City wants repairs hidden

By Amy Yee

With a massive renovation set to start on Centre Block in 2018 and last for an estimated 10 years, Ottawa Tourism and Mayor Jim Watson are encouraging the federal government to invest in a visual covering — an optical illusion known as a trompe l’oeil — to guarantee Parliament remains a key spot for tourists during the decade-long restoration.

And the government appears likely to do just that.

The term trompe l’oeil translates to “deceive the eye.”

According to the Public Services and Procurement Canada website, the Centre Block project represents the department’s “most complex heritage rehabilitation project ever.”

The renovations include modernizing systems for technology and security, and restoring aging water pipes, out-dated electrical systems and crumbling mortar.

It is important that, during construction, Parliament remains a hotspot for tourists taking snapshots, said Catherine Frechette, director of destination development with Ottawa Tourism.

“We know that Parliament is a key attraction — a key icon for not only Ottawa but Canada itself, as well,” she said. “What’s important for us is to maintain the atmosphere and experience of Parliament during that time.”

A trompe l’oeil is often used in European cities and is “a scaffolding that tricks the eye, that gives people a sense of what the architecture looks like behind the restoration,” Frechette said.

For example, Kensington Palace in London, England, utilized a trompe l’oeil covering while undergoing renovations for two years.

A trompe l’oeil would play a key part in mitigating the impact that the construction will have on the visitor experience in Ottawa, Frechette said.

The visual covering would be an exact replica of the building and allow visitors to continue to share photos of Parliament Hill. Right now, said Frechette, social media sharing channels such as Instagram contribute considerably in marketing the city to visitors.

Centre Block is also the most photographed building in Ottawa for tourists, said Libia Belcea, Watson’s press secretary, in an email.

Watson is working with Ottawa Tourism to ensure the city continues to bring visitors to the capital, of which there are almost 10 million a year, Belcea added.

They are also pushing for the creation of a trompe l’oeil so the educational experience for Canadian students visiting Parliament Hill isn’t diminished, she said.

“(It) would also ensure that we do not deprive an entire generation of school children from being photographed in front of Canada’s Parliament, our most iconic building,” she wrote.

The federal government is working closely with the city in its planning, Judy Foote, Minister of Public Services and Procurement, said in an email.

They previously worked together to establish the Canada 150 tarp currently in place over the restoration of historic Postal Station B on Elgin Street, she said.

The post office project, said Frechette, is a positive move forward. She said feedback from the smaller project will provide useful information for the proposed Centre Block covering.

“It’s definitely very heartening to see that,” Frechette said of the post office tarp. “I think we’ll have some really good recommendations to come out of that.”

Foote said that planning for a covering is already in the works.

“While there will be no need for a tarp on the Centre Block until 2020, I have already asked my officials to develop options,” she said.

But some travel agencies and tourists are currently booking trips two years in advance, said Frechette, emphasizing the need to move quickly on the issue.

The lack of complete information about the future covering could affect those bookings, she said.

“It starts to affect the promotional work, because there’s some uncertainty about what the Parliament experience will be like during that time.”