.

Work included:

Restoring stone at Reading Room window, February 3, 2004. (Photo: Roy Grogan.)

Restoring stone at Reading Room window, February 3, 2004. (Photo: Roy Grogan.)

Restored decorative ironwork that was reinstalled on lantern roof on October 14, 2005.

Restored decorative ironwork that was reinstalled on lantern roof on October 14, 2005.

New copper roof and gutters

New copper roof and gutters (Photo: Roy Grogan.)

A multi-faceted rehabilitation

Many features of the parliamentary buildings are being upgraded, including the buildings' safety, heating and cooling systems. Ease of access and earthquake protection are also being improved. All this work is a huge task in any building—but especially so in these iconic buildings where we must preserve their heritage elements.

Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) works closely with heritage architects and other specialists. Together, they ensure that the buildings are safe and meet the technical requirements of a 21st century democracy. The work must also respect the heritage nature of the buildings. The Library of Parliament is a testament to the work being carried out on Parliament Hill.


The parliamentary buildings are undergoing seismic assessments and upgrades

The parliamentary buildings are undergoing seismic assessments and upgrades

PSPC is studying how the parliamentary buildings respond to earthquakes. These seismic assessments and upgrades are difficult, especially because many of these buildings were designed and built before building codes existed.

As part of a planned rehabilitation, experts routinely assess the seismic resistance of the parliamentary buildings. To date, all of their assessments have confirmed that the buildings are safe to occupy, even after recent earthquakes.

Experts also perform yearly assessments to ensure that the buildings can be evacuated safely in the event of a major earthquake. If a building is not up to the standards in the National Building Code of Canada, upgrades are automatically undertaken when the building is slated for major renovation.

In 2007, PSPC collaborated with Canadian universities to study the effects of ground shaking on walls like those found on Parliament Hill. The research provided important findings on how these heritage stone walls will react to earthquakes. The research also provides information to conservationists, engineers and stonemasons. This way, these experts can better preserve important heritage structures across Canada and around the world. Expert recommendations from our ongoing seismic upgrade work are also used in upcoming projects and designs. These recommendations ensure that our parliamentary buildings will last for centuries more.

Laser cleaning

Laser technology offers a 21st-century solution for a medieval craft. Using a highly focused, powerful light source, the stonemasons simply vaporize the dirt without any physical contact. Unlike the wet abrasive methods that require a carefully sequenced approach so that chemical and water waste does not flow over previously cleaned stones, laser cleaning allows larger surfaces to be cleaned uniformly, at any time and at any location. It is a convenient, flexible and vastly superior approach, and now a standard tool in the stonemason's kit right beside the traditional trowel.

Transcript of the laser cleaning

Start of clip

(Construction sounds resonate in the background)

Medium shot of a man holding a laser cleaning tool. He is wearing a hard hat, safety glasses and a bright orange safety vest.

Close-up of the laser cleaning tool. As the man moves the devices upwards and downwards, a dark film of dirt covering the stone disappears.

Close-up of the tool cleaning a second stone. The laser cleaning tool is then deactivated and pulled away leaving half of the stone clean.

(Cut to black.)

Canada Wordmark

End of clip

MP4 format ( 3.5M B)


Meet Phil White, Canada's Dominion Sculptor

Learn about Canada's Dominion Sculptor and watch a video about his work.

About Canada's Dominion Sculptor

Canada's Dominion Sculptor is responsible for carving and conserving statues, portraits and decorative pieces to commemorate Canada's history, people, events and character in Parliament Hill's Centre Block and other government buildings. Phil White has been our nation's Dominion Sculptor since 2006.

Phil works in Technical Services, which is part of the Heritage Conservation group in the Real Property Services at Public Services and Procurement Canada, the federal department responsible for the maintenance of the Parliament Buildings.

Canada has only had 5 Dominion sculptors since the position was established in 1936. The role was created to fulfill the vision of the architect of the Centre Block, John Pearson. In his design, Pearson included some 3,000 blank stone blocks on the outside of the Centre Block and about 2,500 more on the inside.

The stones were left empty so that future generations of sculptors could carve the ongoing story of Canada's history and culture for decades and even centuries to come. About 170 blank blocks remain to be carved.

As time takes its toll on the buildings, Phil is required to put more energy into conservation and restoration. But he still sculpts statues, portraits and decorative pieces, and continues carving our history into the stones of the Centre Block.

The Dominion Sculptor video

Watch this video to learn more about Phil and his role as Dominion Sculptor.

Transcript: The Dominion Sculptor

(Text on screen: The Dominion Sculptor is a government official responsible for creating works of art to commemorate the country's heritage. The position is unique to Canada.)

(Phil White, the Dominion Sculptor, talks while sitting.)

Sculpture is one of those arts that's very often anonymous. Particularly architectural sculpture. They go up on the side of buildings and no one really knows who did it. And that's ok.

(The camera shows the sculptor's house and him working in his shop while he continues to talk, panning between the workshop and him sitting and talking.) 

I really took to the idea of taking sharp tools and passing them through wood. There's something about the combination of the sound, the senses and the smell of the material. You get the same thing with all materials; it's just a different experience with each one.

I never studied sculpture formally. I went to ... I studied art all through school and when I was a kid I took private art lessons for 4 or 5 years from the time I was about 8 to 12 and that really helped me out a lot. I think that I was strongly influenced by a woman who was a friend of my mother who was an artist. She was a sculptor and worked in a lot of really different materials, combinations of materials. And she was very influential in my early years.

I also studied drawing, drafting that is. Architectural drafting and mechanical drafting. My dad wanted me to be a draftsman. I had other ideas.

(The sculptor continues talking while the camera shows him sitting in the woods, looking at a maple leaf and then looking over a rural landscape.)

The inspiration can come from a walk you know, looking down, looking around, seeing animals or birds or just something as simple as a flower. Think looking at the flower and wondering how that could be transformed into a block of stone or a piece of wood.

(The camera shows the sculptor working on a draft board in his office.)

I never really thought about what it would be like to be the Dominion Sculptor until I saw the competition. It was asking for someone who had background in conservation, art conservation and experience sculpting all these different materials, wood, stone, bronze. And the whole thing just looked like it was written specifically for me. And that's when I start to think "Oh! Maybe this can actually happen." I've known about the position for years and years but I remember thinking to myself "Oh! Who would take over that job?!"

(The camera shows the sculptor walking up to the Centre Block on Parliament Hill and then inside the building, working on a sculpture.)

Because I've known about it for so long, it really is literally the job of my dreams. Something I thought about for so long and it's finally come true, you know. It's something I feel like I've been building up to all my life.

(The camera shows the sculptor walking into the Memorial Chamber and admiring the chamber.)

The project that I did in the Memorial Chamber to replace the temporary altars with new permanent altars, that is the altars for the books of remembrance, is probably the most ... to date the most important to me because ... my family background. My parents were veterans. I have relatives who are listed in the books of remembrance as casualties in the First World War. So ... to me ... it was a very, very important project from the point of view of remembering Canada's war dead. Remembering the sacrifices these people have made. In my mind if I had done nothing else with my career and just that, I would be perfectly happy.

(The sculptor is sitting in a dark room on a leather couch in the Parliament Buildings, writing in a draft book.)

It's a bit hard to comprehend sometimes. Leaving this legacy for the Canadian people in such a fantastic building. It's a lot of pressure to make sure that everything is done right. I think I managed to do it so far. I hope ...

(Text on screen: Phil White has been the Dominion Sculptor of Canada since 2006.)

(Text on screen: Produced and created by Francis René, Ryan Jeddore, Faye Ouellette, Scott Butcher)

(Public Services and Procurement Canada Wordmark)

(Government of Canada Wordmark)

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