Updated May 2017
Parliament Hill is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Ottawa.
On “the Hill” (as we all call it) lies the Parliament Buildings which are made up of three different sections: the East Block, the Centre Block and the West Block. The buildings themselves offer architectural beauty and a lot of history. We love bringing visitors downtown to take a tour of the inside and to stroll around the grounds.
- The Centre Block is home to the Senate, the House of Commons and the Library of Parliament. Many important offices are also in the Centre Block such as the Prime Minister’s Office. The original building was destroyed in a fire in 1916. The present building was built between 1916 and 1927 to replace it.
- The East Block is home to many Senators’ offices. The office of Sir John A. MacDonald (first Prime Minister of Canada) can also be found here.
- The West Block is home to Ministers’ offices and Members of Parliament.
Besides the three different Blocks, you will also see these parts of Parliament Hill (including the grounds as well):
- The Peace Tower is situated in the front and centre of the Centre Block. It was named the Peace Tower in order to honour the Canadian men and women who sacrificed their lives for Canada in World War I.
- over a dozen statues including various Prime Ministers, the Queen, and other historical figures. There are plaques in front of the statues explaining each one.
- the Centennial Flame is at the entrance of Parliament Hill (you can’t miss it). The Flame was first lit on January 1, 1967 by Lester B. Pearson to celebrate Canada’s 100th Anniversary. Surrounding the flame are the shields of the Canadian provinces and territories. The Centennial Flame symbolizes our unity from sea to sea. You will see that visitors and residents throw coins into the fountain so that they can make a wish. Do you want to know where the coins go? The coins go to help fund research about Canadians with disabilities. Does the flame ever go out? The flame is only shut off two times a year for a one week period for it to be cleaned.
- the cat sanctuary is a shelter for stray cats. It is located on the grounds in the back on the West side of the Buildings. The sanctuary began in 1970 by a volunteer who wanted a place for the stray cats to go and eat.
- you have probably seen pictures of them but you may actually see a real Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) during the months of July and August. You can’t miss the Mounties. The officers will be in their full, red uniform.
Special Celebrations and Events on Parliament Hill:
- Changing the Guard Ceremony (end of June to end of August at 10am daily) – this is a spectacular ceremony featuring the Ceremonial Guard of the Canadian Forces. The ceremony includes a military drill and music.
- Canada Day (July 1st) – there is no better place to be on Canada Day! People from all over Canada come to celebrate it here. There is entertainment that lasts all day long and in the evening there is an amazing fireworks show. If you are here on July 1st then you won’t want to miss it.
- Sound and Light Show on Parliament Hill
A breathtaking visual show of sound and light set against the parliament buildings.
July to September
- Christmas Lights Across Canada (beginning of December to beginning of January) – this event began in 1985. Hundreds of thousands of lights are lit at the illumination ceremony. The Hill and Confederation Boulevard glisten for the entire month of December. It is such a beautiful sight. Every year we make a night of it. We have a nice dinner at one of our favourite restaurants and then take an evening stroll to see all the lights.
- Deck the Halls (end of December) – you can see the decorations inside the Centre Block at these open houses
- Winterlude Open House (during Winterlude) – you can check out certain areas of Centre Block at your own leisure
There are a number of tours that are offered on Parliament Hill. As a child growing up in Ottawa, a visit to “the Hill” was an annual event with school outings. We have brought friends and family their recently and it is more interesting then we remembered it being. There is so much history and so much to learn.
If you are interested in a guided tour, you will need to meet at the Visitor Welcome Centre in Centre Block under the Peace Tower. The tickets are free and are given out on a first come, first served basis. If you are planning to take a tour with a group larger than 10, then you will need to call in advance first to make a reservation (613-996-0896).
If you are on a guided tour when the Senate or House of Commons is sitting then your tour will not go to the chambers. You are more than welcome to go in to the Public Galleries on your own though and listen to the session.
You can also choose to see the Hill on your own. The Discover the Hill Self-Guided Tour is available year round. Make sure to pick up your “Discover the Hill Outdoor Self-Guiding Booklet” at the Capital Information Kiosk:
Capital Information Kiosk / Kiosque d’information de la capitale
World Exchange Plaza: 111 Albert Street/111, rue Albert
Parking via 100 Queen Street/100, rue Queen
The CICs new hours (as of May 2017) will be: 9 am to 6 pm (still 7 days a week)
For those of you who will be visiting Ottawa, we have no doubt that you will make it to the Hill at some point during your stay. We really hope you enjoy your time there and that you learn something about our country’s history.
For those of you who live here in Ottawa, have you been out to Parliament Hill recently? If not, why not take some time and explore all that it has to offer? Speaking from our own experience, it is a very educational and worthwhile visit.
Enjoy your day on Parliament Hill!