See you later, Centre Block
Massive home renovations can test even the best of relationships.
So it could be a bit of a democratic-relationship experiment to see who and what gets tested when a very long renovation gets under way soon in the home that belongs to all Canadians — Parliament Hill’s Centre Block.
Canadians who don’t work in the shadow of the Peace Tower may only be vaguely aware — or not aware at all — that the building that most symbolizes federal power in this country is in the midst of shutting down for at least 10 or as many as 20 years.
Members of Parliament and senators going home at the end of this week for the long holiday break will return to entirely new workplaces at the end of January. The Commons will shift its operations to what’s known as West Block on Parliament Hill; the Senate moves to a former train station down the road, just across from the Chateau Laurier hotel.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who bade a formal farewell to the building in the Commons on Wednesday, could be a senior citizen by the time Centre Block reopens. Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, who has served as Commons speaker, also spoke of Centre Block as “more than a building.”
Politicians can be overly quick to describe moments as historic, but it’s fair to say that this shutdown feels well and truly historic to denizens of Parliament Hill and political junkies. The corridors have been crowded with people doing their own goodbye tours, taking in all the history of the soon-to-be-shuttered building.
It’s been a chance for everyone to learn a little more about this institution that rose out of the ashes of the great Parliament Hill fire of 1916. It’s only recently, for instance, that I’ve learned more about the architect of the building, John Pearson, thanks to House of Commons curator Johanna Mizgala (who unabashedly describes her feelings about the architect as an “intellectual crush”).
Pearson’s hand can also be seen in some fine architecture in Toronto — the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law, Convocation Hall and the Sanford Fleming and Sigmund Samuel buildings — as well as some of the grander old Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce branches around the city.
Much of Pearson’s artistry will be preserved or enhanced during the renovations, but the shutdown of Centre Block has prompted some reflection about renewal for the 21st century, too. In an important piece for Policy Options, editor-in-chief Jennifer Ditchburn asked why we haven’t been talking more about new ways of organizing the Commons while it’s under renovation. (Source: Hamilton Spectator)