a peek inside the fishbowl

29 Jul, 2022

Checking things off my Ottawa Summer Bucket List: Tour of the old Ottawa train station (a.k.a the new Senate building)

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Ottawa

Ottawa folks might already know that major parts of Parliament Hill are being renovated and this work is expected to take years.

Part of that renovation meant the Senate had to find a temporary home, so the Government Conference Centre was restored for this purpose.

If you’re not sure which building I’m talking about, it’s this one, right on the Rideau Canal:

Old Ottawa train station (now the temporary home of the Senate)

Before the Government Conference Centre was the Government Conference Centre (what an original name, eh?), it was a train station. Ottawa’s Union Station was built between 1909 and 1912 and served as such until 1966. There was actually a plan to demolish it, if you can believe it. The building was converted to the Government Conference Centre in 1968, with work completed in 1973. (You can read more about that here.) It was a bold move: Take one gorgeous building in the historic downtown core that was built for a public purpose, and make it inaccessible to the public, ostensibly foreverrrrrr.

I can imagine how Ottawa folks felt about that at the time. I think it’s a feeling that hasn’t really gone away either.

Anyhoo, construction on the former Government Conference Centre began in late 2014 and the Senate started using it in early 2019. Project cost:$219 million.

I’m not sure when they started offering free public tours of the new Senate/old train station, but the moment I heard about it, I knew we had to visit this Ottawa landmark.

Booking tickets was very easy. I will say, READ THE NOT-SO-FINE-PRINT about your arrival time. They recommend you get there early for security screening and if you are late you are out of luck. There were some very disappointed people in line ahead of us.

Waiting in line for the Senate tour

Security screening is very thorough. They rifled through every item in Mark’s shoulder bag. I haven’t even seen such steadfast attention at airports. That being said, I think I know why they were so vigilant. After scanning our bags, they identified a Potentially Dangerous Item in his bag.

Security guy delivered the bad news.

“Sir, we will be taking your Swiss Card. You can collect it over there after your tour.”

(Insert long pause here, because we had no idea what he was talking about.)

As it turns out, he was referring to THIS multipurpose tool that Mark had totally forgotten about and lost in the depths of his bag. We didn’t even know that’s what it was called. Here is a photo of Mark collecting it after the tour – lol:

Mark collecting his Swiss Card

But I digress.

After you’re screened you walk down a hall and around a corner and voila, you are transported back in time. You can imagine the hustle and bustle of train transportation at the time. Mothers with children in tow. Soldiers leaving for war.

It’s worth going, just to sit here for a minute.

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View of the old Ottawa train station/ new temporary home for the Senate

View of the old Ottawa train station/ new temporary home for the Senate

It truly took my breath away.

The tour itself is about 30 minutes long. It’s mostly about the Senate as part of our parliamentary system but our guide also talked about the building itself. (Honestly, I would have preferred a more historical/architectural-type tour, but that’s just me.)

Here’s the Senate Chamber. A short lesson on the Canadian political system happens here so make sure your kids are paying attention. :)

Senate chamber

After it was all over we stopped to pick up Mark’s Swiss Card so we can now continue our goal to vandalize famous historical landmarks. (Just kidding!)

At this point we needed sustenance and hydration so we walked over to the Byward Market and enjoyed margaritas, salt & pepper calamari, and tacos at El Camino. We took the LRT home.

It was a very Ottawa outing and I’m glad we went.

Here is where you book your tickets for the Senate tour: sencanada.ca/en/about/visit-the-senate. Have you been yet? I’d love to hear what you thought of it! :)

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4 Responses to "Checking things off my Ottawa Summer Bucket List: Tour of the old Ottawa train station (a.k.a the new Senate building)"

1 | Sally Dowe Marchand

July 29th, 2022 at 3:02 pm

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Another great idea!

2 | Jenn Jilks

July 30th, 2022 at 8:25 am

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That was a nice tour! Thanks for sharing it.

3 | Allison

July 30th, 2022 at 4:49 pm

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Wonderful pictures!
We went before the pandemic so they have been doing the tours for a while. I thought the building was beautiful, too.
We are planning to do a tour of West Block/House of Commons soon. We did East Block in 2018 or 2019 as well. I don’t think they are doing those tours anymore but it was very interesting – lots of history lessons.

4 | Bill Dare

August 14th, 2022 at 6:31 pm

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That building sure has changed from the early 70”s. My dad had a dusty office at the top floor there for a year. Good to see that a group of people were able to recognize the spirit of the building.

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  • Will: Don't be afraid to be a prude. The world needs more prudes, not less. Don't let others shake you for caring about how your children dress and what the
  • Dean Prentice: Enjoyed reading your stories, having recently visited Silent lake and taking some time to take in the view from the memorial bench I too wondered who
  • Jennifer Jilks: Good for you! that's how I started jogging. We lived in North Gower, though, and I thought I'd work up to running around the block. It was 7 km, as we
  • Sally Dowe Marchand: Be careful. Running can become addictive and that’s how it starts. One block at a time. I understand the huff and puff. Some mornings I set my watch
  • Bill Dare: That building sure has changed from the early 70''s. My dad had a dusty office at the top floor there for a year. Good to see that a group of peopl
  • Jaye MacAskill: I love this! Great photos. We will definitely have to make a trip there one of these days when we finally make it up to Ottawa.
  • Jaye MacAskill: Sounds like a really fun time. Good for you guys!

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My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human offspring: Emma (23) and Sarah (21). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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