Provincial Parliament Buildings. Victoria BC Creator: C.E,Clarke Courtesy UBC lIbrary UL_1415_0002
Construction of the current British Columbia Parliament Building was authorized by the Parliament Buildings Construction Act of 1893. The government was anxious to demonstrate the province’s growing economic, social, and political status. By that time the government had outgrown its first permanent Legislative Hall that, along with Land Office, Colonial Office, Supreme Court, and Treasury buildings, had been known as “The Birdcages” because of their unique shape. The Birdcages were destroyed by fire in 1957.
An architectural competition was established to select the architect for the project. Francis Rattenbury, a 25 year old recent English immigrant entered the competition signing his drawings with the pseudonym “A B.C. Architect”. His work progressed to the second round, where he signed his drawings “For Queen and Province”. Rattenbury eventually won the competition.
Despite problems, including exceeding the original $500,000 budget by $423,000, the province’s new Parliament Buildings were officially opened in 1898. The grand scale of its 500-ft (152-m) long andesite (a dark, fine-grained, brown or greyish volcanic rock) façade, central dome and two end pavilions, the richness of its white marble, and combination of Baroque rigorous symmetry, use of domes and sculptural massing with the rusticated surfaces of the currently popular Romanesque Revival style contributed to its being an innovative and impressive monument for the young province. The building’s andesite is from Haddington Island in the Alert Bay Volcanic Belt while its granite came from Nelson Island at the mouth of Jervis Inlet on the Sunshine Coast.
Rattenbury also designed the Legislative Library whose cornerstone was laid by Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught In 1913. The library opened in 1915.
Besides the elected Members of the Legislative Assembly, two organizations have been granted the privilege of using the Legislative Chambers during the legislature’s December recess: the British Columbia Youth Parliament (since 1924, except during its sessions of the late 1940s and early 1950s) and the British Columbia Universities’ Model Parliament.
Exterior sculpture program
The sculpture on the buildings was designed by the Provincial Librarian, E.O.S. Scholefield and executed by Charles Marega and his assistant Bernard Carrier. For the exterior of the library Marega created 14 figures: Chief Maquinna, Captain George Vancouver, Sir Matthew Baillie Begbie, Dr. John McLoughlin, Hon. John Sebastian Helmcken, Captain James Cook, Sir James Douglas, Sir Francis Drake, Sir Alexander McKenzie, Simon Fraser, Lord Lytton, Sir Anthony Musgrave, David Thompson, and Col. R.C. Moody. Carrier produced twelve figures of women, all allegorical, three around each of the building’s four domes.
In 1932, artist George Southwell was commissioned to paint murals in the rotunda depicting scenes from British Columbia history from 1792 to 1843. The work was completed three years later. Decades later, controversy arose over the depiction of west coast aboriginal people in the murals, which in modern times is now regarded as degrading. One mural, entitled Labour, portrays bare-breasted aboriginal women hauling timber while a white man watches. In another entitled Justice, an aboriginal chief is shown standing before a judge, suggesting the subjugation of natives to colonial law. However, Southwell’s daughter claimed that her father depicted the chief as standing before another judge, one who championed native rights.
A 2001 report, commissioned by the New Democrat government of the day, recommended the murals be relocated to a museum where they could be given historical perspective. However, as the murals are painted on to the walls of the rotunda, the cost of removing them was estimated at $280,000. In April 2007, the legislature voted to remove murals, with only 3 of the 71 members voting against the motion. Since that vote, the murals have been fully restored and hidden from public view behind false wall