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


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s