A person walks through the halls of the centre block, in front of the door to the Library of Parliament, on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday Sept. 22, 2010. Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press
Hundreds of thousands of people visit Parliament Hill every year, but most don't get to go behind the scenes in one of the country's most important buildings. From secret doors to the Speaker's Scotch, CBC News has a two-part series to show you nine things you probably don't know about Parliament Hill. Read the first secrets of the Hill story here.
1. The House of Commons Speaker has a special Scotch
House Speaker Andrew Scheer has continued a new tradition of selecting a special Speaker's Scotch, which gets its own label and can be purchased through the parliamentary restaurant.
The last House Speaker, Peter Milliken, started the practice after visiting his counterpart at Westminster. The British Parliament has a long tradition of selecting a Speaker's Scotch.
In Canada, the Scotch is selected after a tasting by MPs, usually once per Parliament (the combined sessions between federal elections is known as a Parliament).
This Parliament's Scotch is a 12-year-old Balvenie DoubleWood.
2. There is a secret stairwell in the West Block
Alexander Mackenzie, Canada's second prime minister and the first Liberal prime minister, was leery of lobbyists during his five years in office, according to Liberal Party researcher Kevin Bosch.
Mackenzie came from working-class origins and had been a stonemason.
An addition was built on the West Block of Parliament Hill while Mackenzie was prime minister, from 1873 to 1878. The building included an office for him — with a secret escape route.
"He had a special spiral staircase installed that went all the way from the third floor to the ground level," Bosch said.
"And this was not really to escape his enemies. It was more to escape his friends. At the time, if you wanted a patronage appointment or you were a lobbyist, you would literally hang out in the lobby of the Prime Minister’s Office and hope to catch his eye as he was walking out. And so he had this backdoor escape route."
The office sits right under the building's tallest tower, which is known as the Mackenzie Tower.
Mackenzie wasn't the only person to use the staircase: Pierre Trudeau used it to evade reporters the day he went to the Governor General to request the 1968 election, Bosch said.
The West Block is currently closed for a massive restoration project, but Mackenzie's office — and the spiral staircase — are expected to be preserved in the renovation.
3. There is a Rodin sculpture near the Library of Parliament
Much of Centre Block is a monument to the military that fought in the First World War. The original Centre Block burned to the ground, save the Library of Parliament, in 1916, and had to be rebuilt.
The new building was finished in 1922, with the Peace Tower completed in 1927. France presented Canada with the gift of a sculpture by Auguste Rodin. The sculpture is a bust meant to represent France as a person. It was designed by Rodin in 1904 and cast after his death, then given to Canada by the French government.
"It's essentially a commemoration or memorial to Canada's contribution in the First World War," said David Monaghan, the House of Commons curator.
Visitors can catch a glimpse of the bust if they look to their left down the Speaker's hallway as they approach the Library of Parliament. The bust comes with a plaque that reads, "To Canada, whose sons shed their blood to safeguard world freedom."
4. The Peace Tower bells range from enormous to small and really complicated to fix if one cracks
There are 53 bronze bells in the Peace Tower in a variety of sizes. They allow the Dominion Carillonneur to play music ranging from O Canada to pop tunes to classical selections. The biggest bell weighs 10 tonnes and was cast using a mould built into the ground. All of the bells were cast in 1927 in England and were tuned to each other. If one cracks or breaks, it would have to be re-cast and retuned — maybe even requiring all the bells to be re-cast.
The bells sit inside the Peace Tower next to shutters that can be closed during the winter to protect the bells from Ottawa's harsh weather.
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