The Burning of Parliament
February 3rd marks the unfortunate 100th anniversary of the burning of the main building of Canada’s Parliament. Located between the West and East blocks, the Centre block was demolished after a raging fire consumed it in 1916. It was rebuilt in time for the 60th anniversary of Confederation on July 1st 1916.
The flames started in the Reading room, right in front of the librairy’s entrance doors. The with pine paneling on the walls and their recent varnish made the fire spreads quickly.
A deadly fire
Sadly, 7 people died in the fire: a member of parliament, a House employee and two young women, visiting in the public
galleries. Story has it that the pair returned into the building to retrieve their coats and were found dead due to smoke inhalation.
As for the three others, they lost their lives when a stone structure fell upon them while fighting the blaze.
The Germans did it!
Needless to say that while the Great War was raging, a lot of fingers were pointed at the Germans for the burning of our parliament. The Royal commission in charge of shedding some light on the event concluded in an accident, probably a cigar dropped in a paper basket. Interestingly, John Rathom, editor of the Rhode Island’s Journal said that three weeks prior to the tragedy, employees of the German embassy in Washington told him that the Canadian parliament would go up in flames. Since Mr. Rathom refused to be interrogated by the Commission, a fog of mystery still persists.
The library is left unscratched
Even if the fire started in a room next to the library, we are fortunate enough that an employee thought of closing the iron doors and therefore saving the collection. The new parliament was rebuilt on the same spot, in front of the free standing library, now the only original room of the first parliament. While reconstruction lasted, the parliamentarians worked from the Victoria Memorial Building, now the Museum of Nature.
On the 3rd of February of each year
In memory of the tragedy, every 3rd of February, the masse of the House of Commons is replaced by a wooden one, a symbol of the one used after the fire…because no one thought of carrying it outside!