The Parliament Buildings are located on the banks of the Inner Harbour in British Columbia’s capital city, Victoria. As one of the dominant features of the downtown core, B.C.’s government buildings are one of Victoria’s must-see sights, teeming with history and culture. They reside on five hectares of lush property, and were constructed on the traditional territories of the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations.
The buildings, designed by a young, 25-year old architect by the name of Francis Mawson Rattenbury, were constructed from 1893 to 1897, with additions done from 1912-1915. With the Parliament Buildings kicking off his career, Rattenbury went on to build the Empress Hotel, the Steamship Terminal, and Vancouver’s Art Gallery (then a court of justice). Rattenbury eventually met his demise at the hand of his wife’s lover after moving back to his home country, England.
In the summer months, the ghost of Rattenbury and other key figures of British Columbia’s past often wander the grounds—with their permission, you can stop to take a picture with them. They might even pop by on your guided tour to tell you their interesting stories.
During construction, Rattenbury and his crew used many local materials from B.C. to highlight the province’s natural resources. You’ll find the foundations and stairs of the building are made of granite from Nelson Island, and the façade of the building is made of andesite from Haddington Island. Inside, much of the wood is Douglas Fir, but there are also various imported materials scattered throughout the buildings: marble from Tennessee and Italy, and Indiana white oak, for example.
The purpose of the buildings is to serve as the seat of B.C.’s provincial government. It is here that important decisions are made regarding the province on matters such as health, education, transportation, and housing.
The Legislative Assembly is the room where laws are proposed, debated, and passed. During the question period, these debates can get very heated, and the public galleries that surround the upper floor of the room are open to any visitors or locals interested in getting a sense of provincial politics. The rules when viewing are very strict, however, and you cannot clap, talk, write, or take photos. Exceptions are made for journalists.
The Parliament Buildings are the perfect spot to start a tour of Victoria’s downtown area, as they are very central and relatively close to most other major sights or activities. Nearby attractions include the Royal B.C. Museum, Beacon Hill Park, the Empress Hotel, various boutiques and artisan storefronts for shopping, horse-drawn carriage tours, restaurants, whale watching, and Chinatown.
Just past the front lawn of the Parliament buildings are stairs that will take you along the lower causeway of the Inner Harbour. It is a bustling walkway that hosts vendors, musicians, buskers, food trucks, and shops. Highlights include Dave Harris, Victoria’s one-man band, playing lively blues by using various limbs at the same time.
Staying in the area until sun sets is highly recommended. The Parliament Buildings will eventually light up with approximately 3500 energy efficient lightbulbs, highlighting the striking outline of the structure, and making for a great photo opportunity.
Incredibly, the original idea for the lightbulbs was first brought to life in 1897 when the buildings were first completed. This was a time when electricity was still a novel phenomenon. While fewer than there are today, the lightbulbs were strung in honour of Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee, as they were supposed to look like diamonds shining brightly in the darkness. The idea was brought back in the 1960s, and since then, the buildings have been lit every single evening at dusk.
While the summer season is Victoria’s liveliest time of the year, the Parliament Buildings are open year-round, from 8:30am to 4:30pm, Monday to Friday. There are some tours offered during this time, but the buildings are also open for self-guided tours with a booklet.
As tourism season picks up in the summer, tours run from 9am-4:30pm, Monday to Friday. You can count on a tour every half an hour or so, but it varies from day to day. There is often a 5pm tour as well, but a ticket is required as the buildings are technically closed by that time. During the weekdays, the buildings are also open for self-guided tours, but out of respect for guided tours and staff, silence is encouraged. On weekends in the summer, the buildings are only open for guided tours, and visitors must stay with the tour group for the duration of the tour. Picking up a ticket from the podium near the front steps is required. All tours are free of charge, but tickets are for keeping track of numbers.
For all questions regarding tours, calling ahead to +1 (250) 387-3046 is recommended.
Contributed by Anna Dodd