Please enable Javascript
Skip to Content
Senate’s new home turns over a new leaf
HOW & WHY
Senate’s new home turns over a new leaf
June 30, 2017

Canada’s Senate is putting a new twist on the maple leaf.

Canadians are seeing their revered symbol everywhere as the country celebrates its 150th birthday — painted on the faces of children, on T-shirts, hats, flags and banners.

But the maple leaf is also part of the quiet but dramatic transformation of the Senate.

Centre stage is the Government Conference Centre on Rideau Street, Ottawa’s former train station, currently in the midst of a sweeping renovation to become the Senate of Canada’s temporary home.

When it reopens in the fall of 2018, maple leaves will abound — cast as glass panels, milled into black walnut doors and etched into wall panels.

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

By 1867, it was a unifying symbol for both English and French that captured the groundswell of patriotism sweeping the new Dominion.

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

Dominion Sculptor Phil White, who is designing most of the decorative elements in the interim Senate chamber, inspects his maple-leaf carvings.

The new Senate-chamber design calls for a more traditional version of the maple leaf than the one that adorns the flag.

In a workshop in Gatineau, Que., Dominion Sculptor Phil White is chipping away at that challenge.

He carved the master templates for a series of maple-leaf motifs that will recur throughout the temporary Senate chamber. Production will begin in the next few months.

“The architects wanted maple leaves represented throughout the chamber,” White says. “They asked me to create designs that represent the 10 species native to Canada.”

The maple leaf varieties to be depicted are found from Newfoundland to Vancouver Island: Mountain, Big Leaf, Sugar, Red, Black, Silver, Douglas, Manitoba, Vine, and Striped.

Senator Scott Tannas, Chair of the Senate Subcommittee on the Long Term Vision and Plan, which is overseeing the Senate’s move, 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 says.

Work will soon begin on recreating the maple-leaf designs in wood and glass throughout the temporary Senate chamber.

Canadians will see the new maple-leaf design firsthand when the temporary Senate chamber opens its doors in fall 2018.


This article is part of a series about the Senate of Canada’s move to the Government Conference Centre. In 2018, the Senate will relocate to the conference centre, a former train station built in 1912 while Parliament’s Centre Block – the Senate’s permanent home – is rehabilitated.

With preparations to convert the historic train station into the temporary Senate on budget, the savings to taxpayers will be approximately $200 million compared to the original proposal to find an alternative location on Parliament Hill.

The Senate is expected to occupy its temporary location for 10 years.

Templates for three of the 10 maple leaf designs that will figure prominently in the temporary Senate chamber: (from top to bottom) the Red, Sugar and Silver Maple.

Sketches show how 10 varieties of maple leaf will be arranged and milled into black walnut doors (top) or cast as glass panels (bottom). These are concept proposals rather than final approved designs. (Images courtesy of Diamond Schmitt Architects and KWC Architects)