Month: December 2016



The Winter Solstice is an astronomical event, usually occurring on December 21, that signifies the shortest day and the longest night of the year. Since ancient times the solstice has been a significant event in the annual cycle of the sun and has guided cultures in activities of celebration around such monuments as the archaeological sites of Stonehenge in England and Newgrange in Ireland. These sites, along with pyramids in Egypt and Mexico,  seem to have been carefully aligned with the winter solstice sunrise and the winter solstice sunset. It seems unusual that we would find any modern monuments designed to celebrate this ancient tradition, but whether by coincidence or deliberate planning, Ottawa seems to have its very own SECRET SOLSTICE PYRAMIDS.


A glass pyramid part of the Old City Hall on Green Island is in alignment with the Winter Solstice sun. (Image: Google Streetview) 


Green Island is just east of Ottawa’s downtown core and is a significant island on the Rideau River where it converges with the Ottawa River in a dramatic dual waterfall. Once a sacred site for indigenous people, Green Island became the site of Ottawa City Hall in 1958, and in 1988 it was re-designed in a bold new plan under the pen of architect Moshe Safdie.

Safdie’s re-design of the original 1958 City Hall included a number of carefully positioned pyramids throughout the island, four to be exact, in various shapes and sizes, and at at different alignments on the island. I have always been perplexed by these unusual glass pyramids, as they seem to have little function other than to be aesthetically incorporated into Safdie’s re-imagined City Hall.  Safdie may be best known for his architecture in Montreal known as Habitat 67 which pioneered the design and implementation of three-dimensional, prefabricated units. It was a central feature of Expo 67 and an important development in architectural history. In 1988 Ottawa mayor Jim Durrell wanted to expand City Hall on Green Island and architect Moshe Safdie was selected for the redesign. Soon Safdie and the city were at odds as Safdie demanded a higher fee and wanted some unique features incorporated into the new design. The re-design cost 72 million dollars and was much larger than the city needed with much of the space sitting vacant for years.


Green Island as seen in an aerial view showing Safdie’s design incorporating 4 pyramids, some cut in half. (Google Maps)

So why are there 4 pyramids incorporated into this building that has since been sold to the Government Of Canada? It seems each pyramid in the complex is aligned with the position of the sun on the solstice and a digital application called “Sun Surveyor” reveals the alignment.


Using the Sun Surveyor application to superimpose the position of the sunrise and sunset on the Winter Solstice reveals that Safdie’s pyramids are in alignment with both the solstice sunrise and sunset. Whether this is by pure coincidence or was carefully planned is unknown, but the application clearly illustrates these solstice alignments.


Pyramid 1 is a large pyramid on the South End of the complex cut in half with a truncated cone. Placing the centre position on the Winter Solstice, the sun sets on exactly the westerly edge of the pyramid and there is even a landscape feature marking the sunset position.


Pyramid 2 is a smaller half pyramid on the west side of the complex and the centre position aligns perfectly with the SUNRISE on the Winter Solstice, which is 7:40 am on December 21. Why this half pyramid’s apex edge aligns with the sunrise on the Winter Solstice seems too perfect to be coincidental.


Pyramid 3 is a smaller pyramid on the north east corner of the complex and it is a full pyramid whose south edge corner is also in alignment with the sunrise on the Winter Solstice.

Whether Safdie intentionally positioned these glass pyramids in alignment with the solstice can only be confirmed by the architect himself, but alas, I do not have his phone number to chat with him about this unusual pyramidal alignment. In the meantime, if anyone is a morning person or plans to be there at sunset, you can go to the pyramids of Green Island and experience the rising and setting suns on the solstice from Ottawa’s very own Secret Solstice Pyramids.

Andrew King, December 21, 2016 


Bing Maps

Google Maps

Christmas Log: How An Ancient Pagan Solstice Ritual got to be a log on your dinner table

Victorian Yule Log Christmas card c 1870

A brief history of a bizarre Christmas tradition

A walk through the aisles of a grocery store during the holiday season is always filled with delectable treats centered around various Christmas traditions. One such item that has always intrigued me has been the Yule Log. A log. That you eat. Why in the Charles Dickens would you want to eat a log? Well, it turns out this tradition dates back thousands of years and here’s what it’s all about…


The Yule Log tradition appeared thousands of years ago in ancient Celtic/Scandinavian/Germanic tribes celebrating the Winter Solstice. They would find a giant tree trunk and set it on fire on the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. This pagan tradition was to celebrate re-birth and these ancient people thought by burning certain types of trees such as elm, oak, beech and cherry trees it would help bring about mystical good luck in the days to come after the solstice.


During the time of these ancient celebrations both December and January were called Guili or “Yule”, and it was when this magical log was burned, one could count on a return of both light and heat from the sun’s rays.

yule-log-wallpaperLike most pagan traditions, they were quashed when Christianity took over, but then adopted by Christianity to fit into the agenda of the Catholic Church. The Yule Log celebration was no exception and in the 12th century the ceremony became Christian-ified with families hauling home huge logs with the youngest sibling riding it home, who brought good fortune and luck for the coming season. Once home, the medieval families would burn the massive log to bring positive future outcomes for all that were present.


The tradition carried on through the centuries and in the 1800’s the Yule log was recorded in “Christmas Observances” by J.B. Partridge with the following ritual as the proper way to celebrate the Yule Log:

•The Yule log is brought in, and is at once put on the hearth.
•It is unlucky to have to light it again after it has once been started, and it ought not go out until it has burned away.
•To sit around the Yule log and tell ghost stories is a great thing to do on this night, also card-playing.
•Just before supper on Christmas Eve while the Yule log is burning, all other lights are put out, and the candles are lighted from the Yule log by the youngest person present. While they are being lighted, all are silent and wish. The wish must not be told, but you see if you get it during the year. As soon as the candles are on the table, silence may be broken. They must be allowed to burn themselves out, and no other lights may be lighted that night.


Bringing in the traditional Yule Log.

As time moved on, large log burning fireplaces in the family home gave way to smaller hearths and so the Yule Logs got smaller. Then as we moved into the 20th century, fireplaces were replaced by furnaces and stoves, requiring the tradition to adapt once again. This time a smaller Yule Log was placed on the dinner table and candles places on top of the log surrounded by candies and treats that were handed out on Christmas Eve.

Soon the traditional real wooden table log was replaced by a cake log, which is our current incarnation of this ancient pagan ritual. The cake log is usually covered in chocolate icing and scraped with a fork to resemble the tree bark.


One of the last places to celebrate the real Yule Log was in Quebec so it is no surprise that most Yule Log cakes are produced by Quebec companies such as Vachon, who continue the tradition with their own version of the Yule Log that you see in the grocery store aisles. Both Dairy Queen and Baskin Robbins also offer Yule Logs as ice cream logs that probably should not be lit on fire.


Vachon still makes a Yule Log cake during the Christmas season available at your grocers. (Image:


So there you have it, the history of the Yule Log, once an ancient pagan tradition of setting fire to a giant log to worship the sun that has now evolved into a cake you eat and wash down with a glass of egg nog…egg nog…now there’s another story…what is nog?

Merry Christmas!

Andrew King