For over a hundred years Canada’s parliament buildings have weathered the sands of time, pollution, salt and seismic activity, standing firm as the seat of this country’s government. Destroyed by fire in 1916, the original 1859 parliament buildings were rebuilt in 1916 using Canada’s finest building stones. But where did these stones actually come from? Hidden from view off the 417, with thousands of people unknowingly passing it each day, there lies a lost quarry, overgrown and forgotten, where Canada’s parliament buildings were born.
LOCATING THE STONES OF PARLIAMENT
When the original 1859 parliament buildings were destroyed by fire in 1916, work began almost immediately on re-building them using what was considered to be Canada’s finest building stones. This stone was called Nepean Sandstone, and came from, as the name suggests, the Township of Nepean here in Ottawa. Nepean Sandstone is a mid-to-late Cambrian age rock found to the west of Ottawa near Bells Corners. Many of us drive over it on that ridge between Moodie Drive and Kanata, its outcroppings visible along the side of the 417. It is a well-cemented sandstone of nearly pure quartz, and was used to not only build the 1916 parliament buildings in Ottawa, but also the Museum of Nature, the Royal Canadian Mint and the Dominion Observatory. Stone from this quarry also provided the blocks needed to build Langevin Building (recently re-named the Office of the Prime Minister and the Privy Council) and the old Nepean Town Hall in Westboro.
From GeoScience Canada Volume 28, Number 1, 2001, it is quoted that the owner of the quarry received a shocking contract in 1916, and the demands for his special stone were high and the task of getting the stone to downtown Ottawa was gruelling:
“Our first order came from Peter Lyall Construction Company for 1,000 tons of sandstone all for the Parliament Buildings. When we got the parliament job there were several hundred men on the job and they just gobbled up the stone. We couldn’t get the stone out fast enough …Stone was hauled up to the building site by teams of horses, struggling along poor roads with six- ton loads. Each team could make but one trip a day.”
In order to fulfill his duties of providing the parliamentary stone, the quarry owner brought in extra quarrymen and stone cutters from Scotland. The stonemasons carved out of the rocks near Bells Corners all the stone for the Centre Block and the Peace Tower. The quarry continued operation under various owners until 1962, when it was expropriated by the NCC where it remains forgotten and overgrown to this day.
But where exactly did this special stone come from? Nepean Sandstone means it came from Nepean, but where exactly? Finding a government document from 1964 called “ONTARIO DEPARTMENT OF MINES BUILDING STONES OF ONTARIO PART IV: SANDSTONE” there is listed on page 17 a mention that Campbell Quarries is where Canada’s parliamentary stone came from. Concession and lot numbers were given, which I matched up to an old map of the area, that marked “WHITE SANDSTONE QUARRY” on the map. This is the quarry where the stone came from, but where is it located today?
After using the old map with the quarry marked on it, and overlaying it with a current Google Map, the rough area where the Parliamentary Stone Quarry was determined.
Setting off into the forest, the hidden quarry of Canada’s Parliament Buildings lies just off an NCC bikepath, and mere metres away from the bustling 417 highway. With camera in hand, I took to the forest and soon uncovered the overgrown remains of what was once a busy quarry site that provided Canada with its important building blocks for our Parliament.
Andrew King, June 2017
GeoScience Canada, Volume 28, Number 1, 2001, “Building Stones Of Canada’s Federal Parliament Buildings”, D.E. Lawrence.