Treasures of the Library

The Green Man and the wood carvings

The first thing visitors to the Library of Parliament often notice is the many wood carvings that decorate the walls and alcoves. Over 1,600 different designs of flowers, masks and mythical beasts are carved out of Ottawa Valley white pine. They take a circular form known as a rosette.

The most recognizable rosette is the “Green Man.” His human face looks out calmly from twisting leaves and branches. The Green Man is a well-known mythological symbol. He probably represents the unity of the human and natural worlds.

Architect Frederick J. Alexander designed these carvings, but we know little about the craftsmen who carried out his design. The Toronto firm of Holbrook and Mollington may have overseen the wood carving in the 1870s, but information from this period is scarce.

In 1974, Parliamentary Librarian Erik Spicer tried to find out more about the Library’s wood carvers. He published a request for new information in newspapers across the country. This resulted in many leads, but few significant details came out of this detective work. This part of the Library’s history remains a mystery today.

Details

  • The carving of the Green Man is 44 cm in diameter.
  • There are four sizes of rosettes. Of the 400 large rosettes, no two are alike.
  • Frederick J. Alexander was born in England in 1850 and came to Ottawa in 1887. He was a member of the Royal Institute of British Architects.
  • In addition to designing the interior fittings of the Library, Mr. Alexander also designed the original enclosure walls and gates on Parliament Hill.
Green Man, close-up
Green Man, close-up
Carving and statue
Carving and statue
Rosette
Rosette