June 30, 2006


Take a tour of the Library of Parliament, one of Canada’s most cherished structures, and view the $52 million in restoration work.


Canada’s heritage top of mind in library restoration

Library of Parliament a source of national pride after extensive overhaul


As Canadians celebrate the country’s 139th birthday this weekend, one of our most cherished buildings, the Library of Parliament, has regained its former lustre in the wake of an ambitious, multi-year and multi-million-dollar rehabilitation project.

Preceded by seven years of preparation, work got under way in March 2002 to conserve, rehabilitate and upgrade the landmark heritage structure. No aspect was overlooked, from the weathervane atop the roof to the cramped and crowded basements below ground.

“We have taken a building that was deteriorating and preserved it as a legacy for future generations,” says Michael Fortier, Minister of Public Works and Government Services.

That job fell on the shoulders of a team that included Ogilvie and Hogg, Desnoyers Mercure et associes, Spencer R. Higgins and Lundholm Associates, architects in joint venture and general contractor Thomas Fuller Construction Co. (1958) Ltd.

“It was a huge challenge, but we got it done,” says company president Bill Fuller.

Bill Fuller of Thomas Fuller Construction Co. (1958) Ltd., the general contractor in the Library of Parliament project, described it as a “huge challenge.”

His firm was awarded a $52 million stipulated sum contract in January 2002.

A decade earlier, the firm had completed a two-year conservation project at the Peace Tower.

The library holds a special place in Canadian history. It is the last remaining part of the original Parliament Building, the Centre Block on Parliament Hill, and the only section to survive a devastating fire of 1916.

The rehabilitation project included repairs to the masonry, windows and ironwork. The building structure was stabilized and seismically upgraded, and the three roofs were replaced.


From leaks in the roof to crumbling mortar in the walls, the exterior of the building was in a seriously deteriorated condition when rehabilitation got under way in 2002. Seen is a view prior to renovations.

As well, three new basements were created: two for the collections and support areas and one for new mechanical systems that provide superior control of air quality, humidity and other indoor environmental elements.

The electrical, communications, security and life-safety systems were upgraded to meet current health and safety standards and the library’s future needs.

Substantial completion was achieved in mid-May.

Fuller, whose firm had a supervisory staff of between eight and 10 on site at any given time, said rehabilitation of the national landmark presented its share of challenges from a construction perspective.

“I guess the biggest risk from both our perspective and that of Public Works and Government Services Canada was creation of the three new basements,” he said. “We had to go down about 30 feet in rock below the existing structure.

“We weren’t allowed to drill and blast to any extent.”

As a precautionary measure, devices were installed to monitor rock movement in the area.

After “a bunch of techniques” were explored, subcontractor Dibco Underground Ltd. used Korean rock splitters to help get the job done.

“Use of heavy machinery wasn’t much of an option until we got the rock (excavation) down to the point where we could physically get the equipment in below the library,” Fuller said.

Access to the exterior of the 130-year-old building also was an issue. Repairing the building envelope — roof, windows and masonry walls — was a key element of the project.


The project team carefully assessed every stone and determined its need for cleaning or repair. New fill was added within the walls and new mortar inserted between the stones, preserving the library’s originally stately character while ensuring its ability to endure many more decades of use.

Fuller Construction erected an innovative, self-supporting scaffolding system that didn’t touch the building, yet allowed ready access.

The building’s interior was repaired, refurbished and modernized as well, in keeping with the “minimal intervention” strategy developed at the outset by the architectural team.


The detailed wood carving was lovingly preserved.

The intent was to respect the library’s original design and construction while adding modern details and components.

Virtually everything from the plastered dome above the central reading room to the intricate parquet floor below was rehabilitated.

Sophisticated mechanical systems were installed that permit, for the first time in the building’s history, fine-tuned control over temperature and humidity levels as well as air circulation.


The restored dome.

“There were a lot of space constraints,” Fuller said. “We didn’t have a lot of room to put in the new mechanical and electrical systems.”

Close co-ordination of the subtrades was also critical during the course of construction.

Some 50 subcontractors were involved in the project, from stonemasons and wood conservators to bricklayers and metal fabricators.

The project was undertaken by Public Works and Government Services Canada in collaboration with the Library of Parliament. The building was officially transferred back to Parliament late last month.

“We weren’t allowed to drill and blast to any extent.”

Bill Fuller - Thomas Fuller Construction Co.

Library rehabilitation costs

• Construction time for original Library of Parliament: 17 years (1859 - 1876)

• Last major renovation of the Library: 1952-1956 (following a fire in the attic)

• Amount of steel used in the scaffolding: 70 tonnes

• Area of fabric used to cover the scaffolding: 5,817 square metres (the size of 3,75 hockey rinks)

• Amount of bedrock removed (without any blasting) to accommodate new basement space under Library: 4,815 cubic metres (approximately equal to half of the Peace Tower)

• Amount of grout used to stabilize the building structure: 213 metric tonnes

• Length of masonry joints raked and repointed: 20 km. (there are 23 km of joints on the south fašade of the Centre Block.)

• Number of lead-pane windows repaired or replaced: 147

• Area of new parquet floor: 444.7 square metres. Oak, cherry, walnut woods replicate the 1950’s design of the parquet floor

• Amount of copper roofing installed: 2,075 square metres

• Number of people involved in this project since planning started in 1995: over 1,200

Source: Public Works and Government Services Canada

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