The Memorial Chamber
The Peace Tower – A National Symbol
Since it was dedicated in 1927, the much-photographed Peace Tower, its bright flag fluttering over the nation’s capital, has come to symbolize not only Canada’s Parliament but also our nation itself.
Within the Tower, is a quiet and sacred space, lesser known since it is experienced from within rather than seen from a far. The Memorial Chamber is dedicated to the memory of Canadians who have died in military service. The Tower was constructed by a nation grateful for peace while the Memorial Chamber testifies that the struggle for peace comes at the cost of human life.
The Memorial Chamber was designed out of a response to the profound devastation wrought by the First World War. This monumental event created the need for a national memorial – a place of reflection and solace to remember the sacrifice of the many Canadians that fell in Europe between 1914 and 1918. Since, this memorial has grown to include the names of all Canadians who have died in military service in past and present conflicts.
The Memorial Chamber, while measuring only 24’ by 24’, is a soaring artistic achievement. Designed by Canadian architect John A. Pearson, it speaks in solemn beauty of sacrifice, peace and hope. Pearson’s intent for the Chamber is captured in an article originally published in the London Times on August 8, 1921: “This National Memorial is not only to be a monument of stone to the brave men who fell in defence of human liberty, it is to be a temple, a shrine of the nation, the symbolic history of the war being wrought into is walls, and its atmosphere thrilled with the heart throb of a people who made a great sacrifice in a noble cause.”
The first thing visitors see as they pass under the Memorial Cross is the Altar of Remembrance, resting on steps of stone quarried in Belgium. Because the Chamber’s designers assumed that this memorial would commemorate an event unique in Canada’s – and the world’s – history, the First World War, they made the Altar the focal point of the room. Embedded in the floor around the Altar are brass nameplates identifying the major actions in which Canadians fought in the First World War: names like Vimy, Passchendaele, the Somme and Ypres.
Open upon the Altar, and protected by a glass-topped case watched over by statuettes of kneeling angels, is the first Book of Remembrance. In it are inscribed the names of the 66,655 individuals who lost their lives in the First World War. This book was not completed until 1942, when the world was embroiled in yet another global conflict: the Second World War. Many more Canadian lives were lost, and a second Book of Remembrance listing 44,893 names was eventually placed in the Chamber in 1957.
Then, with painstaking research and artistic dedication, five more beautifully bound and illustrated Books of Remembrance were prepared. In the end, all Canadians who have lost their lives in military service to their country are commemorated in one of the seven books housed in the Memorial Chamber.
The South Africa–Nile Expedition Book of Remembrance honours those who volunteered for service in the British campaign against the Boers from 1899 to 1902, and those who participated in the Nile Expedition, Canada's first overseas campaign, from 1884 to 1886. It contains the names of 283 Canadians.
The Newfoundland Book of Remembrance honours the 2,363 Newfoundlanders who perished in the First and Second World Wars. They are listed separately from the main books because Newfoundland did not join Confederation until 1949 – four years following the end of the Second World War.
The Merchant Navy Book of Remembrance honours the merchant seamen who died in the dangerous re-supply missions during both the First and Second World Wars. It contains the names of 2,199 Canadians.
The Korean Book of Remembrance honours the 516 men and women who died during the Korean War from 1950 to 1953.
Unveiled in 2005, the volume entitled In the Service of Canada Book of Remembrance is a “living memorial” which continues to record the names of those who died in service to Canada during armed conflicts (excluding Korea), either at home or abroad, since October 1947.
Pages of the Books of Remembrance are turned every morning at eleven o'clock, according to perpetual calendars. These calendars allow for each page in each Book to appear at least once in the course of a year.
Surrounding the Books of Remembrance is a story carved in stone. Seventeen marble plaques record the full arc of Canada’s participation in defence, interspersed with plaques devoted to words in which Canadians have found hope, whether from the Bible, or John McCrae’s “In Flanders Fields,” or Gabrielle Roy’s Bonheur d’occasion (The Tin Flute).
High above the stone plaques, light filters through stained-glass depictions of men and women rallying to the call to arms. In the most prominent window, the Assembly of Remembrance, the figures of saints and warriors stand guard over the names of those commemorated in the Chamber. And to the west, tracing the movement of the sun, another window represents the achievements of Canada’s military and the hope of a peaceful and prosperous future.
The Memorial Chamber brings together tangible elements of Canadians’ participation in military service. It expresses a nation’s fervent desire to honour its dead, and its even more fervent desire to let remembering kindle its commitment to peace everywhere.
Click here to learn more about the Memorial Chamber. And for more information about the Parliament Buildings, take a video tour and discover the history, functions and art of Centre Block. Parliament 360 is now available on our YouTube channel.
We produce some public information materials in alternative formats for visually impaired persons.
For more information contact:
Parliament of Canada
Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0A9
National Capital Region: (613) 992-4793
Fax: (613) 992-1273
TTY: (613) 995-2266
Guided Tours: (613) 996-0896