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Take a peek at Canada’s largest-ever heritage restoration project

It’s a fixer-upper like no other that’s entering its most challenging phase, according to federal officials who took journalists on a tour of Parliament Hill’s Centre Block renovation. 

“This is the most technically complex part of the project, so we are laser-focused on getting this right,” said Rob Wright, an assistant deputy minister for Public Services and Procurement Canada. 

Centre Block’s renovation is underway and expected to be complete by 2031. (Christian Patry/ CBC)

Now that construction crews are almost done removing hazardous materials and storing more than 20,000 heritage assets and artifacts, they can begin the challenging work of building a sprawling underground visitor centre and reinforcing a structure that dates back between the late 1910s and 1920s.

An open pit outside Centre Block.
The open pit outside Centre Block. (Christian Patry/ CBC)

Crews have dug and blasted about 23 metres into the bedrock beneath the base of the Peace Tower. The new three-floor basement will be home to the new Parliament Hill visitor centre and other functions.

A scaffolding staircase allows crews to access the Senate's ceiling at Centre Block.
A scaffolding staircase leads crews to the Senate’s ceiling. (Christian Patry/ CBC)
The Senate suspended plaster ceiling.
The Senate’s suspended plaster ceiling will remain intact during the renovations. (Christian Patry/ CBC)

The Senate’s suspended plaster ceiling with hand-applied gold foil has been left in place, while many of the artifacts and furnishings inside Centre Block have been catalogued, removed and stored. 

A look at the Centre Block's Hall of Honour on June 22nd, 2023.
A look at the Centre Block’s Hall of Honour. (Christian Patry/ CBC)

Among the heritage assets tucked away for safekeeping are the building’s heritage lighting fixtures and its stained and leaded glass windows. Some of them, which have been restored, were on display during Thursday’s tour, illuminating a gutted House of Commons chamber shrouded in scaffolding.

Stain glass windows from Centre Block.
Stained glass windows from Centre Block that have been restored. (Christian Patry/ CBC)
Heritage lights hang for display purposes at Centre Block on June 22nd, 2023.
Heritage lights hung for display purposes. (Christian Patry/ CBC)

Crews are also busy outside the historic structure inspecting, cleaning and repairing each of the building’s approximately 365,000 sandstones that form the exterior of the iconic Gothic revival building. 

Masons inspecting the stones on the facade of Centre Block.
A mason works on the stone facade of Centre Block on June 22, 2023. (Christian Patry/ CBC)

One of the primary focuses of the work over the next couple of years will be reinforcing the Centre Block’s foundation, making it resistant to earthquakes. Parliament sits within a seismically active zone. 

Approximately 500 base isolators — giant shock absorbers — will need to be installed. But in preparation for the complex task, 800 temporary posts will be drilled to support the structure so the base isolators can be installed. 

Crews at work in Centre Block.
Crews at work in Centre Block on June 22, 2023. (Christian Patry/ CBC)
Construction crews at work at Centre Block.
Crews are working on the second phase of construction. (Christian Patry/ CBC)

Centre Block’s heating and cooling system is also being modernized. That’s thanks to a geothermal system, new windows and other energy retrofits that will make it carbon neutral in a country that has net-zero climate ambitions by the year 2050.

Federal officials take journalists on a tour of Centre Block.
Federal officials take journalists on a tour of Centre Block on June 22, 2023. (Christian Patry/ CBC)

Federal officials say the project, which is expected to be completed by 2031, will bring a century-old symbol into the next era.

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