Canadian symbols: THE PEACE TOWER

Canadian symbols: THE PEACE TOWER © David Watts, 13 May 03


The Peace Tower dominates Parliament Hill and the three blocks of the Parliament Buildings. The main entrance to the Centre Block, the House of Commons and Senate, is an arch in its base.

Many visitors to our capital who do not enter the House still ride the elevator to the observation deck below the clock face of the Tower, where they can look out over Ottawa.

The Tower was completed in 1916, while World War I was still being fought in Europe, and was dedicated to the soldiers who were fighting there. It was called “The Peace Tower” for the lasting peace people hoped would come after the Great War “to make the world safe for democracy”.

Today when people hear of the Peace Tower they often think of peacekeepers around the world. The first United Nations peacekeeping force was proposed in 1956 by Canada’s Lester Pearson.

An emphasis on peace is part of Canada’s heritage. The reason there are two countries in North America today began in 1776 when Québec refused to join the American War of Independence.

Our first major English speaking population was made up of refugees from that War.

Confederation came about in part from Britain’s wish to cut back on its defence bases in North America, and give its colonies a greater measure of autonomy.

The three values written into our 1867 Constitution Act were Peace, Order and Good Government

Our American neighbors listed Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness as their defining values. Our French forebears re-built their state on Liberty, Equality and Fraternity in 1789.

To build their state, the American peoples fought a six year revolution. A symbol of that achievement is the Statue of Liberty, a gift from France, built on an island in New York Harbour.

The French established their republic in a five year revolution and civil war. The French had a Liberty statue of their own, beside the guillotine, in what is now Place de la Concorde.

Canada’s monument, the Peace Tower, stands on the site of a former logging camp. Ottawa was chosen as our capital by Queen Victoria because it was close to both English and French speaking populations. In Europe these peoples had fought for centuries. Here they had a different destiny.

Canada is the first modern state born without revolution or civil war. This was a result of good timing on our historical journey. We have been able to observe other states and learn from their experience. It is important we not become self-righteous or superior as we look at other nations

Greeks and Romans, French and English, aboriginals and Americans and all of Earth’s peoples have made their contributions to the human endeavour. Canada’s contribution, symbolized in our Peace Tower, was also summarized in the slogan of one of our most successful corporations:

Canadian Pacific spans the World”. In many languages Canadian Pacific is Canadian Peaceful. The Peace to which Canada is committed is not a wimpish or a wishy-washy one. From 1776 on Canadians have taken stands based on principle. Sometimes we joined allies against an adversary.

Other times we have chosen to sit out, or have opposed a conflict our traditional allies have been involved in. A few times we have traded with parties on both sides of the issue.

Canadians have built a nation on accommodation of differences rather than defining polarities. As a result, we’ve come to see differences as a source of richness rather than as reason for conflict.

The Peace Tower gives visitors a wide view of Ottawa, and Canadians a wide view of the world.

(music: Bette Middler, “From a Distance” final stanza & chorus)