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IN PICTURES: Enhancing East Block, step by step
June 1, 2021
HOW & WHY

While Centre Block is the hub of restoration and construction activity on Parliament Hill right now, its eastern neighbour, known as East Block, is getting a facelift of its own.

East Block is one of two historic buildings that frame Centre Block on Parliament Hill and in normal times, it’s home to many Senate offices. However, the stone edifice is now more than 155 years old – its original construction predates Centre Block and Confederation — and it needs to be rehabilitated and modernized.

Map of Parliament Hill

Designed by architects Thomas Stent and Augustus Lever, East Block is remarkable for its composition and craftsmanship. Boasting heavy stone masonry, pointed arches and elaborate iron ornamentation, the building is considered one of Canada’s finest surviving examples of High Victorian Gothic style architecture.

The main body of the building was built between 1859 and 1865 (although it’s commonly referred to as the 1867 wing). A second wing was later constructed on East Block’s northeast side between 1910 and 1913, creating an enclosed courtyard.

East Block’s major rehabilitation is rolling out in two phases, the first of which is focused entirely on its exterior. Great care is being taken to preserve the building’s magnificent heritage features while reinforcing its structural integrity for decades to come.

Scheduled to be completed in 2022, the first phase includes sculpture and masonry repairs to two of East Block’s entrances and to its southwest and southeast towers. Sections of the copper roofing are also getting replaced and specialized conservators are safeguarding the building’s ornamental ironwork, stained glass and exterior doors.

The second phase of work will involve the interior rehabilitation of East Block.

Keep scrolling for a behind-the-scenes look at the restoration work underway so far.


Workers push in a newly cut Berea sandstone block into the wide base of East Block’s southwest tower — the building’s tallest tower. Replacing and repairing these massive blocks is akin to playing Jenga; only so many of the stones can be removed at one time so the tower’s structural integrity isn’t compromised. Workers followed all construction safety and public health rules in place at the time the work was performed.

Masons working on East Block’s rehabilitation fill in the joints of laser-cleaned stonework with mortar. The final mortar mix is dyed a dark colour, which helps the lighter stones stand out. Workers followed all construction safety and public health rules in place at the time the work was performed.

Refurbished parts of the wrought-iron spire that tops East Block’s southwest tower rest on a sheet. Wrought iron is created by fusing layers of iron together. While it’s malleable, it does wear down and become vulnerable to snapping after being exposed to the elements for a long time. (Photo credit: Public Services and Procurement Canada)

Piece by piece, workers re-install the iron spire — believed to be original to East Block — after rehabilitation work and a fresh coat of paint. Four iron arms support the 12-metre-tall spire, similar to ropes that stabilize a ship’s mast. (Photo credit: Public Services and Procurement Canada)

The tip of East Block’s reinstalled iron spire pokes out of a cocoon of scaffolding. If you look closely, you can see a lightning protection spike at the top. If a lightning bolt were to strike the top of the spire, the energy would flow down the wiring that runs down the spire and tower to prevent heat damage. (Photo credit: Public Services and Procurement Canada)

East Block is pictured surrounded by scaffolding and construction activity, following the replacement of the copper roofing on the southwest tower — the tallest tower. (Photo credit: Public Services and Procurement Canada)

East Block’s roofs were originally made of slate, but the brittle material was replaced with copper roofing in the mid-1900s. As part of the building’s rehabilitation today, the southwest and southeast towers are getting new copper roofs. Untreated copper roofing will quickly turn brown and eventually take on a greenish hue as it oxidizes.

A worker installs protective lead sheets over East Block’s exterior masonry elements — a process known as “capping” — to help prevent damage to the stonework. Since lead is a naturally flexible material, the sheets can closely envelop the masonry’s details and help absorb the shock from falling ice and snow.

A few dozen stone flowers adorn the masonry of East Block’s west entrance, an area known as the governor general’s entrance. Most of the flowers are carved into a piece of stone, but some are inserted in the space — or joints — in between two large stones.

A handful of the stone flowers had to be fully replaced. Luckily, extracting them from the masonry isn’t too complicated; the joints must first get cleaned out and then masons can grab the flower and pull it out. Once carved, the new flower is popped in and secured with new mortar.

Some of East Block’s animal grotesques are also in line for some TLC. This lion sculpture has a crack in its paw. Fissures like that get marked with chalk to signal they need to be fixed up with liquid grout.Some of East Block’s animal grotesques are also in line for some TLC. This lion sculpture has a crack in its paw. Fissures like that get marked with chalk to signal they need to be fixed up with liquid grout.

Scaffolding erected against East Block’s exterior facilitates the rehabilitation work but is installed carefully to prevent damage to the building’s special stone features, like this grotesque. Workers receive training on East Block’s heritage value and are instructed to protect heritage elements and leave them exposed only when they need to be accessed.Scaffolding erected against East Block’s exterior facilitates the rehabilitation work but is installed carefully to prevent damage to the building’s special stone features, like this grotesque. Workers receive training on East Block’s heritage value and are instructed to protect heritage elements and leave them exposed only when they need to be accessed.