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Senate’s royal connection earns the Red Chamber its nickname

The Upper House. The chamber of sober second thought. The Red Chamber.

The Senate of Canada has a few colourful nicknames, each one paying tribute to the distinct role it plays in Canada’s two-chambered Parliament. 

Even before it was created, Sir John A. Macdonald coined the phrase “chamber of sober second thought” because he envisioned the Senate’s main role being to scrutinize legislation that comes from Parliament’s lower house, the House of Commons. 

It’s also commonly known as the Red Chamber because it is decked out almost entirely in a royal red. Small wonder, for it is in the Senate — not the House of Commons — that the Queen appears when she visits Parliament. That’s because of a longstanding British tradition; the Monarch has not entered the British House of Commons since the 17th century, after King Charles I was rebuffed when trying to arrest five Members of Parliament.

Queen Elizabeth II was in Canada's Senate Chamber in 1977 and 1957 to deliver the Speech from the Throne.

From the chair to the red thrones at the head of the chamber, reserved for Canada’s sovereign and his or her spouse and the Speaker of the Senate, right down to the matching carpet, the look is consistent. The arms and backs of the wooden chairs behind each senator’s desk are upholstered in a deep red leather.

The Senate is where the Speech from the Throne is read (typically by the governor general, the Queen’s representative in Canada) at the start of each parliamentary session. It’s also one of the locations where the governor general traditionally grants royal assent to bills that have been passed by Parliament. (Governors general also use the official residence, Rideau Hall, for formally turning bills into laws). 

The Red Chamber stands in contrast to the House of Commons, where the décor is green.

The red and green furnishings of Canada’s houses of Parliament mirror the Parliament of the United Kingdom where its upper house, the House of Lords, members sit on red benches and its lower house, also called the House of Commons, where they are green. 

See the Red Chamber for yourself by taking the Senate of Canada’s virtual tour.

Click here to read more about the historic connection between the monarchy and the Senate of Canada.

The Senate of Canada owes its colourful nickname — the Red Chamber — to its colour scheme, which is rooted in its association with royalty.

From its thrones and Speaker’s chair to the chairs senators use, down to the carpet, the Senate of Canada’s furnishings are consistent in their use of red.


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