Improving the grounds of Parliament Hill

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About the grounds of Parliament Hill

As the centre of our democracy, the Parliamentary Precinct is a national treasure and a tourist destination. Its buildings and grounds must continue to be a safe, welcoming and meaningful place for Canadians and visitors.

The Parliament Hill grounds are the setting for national celebrations, demonstrations and public ceremonies. More than 1.5 million visitors enjoy the grounds every year.

View of the Parliament Hill escarpment from the north side of the Ottawa River

Parliament Hill escarpment project

The escarpment is one of Parliament Hill's most visible and significant heritage assets. The steep slope behind Parliament Hill was once made up of a healthy mixed forest of:

  • white pine
  • oak
  • sugar maple
  • beech
  • hemlock

Over time, fast-growing invasive plants with large canopies filled the space. These invasive plants prevented local trees and shrubs from growing. As a result of this imbalance, the barren slope allowed the soil to erode and made the ground unstable. This caused serious health and safety concerns and increased the risk of landslides onto public pathways. As a result, we are restoring the Parliament Hill escarpment to its natural forested state.

Restoring the North Slope

In 2021, we revitalized the forest of the North Slope to make it more diverse with local trees and shrubs. This helps to:

  • stabilize the soil
  • restore lost colours and contrasts
  • improve the forest’s chances of survival against disease and insect infestation
  • make it safer for all Parliament Hill visitors

Working with experts in forestry, geology and environmental biology, we carried out a successful pilot project in 2015 to reforest the eastern section of the escarpment. Following the success of the pilot project, we extended the work to the remainder of the slope.

The new plantings provide benefits to the escarpment and will serve to stabilize the soil. The plantings also diversify the ecosystem and help conserve escarpment wildlife.  Mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians live on the escarpment and will benefit from the native plants.  

The project:

  • addressed potential health and safety issues due to soil erosion
  • protected and preserved the natural forested state of the escarpment
  • preserved the last section of the remnants of Lovers’ Walk
  • stabilized the section of the retaining wall near the new public washroom on the plateau

The project was done in 2 phases.

Phase 1

The first phase of the project was planned around the nesting season. Work was completed in March 2021. In this phase, we:

  • pruned the canopies of some invasive trees, such as Norway maple, which have aggressive roots and big canopies that produce shade and make it difficult for other plants to grow; and,
  • removed dead trees and some invasive vegetation such as Japanese Knotweed, and Common Buckthorn, which spread rapidly and threaten native plant communities.

Phase 2

The second phase was completed in 2021. In this phase, we:

  • removed invasive shrubs and smaller plants
  • planted about 36,500 new trees, shrubs and plants
  • stabilized the remnants of the Lovers’ Walk on the Parliament Hill slope

Of the 36,500 plants, approximately 2,500 are deciduous trees, 2,900 are coniferous trees, 5,900 are large shrubs and the balance are small shrubs and plants. Native plant species were selected for their suitability to the slopes growing conditions. For example, white cedar trees have shallow root systems specially adapted to grow on slopes; and, low bush honeysuckle establishes very quickly, which also helps to stabilize the slope.

In future years, we will maintain and monitor the slope to ensure the long-term success of the reforestation.

Video: Restoring the escarpment for future generations

Watch this video to learn how we reforested the north slope behind Parliament Hill.

Transcript of Restoring Parliament Hill’s escarpment to its natural forested state

Start of video

[Music plays]

(Text on screen: Public Services and Procurement Canada)

[Drone footage of escarpment behind Parliament Hill. Leaves on the trees are yellow, green and red. Fall]

[Drone footage of Library of Parliament and Centre Block. Buildings in downtown Ottawa in the background.]

[Close-up shot of the Peace Tower.]

[Drone footage of the Peace Tower and buildings in downtown Ottawa.]

The escarpment is special because when you compare it to its environment, you know just within a kilometre of it, you have the very historical and distinct Parliament Hill buildings, which have immense heritage value and then you have the hustle and bustle of Sparks Street and downtown Ottawa.

[Drone footage of Centre Block, Library of Parliament and the escarpment.]

[Drone footage of yellow trees and East Block.]

[Drone footage of Parliament Hill buildings and escarpment.]

And within that environment you have this dynamic contrast of the wild escarpment which is essentially natural and untouched by the rest of the city. And I think it’s that contrast that is so important.

[Shot of Steven Bechara on camera wearing a white hard hat and orange safety vest.]

(Text on screen: Steven Bechara. Project Manager. North Slope Project.)

My name is Steven Bechara. I’m the project manager for the North Slope project.

[Shot of green trees on the escarpment. The Rideau Canal locks and Bytown Museum are on the left. People are walking and biking on the path. Above the escarpment, we see part of the Peace Tower, Library of Parliament and a construction crane. Summer.]

The first key issue of the escarpment is the presence of invasive species.

[Close-up shot of green trees.]

[Shot of a worker in protective equipment using a harness and rope to climb the escarpment.]

And essentially these species have overtaken the area and developed such to a point that species that are natural to the area can’t take hold.

[Close-up shot of orange pegs in the ground, as well as grass and small plants.]

[Close-up shot of new grass and small plants.]

[Shot of new grass and small plants on the escarpment.]

And the consequence of this, beyond the lack of forest diversity and a healthy forest structure, is that there is no understory layer to the forest.

[Close-up of new grass on escarpment.]

[Shot of escarpment with a worker near the top digging with a shovel.]

[Close-up shot of new grass and a tree stump.]

The lack of this understory layer causes soil erosion which takes place over many years.

[Close-up of new grass and small plants on escarpment.]

[Shot of worker wearing protective equipment and hammering a peg in the ground.]

[Shot of worker hammering a peg in the ground on the escarpment.]

Essentially what happens is there are no natural plants at the base of the slope, there is nothing holding the soil together.

[Shot of worker installing white material on the escarpment.]

[Close-up shot of worker installing white material on the escarpment.]

[Shot of the escarpment with the Bytown Museum in the background. Person running on the path, while another person takes a photo.]

[Close-up shot of small rocks falling down the escarpment.]

And through many different weather conditions and earth movements, eventually the soil all erodes away and this presents a safety issue for pedestrians and passersby as rocks and other debris from the slope are at risk of rolling down.

[Shot of Jessica Tivy on camera wearing a white hard hat and orange safety vest.]

(Text on screen: Jessica Tivy. Design Manager. North Slope Project.]

My name is Jessica Tivy. I’m a conservation landscape architect with Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) and my role is design manager on this project.

[Shot of worker in protective equipment up in a tree supported by harnesses. Library of Parliament can be seen through the trees in the background. Winter.]

[Shot of a tree trunk falling to the ground. Snow on the ground.]

PSPC is doing some careful removals.

[Shot of a part of tree trunk falls to the ground while a worker in protective equipment stands on a lower part of the trunk.]

[Shot of Jessica Tivy inspecting the ground on escarpment. Summer.]

[Shot of worker planting new plant on escarpment.]

[Close-up shot of worker digging a hole with a shovel and planting a tree.]

[Close-up shot of new grass and small plants.]

We are doing some crown reductions, we’re also taking out some shrubs, but primarily we are planting. So these plants will start to stabilize the slopes with their root systems.

[Shot of trees and plants in containers.]

[Shot of worker holding two plants in containers.]

[Close-up shot of small plants.]

We are planting 7,000 trees approximately but in total there is going to be 70,000 different plants being planted.

[Close-up shot of new grass in soil.]

[Close-up shot of new grass.]

[Shot of Jessica Tivy inspecting a tree on the escarpment.]

And we are also seeding. So this is a big undertaking and we are really pleased to see this much material being planted on the slopes.

[Shot of worker in protective equipment adjusting ropes on the escarpment.]

[Shot of worker in protective equipment lowering himself down the escarpment using ropes and harness.]

[Drone footage of escarpment with birds flying over the Ottawa River.]

In this complex work environment, we have to protect fauna and that in particular can be birds. So no removals have taken place during the nesting period.

[Shot of worker in protective equipment pulling himself up the escarpment with ropes and harness.]

[Shot of three workers in protective equipment working near the top of the escarpment.]

[Shot of worker in protective equipment putting plants in a bag.]

[Shot of worker removing a plant from a container and raising it up to inspect.]

The work will affect the appearance of the escarpment in the fall. So as a result of the plantings we choose, we are going to re-establish what’s known as the symphony of colours.

[Shot of Jessica Tivy on camera wearing a white hard hat and orange safety vest.]

A diverse mix of red, purples, and yellows that is in keeping with the broader context that you see in Ottawa.

[Drone footage of the escarpment, Centre Block and Library of Parliament. Fall.]

[Drone footage of the yellow, green, red and orange leaves on the escarpment.]

This is a view you will see from across the way from Gatineau looking over at Parliament Hill which today is very much characterized by a yellow canopy because of the dominant invasive tree canopies.

[Shot of the escarpment, Centre Block and Library of Parliament.]

[Shot of Steven Bechara on camera wearing a white hard hat and orange safety vest.]

My favourite part of the Parliament Hill escarpment is while you are going through it, you feel like you are going through Canada.

[Drone of footage of escarpment, Centre Block and Library of Parliament. There is a boat on the Ottawa River.]

You got the river, you have forests, you have the animals, the trees, the vegetation.

[Drone footage of the trees on the escarpment.]

[Drone of footage of escarpment, Centre Block and Library of Parliament. Downtown Ottawa buildings in the background.]

And all throughout you can take a look at the Parliament Hill buildings which feel like they hold the area and the whole country together.

[Music stops]

(Text on screen: Check us out:,,,

(Public Services and Procurement Canada signature)

(Canada Wordmark)

End of video

Other completed projects

The Parliament Hill grounds have undergone several changes since Confederation. In the last decade, we also:

  • rebuilt the Victoria Lookout, behind the Parliament buildings, to give visitors a bird's-eye view of the Ottawa River
  • improved security features, such as installing bollards and infilling the heritage wall at the east and west gates
  • cleaned the stone wall and repaired the walkway that runs along the edge of Parliament Hill
  • renewed the west slope stairs, thereby beautifying the grounds of the Parliamentary Precinct and making it safer

Landscaping will be improved as part of the construction projects currently underway. Although the grounds are accessible to everyone, some areas may become unreachable as these projects continue.

Overhead view of a worker staining the wooden staircase of Parliament Hill's northwest escarpment.

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