150+ Canadians Day 83: John Pearson

John Pearson, architect, contributed to peace through his design of the iconic Peace Tower in the centre block of Canada’s parliament buildings.  #Canada150

The Peace Tower is architect John A. Pearson’s response to the horrors of World War I: an expression of peace in stone. It was designed to not only to stand as an architectural feature and landmark, but also to function as a memorial to Canadians who had given their lives during the Great War. In a letter to Prime Minster McKenzie King in 1927 John Pearson wrote, “In all my thought of the tower, peace was dominant. I believe there is a quiet peaceful dignity about it. I somehow bring myself to read it that way – no matter what troubles or worries and differences of opinion take place in the building. I feel that one cannot approach the building up the centre road without experiencing its mute appeal for toleration, moderation, dignity and peace.”

Parliament Hill’s Centre Block Peace Tower. Click to enlarge. Image: Public Services & procurement Canada

The Peace Tower houses the Memorial Chamber, a vaulted 7.3 m by 7.3 m (24 ft by 24 ft) room directly above the porte-cochere, with stained glass windows and various other features illustrating Canada’s war record, such as the brass plates made from spent shell casings found on battlefields that were inlaid into the floor, and bore the name of each of Canada’s major conflicts during the First World War. Stone that architect John Pearson personally collected from the main European battlefields where Canadians were killed is included in the floors and walls. Pearson described the room, also called the Memorial Chapel, as a “sacred grove in the middle of the forest.”

The stone walls were originally to have been inscribed with the names of all Canada’s servicemen and women who had died during the First World War; but, without enough space for all 66,000 names, it was later decided to place Books of Remembrance there instead. The books list all Canadian soldiers, airmen, and seamen who died in service of the Crown—whether that of Britain (before 1931) or that of Canada (after 1931)—or allied countries in foreign wars, including the Nile Expedition and Boer War, the First World War, the Second World War, and the Korean War. The books are displayed in glass cases on seven altars around the chamber, the pages of each book turned at 11 a.m. daily so every name is on display to visitors at least once during each calendar year.

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