OTD: Fire engulfs Parliament Buildings

On today’s date in 1916, a fire broke out in the Centre Block of Canada’s Parliament Buildings at 8:50 p.m., during a debate.

The main tower was ablaze by midnight, but the clock was still able to strike 12. The gothic Library of Parliament was saved by a quick-thinking clerk, who shut the iron doors to prevent further damage. Seven people eventually died that night as the old Centre Block burned to the ground.

“The grand old tower put up a magnificent fight for survival. Standing while the support seemed to have burned away, it sent a solid pillow of twisting, billowing gold up into the winter night,” wrote Ottawa Citizen reporter Charles Bishop.

The tragedy was widely blamed on German war-time saboteurs, and 1, 200 soldiers were sent to guard Parliament Hill. While police eventually arrested a 28-year-old Belgian musician, no wrong-doing was ever proven.

Parliament was relocated to the Victoria Memorial Museum at the foot of Metcalfe Street, with the House of Commons holding its sessions in the lecture hall. The Senate was accommodated in a space set aside for fossils and extinct leviathans.

1974 $1 BANKNOTE

Canada’s Parliament Buildings are shown on the back of a $1 banknote issued in 1974 by the Bank of Canada.

The note, which belongs to the “Scenes of Canada” series, was in circulation between 1974 and 1989, when the bill was replaced by the $1 coin now known as the “loonie.”

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