Collection Spotlight

Modernizing the Main Library – 2001-2006 Upgrade, Conservation and Rehabilitation

The Library of Parliament might have survived the great fire of 1916 – making it the only remaining section of the original Centre Block building – but it could not hold off the ravages of time. To restore the building to its original splendor, the Library began its largest-ever renovation in 2001.

This architectural gem was built between 1859 and 1876. By the 1990s, the building was showing its age: the roof was leaking, the outside walls were crumbling, the windows were damaged, the storage space was insufficient, and the ironwork was decaying.

A major component of the rehabilitation was replacing the mechanical and electrical systems. This work aimed to provide the stringent climate controls the Library needed for its collections. But these systems needed space. An above-ground addition was unacceptable, as it would have altered the aesthetics of Parliament Hill, so the decision was made to add the necessary space under the Library. Dynamite was not allowed, so to excavate 14 metres below the Library building, workers used only mechanical means such as drilling, hoe-ramming and rock splitting. Thanks to this excavation, the Library gained an electrical and mechanical room and significantly expanded its collection stack space.

The Library’s reading room received numerous upgrades: the heritage lighting fixtures were retrofitted, and the floor layout was updated to provide better flow through the space and areas for reading and using the collection. The parquet floor, which was showing wear and tear, was entirely replaced, returning it as closely as possible to its original design. The Queen Victoria statue underwent restoration and seismic stabilization. The wrought iron balustrades, were restored to their original colour.

The exterior of the building also received a facelift. Heritage stonemasons repointed the masonry using specially formulated hydraulic lime mortar. Concealed roof gutters, complete with heat tracers and moisture monitors, were installed. Lastly, the exterior windows were restored.

This rehabilitation allowed the graceful elements of the reading room to once again be enjoyed, and the architectural and artistic beauty of the original Library to shine again for generations to come.

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The Library interior before its makeover, after the Queen Victoria statue was relocated for restoration.

Library interior in 2006

The revamped interior of the Library in 2006 (Photo: Roy Grogan.)

Library Exterior 2006

New copper roof and gutters (Photo: Roy Grogan.)