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Legislative Buildings: Intrigue Behind the Façade

The legislative buildings in the capital city of every province in Canada are important symbols which represent the strength and authority of provincial governments. These buildings are among the most iconic in Canada because of their historic importance and landmark visibility.   Now you may be thinking that this is going to turn into a dry lecture on history and politics, but Province House, City of Charlottetown / ville de Charlottetownin that assumption you would be wrong! Canada's legislative buildings have some intriguing stories behind their walls...

Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island is home to one of the most historically significant buildings in all of Canada. Built in 1847 in the Classical Revival style and reminiscent of some the great temples of Greece and Rome, Province House was the site of the Charlottetown Conference of 1864, the first of a series of meetings which helped lead the Canadian colonies toward Confederation. But did you know that the housekeeper of Province House, a woman named Frances Preedy, lived in the basement with her family? Mrs. Preedy's salary matched that of some members of the legislative assembly. Now that's an attractive live-work arrangement, isn't it? BC Leguislature, City of Victoria / Palais législatif de la C-B, ville de Victoria

On the West Coast, in Victoria, the B.C.  Legislature has some interesting beginnings.  In the early 1890s, in order to ensure that the city of Victoria retained its position as the capital of the new province of British Columbia, it was decided that a new, more impressive legislative building had to be built. The architect chosen to create this landmark was a bold choice: Francis Mawson Rattenbury.  Rattenbury arrived in Canada from Britain only a few weeks before his design submission was chosen as the winner.  At the time of the competition, Rattenbury was only 25, and he is still considered one of the youngest architects in Canada to design a legislative building!  The structure is constructed in the Romanesque Revival style of architecture, sits on large manicured lawns, and was intended to introduce a formal and impressive silhouette between the shoreline and the mountainous backdrop.  Rattenbury went on to gain considerable renown, designing many buildings in British Columbia including that other memorable building in Victoria, the Empress Hotel.

It is in the middle of the country, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, that we might just find one of the most beautiful and most intriguing legislative buildings of all.  Built between 1913 and 1920 in the Beaux Arts style, the Manitoba Legislative Building has a stunning exterior and interior, with architectural features that are a feast for the eyes.  Probably the most visible of the ornaments is the Golden Boy statue which graces the top of the building's rotunda. Designed to represent youth and enterprise, it was sculpted and cast by the artist Charles Gardet in Paris in 1918 at the Barbidienne Foundry. The Manitoba Legislature, Manitoba Historic Resources Branch / Palais législatif du Manitoba, gouvernement du ManitobaGolden Boy escaped harm when the Barbidienne foundry was bombed at the end of the First World War, and then, when it was placed on a French ship for transport to Canada, it was commandeered for troops before it could set off. It was not until after the war that the statue - which had remained in the hold of the ship for many months - was finally brought to Canada, transported by train to Winnipeg, and placed on top of the legislative building. 

Perhaps less visible, but equally intriguing features of the Manitoba Legislature are those related to the Masons, including the number 13, which is repeated throughout the building in the bulbs of the lamps.  The number is considered a symbol of luck among the ancient Egyptians as well as the Masons.  Another unusual design feature is something called the Pool of the Black Star, a circular room below the rotunda with an eight-pointed black star at its centre.  It is aligned directly below the legislature's dome as well as the Golden Boy.  The room catches sounds from all corners of the building and produces mysterious echoes when one speaks here.  In recent years, the building has gained renewed attention thanks in part to art history professor Frank Albo who highlights the structure's Masonic connections and mystical - if not occult - characteristics in books and walking tours.

Canada's legislative buildings are so much more than just places where provincial governments meet. While the county's legislatures represent the power and authority of government in their striking architecture, they also have other interesting stories to tell. These buildings are symbols of our collective history, of the tradition of parliamentary democracy, and of the hopes and dreams of Canadians in the late 19th and early 20th centuries who endeavoured to build a strong country.