Winston Churchill passed through it on his way to address Parliament in 1941. So did Elvis Presley on his first and only visit to Canada’s capital in 1957. In the ‘80s, as the Government Conference Centre, it was the site of important talks on the Constitution and the reunification of Germany. Now, the former Union Station at the corner of Rideau St. and Sussex Dr. in downtown Ottawa has been given new life as the temporary home of the Senate of Canada.
The old train station officially reopened as the Senate of Canada building Dec. 13, following a six-year, $219-million renovation to restore its turn-of-the-century grandeur. The Senate will operate out of the building for at least the next 10 years while the Centre Block of Parliament undergoes a major refurbishment.
Original plans for the rehabilitation of the parliamentary precinct called for the upper house to be moved to a glass enclosure in the courtyard of the East Block (the House of Commons is moving to a similar setup in West Block), but some senators suggested it might be more efficient to fix up the Government Conference Centre, said Senator Scott Tannas, who chairs the committee overseeing the relocation.
“Being here means we have the challenge of being off the Hill, but it was a major cost savings in the end, and it brought this building to life.”
Built in 1912 in a beaux-arts architectural style, the Ottawa train station, together with the Château Laurier hotel across the street, was intended to serve as both a physical and symbolic gateway between the growing city of Ottawa and Parliament Hill, said Martin Davidson, principal architect with Diamond Schmitt Architects, the firm in charge of the renovation. The challenge was to refurbish it in a way that would meet the needs of the Senate while still preserving its character as a major landmark.