National Style in the Architecture of Parliament: Whose Nation, Whose Style?

  • Timothy Di Leo Browne Carleton University
Keywords: Parliament, Architecture, National Identity, Canada


In this article, I address the notion of “National Style” in the architecture of Canada’s Parliament buildings in Ottawa. Writing in 1968, Alan Gowans named High Victorian Gothic as the national architectural style of Canada, citing Parliament among his prime examples. His work appeared in a volume titled The Shield of Achilles, which considered the role that Victorian-era themes and values played in shaping Canada. The volume was published shortly after Canada’s Centennial celebrations and captured some of the nationalist sentiment
that characterized mid-20th-century Canada. Architectural historians today have largely dismissed the idea that Victorian Gothic is Canada’s National Style in the way that Gowans suggested (see particularly Thomas 1997, 2004, and 2011). But the argument still carries weight in some circles; and as Canada approaches its Sesquicentennial, the issue warrants re-examination. Does this style speak to a particular identity, and if so, whose? How have these buildings been interpreted over the years? What messages do they encode? To what
extent do these messages diverge from the urban setting in which the buildings are located? These questions tie in to discourses around what it means to be Canadian, highlighting the confl icts between an identity rooted in Northern European (generally British) ethnicity and numerous other identities that popular interpretations of the Gothic style have excluded.