OTD: Fire engulfs Parliament Buildings

On today’s date in 1916, a fire broke out in the Centre Block of Canada’s Parliament Buildings at 8:50 p.m., during a debate.

The main tower was ablaze by midnight, but the clock was still able to strike 12. While the gothic Library of Parliament was saved by a quick-thinking clerk, who shut the iron doors to prevent further damage, seven people eventually died that night as the old Centre Block burned to the ground.

“The grand old tower put up a magnificent fight for survival. Standing while the support seemed to have burned away, it sent a solid pillow of twisting, billowing gold up into the winter night,” wrote Ottawa Citizen reporter Charles Bishop.

The tragedy was widely blamed on German war-time saboteurs, and 1, 200 soldiers were sent to guard Parliament Hill. Police eventually arrested a 28-year-old Belgian musician, although no wrong-doing was ever proven.

Parliament was relocated to the Victoria Memorial Museum at the foot of Metcalfe Street, with the House of Commons holding its sessions in the lecture hall. The Senate was accommodated in a space set aside for fossils and extinct leviathans.

A one-cent stamp depicting the Parliament Buildings was also issued in 1929 as part of the King George V ‘Scroll’ issue.


The Parliament Buildings are commemorated on several stamps issued by Canada Post.

The first example was a three-cent stamp (Scott #143) issued in 1927, when the postal service was still a federal department known as the Post Office Department, as part of a five-stamp set marking the 60th anniversary of Canadian Confederation. The picture was engraved by Harold Osborn.

In 1930, a 10-cent stamp depicting the Library of Parliament was issued by the Post Office Department as part of the King George V ‘Arch/Leaf’ issue.

The Unitrade Specialized Catalogue of Canadian Stamps lists several varieties, including an example that’s imperforate between the stamp and the right margin (SC #143i) with a catalogue value of $2,400.

In 1929, another stamp, this with a denomination of one cent (SC #159), was issued with an image of the Parliament Buildings as part of the King George V “Scroll” issue.

The following year, as part of the King George V “Arch/Leaf” issue, a 10-cent stamp (SC #173) depicting the Library of Parliament was issued.

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