Centennial Flame upgrade project cost taxpayers $845,000
Feb 04, 2018

The recent makeover of the Centennial Flame on Parliament Hill cost taxpayers at least $845,000, with almost every piece of the original 1966 monument now replaced with newer materials.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Dec. 13 unveiled the updated monument, which was given a 13th wedge last fall to represent Nunavut.

The Arctic territory came into existence in 1999, long after the popular centennial project was completed. The original design included wedges with shields, dates and floral emblems representing all 10 provinces and two territories.

The latest year-long project celebrating Canada's sesquicentennial, though, became a major renovation as much of the structure was replaced because of wear and tear.

"The existing stone panels had deteriorated and, therefore, new stone was used for the redesigned monument," said Pierre-Alain Bujold, spokesperson for Public Services and Procurement Canada.

"Most other elements were also replaced, such as the basin and service connections with updated technology, to ensure the longest cycle between major repairs or rehabilitation.… The existing stainless steel basin was removed and recycled."

The original Centennial Flame was considered a temporary, one-year installation for 1967 but proved so popular it was kept in place. Most of its original features, including stone-carved shields, have disappeared over the years.

The original Wallace sandstone shields were removed and then cast in bronze in the early 1980s. The monument got a major electrical and mechanical overhaul in 1997 and again in 2006-2007, with the interior basin replaced entirely. In 2006, soft Nepean sandstone in the walls and rim was replaced with tougher red granite.

Report warned against Nunavut wedge

The latest upgrades were undertaken at the same time as the Nunavut emblem additions "for reasons of efficiency and cost savings," said Bujold.

The 2017 project cost at least $845,000, including $85,000 in management fees; $105,000 for design work; $640,000 for construction, including labour; and another $15,000 for various related costs, Bujold said.

Those related costs covered a video production of the work, purchase of torches for that Dec. 13 ceremony hosted by the prime minister and a 10-page brief on the design commissioned by Canadian Heritage from a retired geography professor.

Public Services had been warned in January 2016 against an overhaul by an architectural historian, who said adding Nunavut emblems "risks compromising the Centennial Flame's symbolic value."

"The addition of the Nunavut shield directly to the structure will require altering its core design and risk undermining its symbolic intent," said heritage consultant Jacqueline Hucker in a report.

"This could be avoided, however, by placing the shield adjacent to the flame."

That option was rejected — after consultations with the Senate, House of Commons and the National Capital Commission — in favour of a new Nunavut wedge.

CBC News obtained the Hucker report and other information on the Centennial Flame renovation under the Access to Information Act.

The Centennial Flame was ignited on Dec. 31, 1966, by Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson. The flame draws on a continuous stream of natural gas that bubbles through water cascading underneath the shields. Heat from the flame helps keep the moving water ice-free in winter.

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Centennial Flame upgrade project cost taxpayers $845,000