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Turning over a new leaf: Maples give Senate a colourful motif

In February 2019, the Senate moved to the Senate of Canada Building, a former train station built in 1912. The Senate is expected to occupy its temporary location for at least 10 years while Parliament’s Centre Block — the Senate’s permanent home — is rehabilitated.

Although Centre Block is shuttered for rehabilitation work, Canadians can still experience its art and architecture through the Senate’s immersive virtual tour.


The Red Chamber in the new Senate of Canada Building is covered in symbols of Canada.

You have to see it to be-leaf it — because maple leaves abound in the Senate Chamber. Some are cast as glass panels. Others are etched into wall panels. Still more adorn the Chamber’s eye-catching carpet.

Canadians have identified with the maple leaf even before there was a Canada. Its earliest use was in an 1806 editorial in Quebec City’s Le Canadien, which referred to the maple leaf as an emblem of francophone Canada.

By 1867 — the year Canada was born — it had become a unifying symbol for English and French that captured the groundswell of patriotism sweeping the new Dominion.

In 1965, a stylized, 11-point version of the maple leaf was adopted for the flag.

Dominion Sculptor Phil White, who designed most of the decorative elements in the new Senate Chamber, inspects his maple-leaf carvings.

But the Senate called for a more traditional version of the maple leaf. In a workshop in Gatineau, Que., Dominion Sculptor Phil White chipped away at the challenge.

He carved the master templates for the maple-leaf motifs that recur throughout the Senate Chamber.

“The architects wanted maple leaves represented throughout the Chamber,” White said in an interview. “They asked me to create designs that represent the 10 species native to Canada.”

The maple leaf varieties are found from Newfoundland to Vancouver Island: mountain, big leaf, sugar, red, black, silver, Douglas, Manitoba, vine, and striped.

Senator Scott Tannas, who helped oversee the Senate’s move as chair of the Senate Subcommittee on the Long Term Vision and Plan, played a key role in selecting the maple leaf motif.

“The Senate is one of Canada’s most important institutions and the maple leaf is the country’s most cherished symbol. Both exemplify what is so distinct about Canada. Like the Senate, the maple leaf embodies the unity and diversity of the country,” Senator Tannas said.


An earlier version of this article was published on June 30, 2017.

This article is part of a series about the Senate of Canada’s move.

Templates for three of the 10 maple leaf designs that figure prominently in the new Senate Chamber: the red, sugar and silver maples.


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