Local 7 Canada

West Block Rehabilitation Project

Journal: Issue 1 - 2014

Photo courtesy of RJW-Gem Campbell Stonemansons Inc.
Aerial view of the West Block building in October 2012.

Few Canadian structures are more symbolic or recognizable than the nation's Parliament Buildings – the Centre Block, the Library of Parliament, the West Block and the East Block – situated atop Parliament Hill in downtown Ottawa, Ontario. According to Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC), "The rehabilitation of the West Block is an important step in the Long Term Vision and Plan for the Parliamentary Precinct, and it is one of the major projects being carried out on Parliament Hill." Upon its completion in 2017, the restored, seismically reinforced West Block will "provide the required space so that the Centre Block can be emptied and restored in the coming years."

One component of the West Block Rehabilitation Project, which began last year under the auspices of the Government of Canada, led by construction management firm PCL Constructors Canada Inc., is the building's extensive masonry restoration. It's a component that has already generated, through January 2014, more than 300,000 work hours for at least 170 members of Ottawa-based Local 7 Canada employed by signatory contractors RJW-Gem Campbell Stonemasons Inc. (Ottawa, ON) and the Limen Group (Toronto and Ottawa/Kingston, ON and Maple Ridge, BC).

"This project has been an invaluable opportunity for many Local 7 members to learn the traditional techniques of the stone mason and the bricklayer, and also to learn the most modern techniques of masonry restoration," says Local 7 Business Manager Oliver Swan. "We look forward to working with local contractors, and Public Works, on future phases and hope to enjoy the same positive working relationship that we have had on past projects."

The overall project will ultimately result in both the rehabilitation of the existing four-story West Block and the construction of new elements. These new elements will include the infill and roofing of the central courtyard.

The West Block is one of Canada's most significant heritage structures and is designated as "Classified" by the Federal Heritage Buildings Review Office (FHBRO). The first phase of the building was designed in 1859 in the Victorian High Gothic Revival Style and officially opened in 1865. In 1878 the Mackenzie Wing and Tower were added followed by the Laurier Tower and building link in 1906. Over the ensuing period various building alterations were made to accommodate operational needs, the most recent of which occurred in 1965.

Michael Basham
Local 7 member Bill Quinn, rebuilding part of an existing interior structural brick wall.

Michael Basham
Scaffolding around the central tower, a.k.a. the MacKenzie Tower, of Parliament's West Block.

The structure is built entirely of masonry elements, with load bearing masonry walls clad in various types of natural stone. In common with the other major buildings of the Parliamentary Precinct, the building also displays a large number of sculptural stone elements including colonnades, vaults, grotesques and friezes.

RJW-Gem Campbell Stonemasons Inc's. services for the West Block Rehabilitation Project include the restoration of historic masonry and sculptural elements, hand cutting and replacement of damaged stones, implementation of seismic reinforcement and cleaning of stonework.

"John Ruskin once said, 'When we build, let us think that we build forever. Let us build in the certain knowledge that there is a time to come when these stones will be held sacred because our hands have touched them.' The Local 7 members who work daily on this site hold that attitude in their hearts. You can see it in their eyes, and in their smiles, and in their work," says Robert Watt, President of RJW-Gem Campbell Stonemansons Inc. "This is a truly remarkable restoration, seldom, if ever, seen anywhere in the world. We are fortunate indeed to have a truly remarkable crew with which to carry out the work."

In addition to the extensive work being completed using time honoured practices of historic masons, RJW-Gem Campbell uses a variety of cutting edge technologies in its operations. The implementation of one of Canada's first industrial laser cleaning systems is a prime example of the firm's utilization of those advances.

Regardless of the approach and technology being employed, all of the work is being conducted to the very highest of standards befitting a building of such historic significance and national stature. Programs for quality control/quality assurance, waste management, environmental sustainability and health and safety are implemented in all facets of the restoration.

BAC gratefully acknowledges as a source for this article. Please visit the website for further details and videos about the West Block Project.


Michael Basham
Wall 7 of the West Block, the first wall to be completed.

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Mike Pender, right, of Local 7, rebuilds a portion of a demolished exterior stone wall.

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The northwest and northeast towers of Parliament's West Block, which have already been restored by Local 7 members under separate contracts.

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Exterior view of the completed restoration of the northwest tower of the West Block, which was also performed by Local 7 members under separate contracts.

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Robert Watt, President of signatory contractor RJW-Gem Campbell Stonemasons Inc., explains how craftworkers are restoring these arcade arches.

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Local 7 Canada member Gabriel Rogers-Souliere cuts stones to replace weathered ones that had to be removed.

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George Bascon, a 29-year Local 7 member and an expert in structural bricklaying, lays an interior brick wall.
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BAC Secretary-Treasurer Henry Kramer, left, with Local 7 Business Manager Oliver Swan on the jobsite. In photo at right, BAC Executive Vice President Tim Driscoll, right, with Local 1 NS President James Moore.

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Dany Gauvreau, membre de Local 7, le plus jeune compagnon sur ce chantier.
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Local 7 apprentice Hermy Nemorin cleans a relayed stone in a rebuilt arcade arch.

Canadian Congress Visits West Block Jobsite

Michael Basham

The agenda of the BAC Canadian Congress, which met October 10th in Ottawa, included both a jobsite visit to the West Block project to see firsthand the work of BAC Local 7 Canada members as well as the continuation of ongoing talks with representatives of the Bricklayers Allied Craft Union (BACU). At the invitation of Canadian Congress Co-Chair and Local 7 Business Manager Oliver Swan, BACU members joined BAC Congress delegates and IU officers on the jobsite, which Swan arranged in consultation with BAC signatory RJW-Gem Campbell Stonemasons Inc. and Canadian authorities. From left, BAC Local 1 AB Business Manager Alan Ramsay, BAC Secretary-Treasurer Henry Kramer, BAC Local 2 AB Business Manager Peter Homan, BACU Local 12 Business Manager Joe Plunkett, BAC Local 1 NS President James Moore, RJW-Gem Campbell Stonemasons Inc. Vice President Doug Watt, BAC Local 1 NL Business Manager John Leonard, Local 7 Canada member and shop steward Adam Drodge, BAC Regional Director of Canada Craig Strudwick, BAC Local 4 PQ Business Manager Jeannot Levasseur, BAC Local 8 NB Business Manager Gerald Reinders, Canadian Congress Co-Chair Oliver Swan, BAC Local 1 SK Business Manager Michael Weigl, RJW-Gem Campbell Stonemasons Inc. President Robert Watt, BAC Meetings Management Director Eamonn Burke, BACU President Kerry Wilson, BAC Local 6 ON Business Manager Mike Gagliano, and BAC Executive Vice President Tim Driscoll.

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