Ingenium Archives “City Series”: Ottawa

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A view of the Canadian Parliament Buildings and Library from Major’s Hill Park, during tulip season, June 8, 1956.

Ingenium’s archives is launching a new series of short articles highlighting selections of historical photos from cities and towns throughout Canada.

In today’s installment, we focus on Ottawa, the capital of Canada. These images are part of the CN Images of Canada Collection.

For many people across the country, Ottawa represents government, ceremony, and commemoration. In this image, you can see some of the familiar landmarks as they were in the 1930s: Parliament Hill, the Chateau Laurier Hotel, the Rideau Canal, Alexandra Bridge, and the Ottawa River. It also captures some of the office and retail buildings heading into the ByWard Market.

A black and white photograph taken from the air, showing a river flanked by buildings. The tall, stone Parliament Buildings are in the top left corner of the photo, with a canal to their right, and another large, stone building with turrets and spires to the right of the canal.  The image also contains a number of tall, rectangular structures ranging from 4 to 10 storeys tall.

Aerial photograph of downtown Ottawa, including the Parliament Buildings, Chateau Laurier Hotel, and Rideau Canal, ca. 1934.

The Parliament Buildings are some of the most photographed structures in the city.

The current structure was rebuilt following a fire on February 3, 1916, that burned most of the Centre Block to the ground. The original building was constructed in a High Victorian Gothic Revival style, which is still visible in the Parliamentary Library – the only part to survive the fire.

A black and white photograph of a man and woman sitting on a bench beside a canal, talking to a man wearing a sailor hat, standing beside a small boat. In the background there is a bridge, and the spires of an ornate stone building.

The Chateau Laurier Hotel as seen from the banks of the Rideau Canal, no date.

Another Ottawa landmark is the Rideau Canal. Originally completed in 1832, the Rideau Canal was constructed to make inland water travel possible for military purposes between Kingston and Ottawa, but it was never used for its original purpose. Shipping and trade dominated the waterway until the 1850s when the railways took over those functions. Today, the Canal is used by pleasure boats in the warmer months, and skaters during the winter.

Black and white image showing a canal in the centre, flanked on the left side by a street, walking path, and park, and on the right side by railway tracks. The spires of a large, stone building can be seen in the distance.

The Rideau Canal looking north towards the Chateau Laurier Hotel, with tracks at Union Station, ca. 1936. The tracks were removed in the late 1960s.

The railway once ran alongside the banks of the Canal, culminating at Union Station.

A black and white photograph of a castle-like stone building on the left-hand side of a road, and a smaller stone building with columns and a dome roof on the right-hand side. The road has many black, 1930s -style cars parked in the centre lane.

Union Station, on the right, faces the Chateau Laurier Hotel, on the left, ca 1934.

This photograph from 1934 shows a parking lot in front of the station.

In the next photo, likely from the 1950s, note that this parking space is replaced by the National War Memorial and a triangular island. Today, Union Station houses the Senate of Canada, while the Parliament Buildings undergo extensive restoration and renovation activities.

A black and white photograph with a road in the foreground, a tall stone and bronze monument in the mid-ground, and a castle-like stone building in the background.
Chateau Laurier Hotel, National War Memorial, and Union Station, no date.
A black and white photograph of well-dressed man and woman walking in front of several men in suits, following a carpet laid over paving stones. A large crowd is shown in the background.
King George VI and Queen Elizabeth arrive at the National War Memorial in Ottawa during the 1939 Royal Tour of Canada, 1939.

The National War Memorial was officially dedicated in 1939, by King George VI.

Originally constructed to commemorate those who died during the First World War, the memorial was officially rededicated in 1982 to include the Second World War and the Korean War. The Tomb of the Unknown Solider was not added until the year 2000.

A black and white photograph of a castle-like stone building with spires and turrets.
Chateau Laurier Hotel - exterior view, ca. 1930.

During the royal couple’s stay in Ottawa in 1939, they dined at the Chateau Laurier Hotel. The Chateau was commissioned by the president of the Grand Trunk Railway, Charles Melville Hays, and constructed between 1909 and 1912. Hays unfortunately died on the Titanic before construction was completed.

These images represent a small sample of the historic photographs that make up the CN Images of Canada Collection. If you know more about the photographs in this series, such as dates on undated images or other interesting information, please pass it along to us at biblio-archives@ingeniumcanada.org. Stay tuned for the next part of the City Series – the city of Halifax.


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Kristy von Moos

Kristy von Moos is the Digital Content Officer at Ingenium. Kristy has a BA in History and Philosophy from St. Thomas University, and an MA in Public History from Carleton University. She has worked with cultural media, research, and virtual exhibit companies, and enjoys bringing history, education, and technology together.