Spotlight Collection

The Library Doors

When entering the Library of Parliament from Centre Block, you must pass through two very different sets of doors. The history of these doors dates back to 1859, when the Library was in its planning stages. After having witnessed the catastrophic effects of fire, the Parliamentary Librarian of the time, Alpheus Todd, specified that the Library was to be built using non-combustible and fireproof materials. As a result, when the Library was completed in 1876, it stood at a distance from the main building, connected only by a long corridor. A Gothic Revival archway formed the entrance at the end of the corridor and featured a pair of massive oak doors decorated with carvings representing Canadian fauna. Just behind these doors, is the second set of doors, which are modest by comparison. These doors, which are made of heavy iron, were installed based on Todd's recommendation to provide a firewall between the Library and Centre Block.

The iron doors played a critical role on the evening of February 3, 1916, when fire broke out in the House of Commons Reading Room. The fire quickly got out of control and an alarm was raised. Inside the Library, Michael Connolly MacCormac, the library clerk on duty, ordered the iron doors closed against the rush of heat and smoke. Minutes later, these doors were all that stood between the Library and the blaze that would completely consume the old Centre Block. Thanks to Todd’s foresight and MacCormac’s quick thinking, the iron doors preserved the Library as the only remnant of the original Centre Block complex.

Even though a new Centre Block was built, the Library entrance remained largely unchanged until 1979, when it underwent extensive renovations. The oak doors were removed and replaced with a pair of motion-activated sliding doors. Although it is now modernized, the entrance retains its heritage character. A replica of six of the eight animals that decorated the old doors adorns the frame of the sliding door. Above the doors, the archway still has the large carved panel featuring a dog gnawing on a bone, while being watched closely by a second, wild-looking dog. Finally, the old iron doors, still in their original location, have been painted to match the colour of the surrounding woodwork. According to tradition, visitors passing through the entrance touch the doors to make sure that they are still there, protecting the Library.

Details

  • Each of the two iron doors measures 143 cm tall and 71 cm wide.
  • The sliding doors were designed by Dominion Sculptor Eleanor Milne.
Black and white photo of the Library entrance in 1908.
Original entrance with oak swinging doors.
Library entrance seen from Centre Block – showing the woodwork and arches that surround it.
Current entrance with sliding glass-panelled doors made of Canadian pine.
Iron doors and wood carvings decorating the walls on either side.
The iron doors, viewed from inside the Library.