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In 1875, eight years after Canada was created, Eugène-Étienne Taché drew up plans for a grand building where members of parliament from the province of Québec would sit—the only majority French-language political body in North America. It drew inspiration from a style that was then very popular in France, while also striving to include a blend of aboriginal, French, and British history.
Québec has been a seat of parliament since 1792, when the British brought the first democratic system of government to the colony of Lower Canada. Back then the parliament building was on top of Cape Diamond, where Parc Montmorency currently sits. But a raging fire burned the building to the ground in April 1833, bringing to an abrupt end almost a century of parliamentary debate on the site.
Fortunately work on the new parliament for the province of Québec—a grand building worthy of representing French Canadians in the new country of Canada, which had been created in 1867—was sufficiently advanced to welcome members through its doors a few months later. The new parliament officially opened in April 1886.
Eugène-Étienne Taché had been trained by one of the city’s most renowned architects—Charles Baillairgé—and was at the very beginning of his career when he designed the building. His plan adopted an innovative, Second Empire style, which had been very popular in France after the Louvre’s extension in the 1850s. The Renaissance-inspired style broke away from the sobriety of Neoclassicism that had dominated the city’s skyline for decades. Instead it emphasized rich ornamentation, which is clearly visible on the elaborate façade, with its eight-storey clock tower, mansard roof, corner pavilions (each topped by a tower), and the many statues decorating the front. Taché’s choice of style reaffirmed the historic ties between Québec and France.
Taché had Québec’s coat of arms carved above the main entrance, along with the words that were later to become the province’s motto: Je me souviens. The phrase—I remember—sums up the statues put in place between 1889 and 1969, with 26 of them on the façade depicting explorers, missionaries, founders, governors, and politicians from the days of French and English rule. Taché also reserved a place of honour for the First Nations peoples who lived on the land before the Europeans arrived: the Fisherman with Spear fountain and A Halt in the Forest, both by Québec master sculptor Louis-Philippe Hébert, stand in front of the main entrance. Together, all the works—including more recent additions scattered around the building—call to mind Québec’s storied history.
The imposing building’s four wings, each around one hundred metres in length, surround a courtyard. Inside parliament is the National Assembly Chamber (known as the “Salon bleu,” the Blue Hall) where members of the national assembly meet, and the Legislative Council Chamber (known as the “Salon rouge,” or the Red Hall), which is reserved for ceremonial occasions. Both are reached via a huge staircase beneath the centre tower. Works of art, stained-glass windows, and portraits of all Québec premiers decorate the interior. Offices and workrooms take up the rest of the building, along with Le Parlementaire, a chic restaurant.
Since the early 20th century the parliament building has struggled to contain the growing machinery of government. Four buildings next to parliament were added between 1910 and 1937 to house the library and various ministries. The 1960s saw another phase of expansion as Édifices G, H, and J were also built nearby. More civil servants were then housed in office buildings in the Saint-Jean-Baptiste neighbourhood and elsewhere in the city.
Since 1995, Commission de la capitale nationale du Québec has given Parliament Hill a series of facelifts, adding statues, creating Promenade des Premiers-Ministres, and landscaping themed gardens where visitors can see, touch, and taste the roots of Québec’s culture for themselves.
The colour red became associated with the upper houses of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth in the 16th century. Widely known as the “Salon rouge” or Red Hall, the Legislative Council Chamber (the equivalent of Canada’s Senate) is no exception. The council was abolished in 1968, and today this room is used by parliamentary committees and for official activities.
This hall occupies the space between the National Assembly Chamber and the Legislative Council Chamber. It features the names and coats of arms of important individuals as well as the coats of arms of members under the English regime, to which the hall is dedicated. The French regime is not forgotten, though, and fleurs-de-lis represent the French monarchy. Papyrus leaves between the alcoves are a reminder of how important the written word has been to the institution.
The “Salon bleu” or Blue Hall was once green and is the name commonly used for the chamber where MNAs have met since April 8, 1886. The walls were painted blue when televised debates began in 1978.
The Library of the National Assembly occupies the whole of the Pamphile–Le May building, which was built from 1912 to 1915 and named after the library’s first director. Open to all, the library contains vast collections for use by MNAs as well as old and rare books considered to be national treasures.
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