Canada‘s original Parliament Buildings were destroyed by fire on the night of February 3, 1916. World War I was at its height, and it is possible that the fire was set by an enemy agent. The Providence, Rhode Island, Journal had issued a warning several weeks before that the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa would be set on fire, but the information which came from a source in the German Embassy in Washington was disregarded. The Ottawa Citizen named a suspect a few days later, but the man disappeared after being interviewed by a police constable.
The fire broke out in the Centre Block in which the House of Commons, Senate, offices of the members, press gallery, and many other important offices were situated. Fortunately, the Senate was not in session or there would probably have been many more casualties. The fire started in the newspaper reading room and spread through the dry wooden corridors so quickly that members had only a few minutes to escape. Dr. Michael Clark, member for Red Deer, Alberta, and one of the all-time humorists of Parliament, barely managed to crawl out on his hands and knees!
The death toll of seven included Bowman K. Law, member for Yarmouth, N.S., and two women who were guests of Mrs. Albert Sevigny, wife of the Speaker. They had gone for their overcoats after the alarm was given and were overcome by smoke. Four other casualties were employees in the building.
There was a dramatic moment exactly at midnight. The big clock on the 160-foot tower at the foot of the building crashed into the flames just as its bell rang out the last note of twelve o’clock. That bell is now on display in the grounds outside the Parliamentary Library, the only pa rt of the building saved. The library had its own fire in 1952, but has been maintained almost in its original form.
After the fire, Parliament met in the Museum for four years. The new building was not completed until the Peace Tower was erected in 1927.