Construction, maintenance and expansion of the parliamentary building complex in Quebec from 1764 to the present day.

AuthorBlais, Christian

In northern countries, all buildings must weather the passing years and the harsh climate. Parliaments are no exception. Since 1764, Quebec parliamentarians have taken care to build, restore and expand the buildings where they perform their duties. In this article, the author provides an overview of the major projects and concludes that Members and legislative councillors have sought to sit in spaces that are both functional and prestigious.

To perform their duties, Quebec parliamentarians have used the Chateau Saint-Louis, the Bishop's Palace, the new Parliament Buildings of Lower Canada and the Union, the Parliament of Montreal, the Post-Office Parliament, the Parliament in Ottawa and Quebec's current Parliament Building. The passage of time, the increased number of parliamentarians and the modernization of services that parliaments offer have made the construction, renovation and expansion of buildings necessary. The primary purpose of this work has been to provide parliamentarians with functional workplaces. Another objective has been to ensure that parliament becomes an architectural monument that expresses the dignity of the exercise of legislative power. (1)

Province of Quebec, 1764-1792

After a civil government was established in the Province of Quebec in 1764, the members of the Council of Quebec were granted the power to legislate. The work related to the drafting of ordinances took place at the Chateau Saint-Louis, a seat of power where the governors had resided under the French Regime since 1647. The first session was held on August 10, 1764.

However, the councillors found that the furnishings of their assembly room were inadequate. On November 8, they passed a resolution to provide the Great Council Chamber with furniture suitable for the performance of their duties. (2) Two councillors were assigned to find chairs, tables and an improved heating system. Interestingly, in 1765 and 1766, Governor James Murray convened nine meetings of the Council of Quebec at "Sans-Bruit," his country estate located less than five kilometres from the capital. In short, not a location to confer prestige upon the institution.

In 1774, a Legislative Council was created under the Quebec Act. Between 17 and 23 prominent citizens were admitted to that legislature, one third more councillors than under the previous administration. However, the assembly hall in the Chateau Saint-Louis remained spacious enough to accommodate meetings of both the Legislative and Executive Councils.

The colonial government needed more space to ensure the proper functioning of its administration. As a result, on August 1, 1777, (3) the Bishop's Palace was rented from the Archdiocese of Quebec City. The more spacious halls of the Palace are probably the reason why the legislative councillors of the Province of Quebec chose to hold their parliamentary assemblies there, starting on January 17, 1781. From then on, the legislature and the Governor in Council had separate addresses. The Bishop's Palace, therefore, became the symbol of legislative power and the Chateau Saint-Louis the symbol of executive power.

Through the work of historian Michel Hebert, we can make a comparison with Europe, where the places most frequently used for parliamentary assemblies were also places of worship: palaces, monasteries and convents. (4) One well-known example is the Palace of Westminster in England, originally a Benedictine monastery.

Lower Canada, 1792-1841

The Constitutional Act of 1791 was followed by the election of 50 representatives in Lower Canada. On December 17, 1792, the legislative councillors and the first parliamentarians met in the capital. The size of the chapel in the Bishop's palace was perfectly suited to the activities of the House of Assembly. However, the situation changed after revisions were made to the electoral map in 1829. Following the 1830 general election, the palace chapel had become too small for the 84 parliamentarians.

Age also took its toll on this stone palace built in 1692. Bombed by British troops in 1759, it never regained its former glory. Despite essential renovations, the building fell into disrepair. As early as 1815, the surveyor Joseph Bouchette reported that part of its foundations and walls were in poor condition and that the whole structure "threatens an imminent ruin." (5)

In 1831, the government assumed ownership of the Bishop's Palace, and construction of the new parliament building began. The old chapel was demolished in 1833 to be replaced by the main body and...

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