The Senate Chamber, or the “Red Chamber” as it is sometimes called, is where senators from Canada’s provinces and territories meet to consider and debate legislation and issues of importance to Canadians. It is located in the eastern wing of the Centre Block, the building on Parliament Hill dominated by the Peace Tower.
Decorated in royal red, the Senate Chamber is also where the Queen of Canada, or her representative the Governor General, addresses Parliament and gives Royal Assent to bills destined to become law. It is the venue for historic state ceremonies, including the Opening of Parliament or of a new session of Parliament (where the Queen or Governor General gives the Speech from the Throne) and the installation of a new Governor General.
At the north end of the Chamber is a dais on which stand two thrones. The larger of the two is for the use of the Queen or the Governor General, and the smaller is for the Queen’s consort or the spouse of the Governor General.
For regular sittings of the Senate, the Speaker’s chair is placed in front of the thrones (though it is removed when the Queen or the Governor General is present). From the chair, the Speaker maintains order during the proceedings in the Chamber. The Speaker is assisted in this task by the Clerk of the Senate and other table officers, who provide advice on parliamentary procedure. These individuals sit at the Clerk’s table, found in the centre aisle directly in front of the Speaker's chair.
The Mace, a symbol of royal authority, parliamentary privilege, and the authority of the Senate and the Speaker, rests on the Clerk’s table. Its crown is always placed in the direction of the throne. Made of brass and gold, the 1.6-metre-long Mace dates from the mid-19th century. It is carried into the Chamber by the Mace Bearer during the Speaker’s Parade, which opens and closes each sitting of the Senate.
Senators affiliated with the governing political party in the House of Commons generally sit to the Speaker’s right. To the Speaker’s left sit those senators affiliated with all other parties, as well as those who have chosen to sit as independent senators.
Senate proceedings are open to the public. The second-floor galleries at the north and south ends of the Chamber can accommodate 350 people. (A special tribune below the north gallery is reserved for journalists.) Each gallery is equipped with an audio system that allows visitors to listen to the debates in either of Canada’s two official languages, English and French. Television monitors in the galleries provide visitors with real-time captioning of the proceedings, making them accessible to those who are hearing impaired.
The Senate Chamber is adorned with artistic expressions of Canada’s history and heritage. These serve to remind senators of the people and country they serve. The coffered ceiling, decorated in gold leaf, depicts the French fleur-de-lys, the English lion, the Irish harp, the Welsh dragon and the Scottish thistle, together with Canadian maple leaves. These reflect the nationalities of Canada’s early European settlers. Two massive bronze chandeliers, weighing approximately two tonnes each, hang from the ceiling.
The Chamber’s intricate carved oak panelling depicts Canadian plants and animals. A marble bust of Queen Victoria, Canada’s sovereign at Confederation, surveys the Chamber from high above the thrones and the Speaker’s chair.
Eight enormous oil paintings portraying scenes from the First World War dominate the walls of the Senate Chamber. Painted by different artists, they commemorate the sacrifices made by Canadians during the Great War and Canada’s evolution toward full independence within the Commonwealth.