Collection Spotlight

Wrought Iron Balustrades

Inside the Main Library of the Library of Parliament, wrought iron balustrades adorn the alcoves and galleries. These remarkable ornamental ironworks are decorated with brown-green, purple and gold painted motifs, in shapes such as rosettes and spirals, typical of the High Victorian Gothic Revival style. One of the distinguishing features of this architectural style is its use of decorative iron pieces.

These balustrades date back to the Library’s construction in the 1870s. They survived the blaze that destroyed the first Parliament Building in 1916, as well as the fire that damaged the Library in 1952.

When the Library was being built, many contractors and artisans contributed to the layout and interior finishes of the building. H. R. Ives & Co., a Canadian foundry, produced the decorative design elements of the balustrades. Foreman and blacksmith Levi Spencer, an employee of the Canada Lock Company, supervised the fabrication of the iron castings and mouldings of the wrought iron balustrades.

Interestingly, the Canada Lock Company had a contract with Kingston Penitentiary to employ inmates for various ironwork projects. According to archival documents from the penitentiary, about 60 inmates worked on the Library’s wrought iron balustrades over a two-month period.

Details:

  • The average size of a balustrade section in a gallery is 230 cm long by 61 cm high.
  • In 1876, the Department of Public Works paid Kingston Penitentiary $5,846.67 for the fabrication and installation of cast iron pieces at the Library of Parliament, in Ottawa. According to the archival documents, the penitentiary supplied 104,811 pounds (around 47,541 kg) of cast iron to make ironworks for the Library.
  • During rehabilitation work on the Library of Parliament in the early 2000s, an analysis of the layers of paint on the balustrades, which were painted black at the time, revealed their original colours. These colours were restored to preserve the building’s historical and architectural legacy.

 

The Library of Parliament would like to thank Canada’s Penitentiary Museum for providing valuable historical information on the fabrication of the ornamental ironworks inside the Library.

Rosette
Rosette
Balustrades along the edge of one of the galleries inside the Main Library of the Library of Parliament
Balustrades along the edge of one of the galleries
Typical motifs of the High Victorian Gothic Revival style
Typical motifs of the High Victorian Gothic Revival style