senators’ statements — Senate of Canada Building

December 10, 2019

Hon. Michael L. MacDonald

Honourable senators, last week we heard the first Speech from the Throne to be delivered from the renamed Senate of Canada Building. I’m sure we would all agree that, in terms of temporary lodging, the Senate of Canada has found a place it can comfortably call home. Perhaps it is only fitting that the Senate has found a new home in a railway station, as both the Senate and the railroad were so important to the birth and growth of Canada.

Opened in June 1912, the Grand Trunk Central Station was built as part of a lavish ensemble with the Château Laurier — located across the street — by Charles Melville Hays, President of the Grand Trunk Railway, which is one of the great railroads not just of Canada, but all of North America.

Hays was a visionary who was determined to build a transcontinental railway to Prince Rupert, which he identified as the great Canadian port of the future for trade with Asia. The route west led to the establishment in his name of such communities as Melville, Saskatchewan, and Hays, Alberta, and he is considered the founder of the city of Prince Rupert, which has a fine public statue to his memory. I wonder what Charles Melville Hays would have thought about Bill C-48.

Hays also saw the need and opportunity to create a transport and social hub on these grounds. Now this historic station is our new home, but this place is not really new at all, and if these walls could talk they’d tell quite a story. For decades world leaders, royalty, celebrities and throngs of tourists would pass within these walls when arriving to Canada’s capital, as in 1939, when King George VI arrived to dedicate the National War Memorial, or in 1941, when Prime Minister Winston Churchill visited to address Parliament.

It was also here where so many of our military boarded trains to begin the long journey overseas. When war was declared in 1914, the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry — Canada’s first contingent to go to Europe — paraded through Ottawa on their way to the train station, destined for the Western Front.

The Princess Pats would be involved in some of the most notable engagements in Canadian military history. Of the initial complement of almost 1,100 soldiers to board the trains that day, only 44 would survive the war. As we sit here in the comfort, splendour and privilege of this place, let us reflect on that.

A generation later, Canadian soldiers would board the trains again. Among them were Ottawa’s Cameron Highlanders, destined for the shores known us to today as Juno Beach, where they’d fight on D-Day.

But Charles Melville Hays would never enjoy the station or see it open. Sadly, he died just days prior to the unveiling of his bold venture. After attending meetings with company directors in England in the spring of 1912, Hays boarded the newly christened RMS Titanic for the journey home. Hays would see to it that his wife and daughter were safely loaded on a lifeboat, but he would be among the nearly 1,500 souls who perished in that terrible disaster.

I trust we truly appreciate how fortunate we are to work in this beautiful edifice. I want to thank Senator Tkachuk and his steering committee colleagues, Senators Furey and Stewart Olsen, on the Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration at the time, for identifying the train station as a potential temporary location for the Senate.

I would also be remiss if I did not acknowledge the outstanding work done by Senators Tannas, Saint-Germain, Joyal, and others, including all Senate staff and skilled workers who were involved in the rehabilitation of this magnificent historical building. Charles Melville Hays would be honoured and impressed. To all involved, a job well done.