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Visiting Canada House, London, England: Splendid, Canadian Hub on Historic Trafalgar Square

Updated on October 17, 2017
Flag of England
Flag of England | Source
Canada House, London
Canada House, London | Source
Canada House, Trafalgar Square, London
Canada House, Trafalgar Square, London | Source
1923 geographica map of Downtown London
1923 geographica map of Downtown London | Source

Canada's Greek Revival showcase

This splendid building, facing Trafalgar Square in London, England, is among Canada's most prized pieces of real estate.

Having survived the highly diverse pressures of Hitler's bombers and the cost-cutting exercises of the Mulroney government, these aesthetically pleasing, historic offices of Canada's High Commission in London have been restored in recent years. The building thus receives many Canadian and other visitors, not least during the height of the tourist season.

This Greek Revival building designed by Sir Robert Smirke was built between 1824 and 1827. The Canadian government acquired the property in 1923 and it was formally opened by King George V and Queen Mary in 1925. By way of extra office space, what became known as MacDonald House was also acquired by the Canadian government in 1961. Previous users of what is now Canada House included the Royal College of Physicians.

Interestingly, Canada's representation in London goes back much further than the 1920s. Former Solicitor General for Lower Canada Sir John Rose acted from 1869 onwards as informal representative of Canadian Prime Minister Sir John MacDonald. The Canadian High Commission thus embodies a very important tradition of representing Canadian interests which has occurred virtually since Confederation.

In World War Two this building was the centre of much coming and going of figures in uniform, as Canada's participation in the war effort against Hitler was well-integrated into British and Allied military plans.

Over the years, the post of Canadian High Commissioner to London has been held by individuals who in Canada had been household names, such as former Ontario Premier Howard Ferguson, and former Federal minister Paul Martin, Senior. Later Prime Minister of Canada Lester B. Pearson served in World War Two as Secretary to the High Commissioner of the day.

The Canadian Maple Leaf flag flies high above Canada House. At a lower level, but clearly visible from the Trafalgar Square, is the set of Provincial and Territorial flags: those of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, plus Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut.

The Canada House Gallery hosts various art exhibitions. I was particularly interested to see an exhibition of paintings relating to the Canadian presence in Great Britain in World War Two; included in important themes were items and representations of the vital but perilous convoys of the Battle of the Atlantic. I also took advantage of obtaining Canadian reading material from among the titles of free periodicals and flyers stocked by Canada House.

Also worth seeing

Central London has numerous sights for the visitor, but the adjacent Trafalgar Square, with Nelson's Column, and the National Gallery, also facing the Square, are major landmarks in close proximity to Canada House. Admiralty Arch, close to Trafalgar Square, serves as an entrance to The Mall and St James's Park. Whitehall, leading off the Square, has the gated entrance to Downing Street, where the office and residence of the British Prime Minister are situated. Other sights within quite easy walking distance are Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey (where Prince William and Miss Kate Middleton were married in 2011), Horse Guards' Parade; and various local Underground station provide services. A little further from Trafalgar Square is Oxford Street, famed by generations of shoppers, and St. Paul's Cathedral, Sir Christopher Wren's most famous ecclesiastical building (where Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer were married in 1981).

Newhaven (distance: 103 kilometres) has a Canadian memorial to the casualties of the Dieppe Raid of 1942. The port continues to have a ferry link to Dieppe, in France's Normandy.

Oxford (distance: 95 kilometres) makes for a viable day trip from London; its many ancient colleges include Magdalen, Balliol, All Souls and Christ Church (also Oxford's Cathedral). University College, of which President Bill Clinton is one of the more well known alumni, has records dating from 1249. The largest college is St. Catherine's, and includes mathematician Sir Michael Atiyah among notable scholars. New College, despite its name, dates from the 14th century. Pembroke College's past President is Sir Roger Bannister, who first ran a mile in less than four minutes in 1954. The Bodleian Library, the Radcliffe Camera and the Sheldonian Theatre, together with St Mary the Virgin church are central landmarks. The Martyrs' Memorial commemorates 16th century Protestant church leaders Cranmer, Latimer and Ridley. Rhodes House administers overseas scholarships. Blackwell's bookstore is renowned for its huge selection of academic and other titles.

Cambridge (distance: 95 kilometres) also makes for a suitable day trip from London; among its ancient colleges are King's, Clare, Trinity, and St. John's. The oldest college is Peterhouse, dating from 1284, and among the Pilgrim Fathers on the Mayflower was Peterhouse alumnus William Brewster. The largest college is Trinity, associated with Sir Isaac Newton, Ludwig Wittgenstein and many other outstanding scholars. Senate House and the University Church and the Round Church are important landmarks, as is the tower of the University Library. The great Renaissance scholar Erasmus of Rotterdam is remembered at Queens' College, where a tower is named for him. Emmanuel College is where a plaque commemorates John Harvard, founder of Harvard College in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Churchill College is a national memorial to Sir Winston Churchill, and contains copious archives relating to this distinguished figure. The Backs, by the Cam River, offer opportunities for boating; the punt is the usual but slow method of propulsion. Heffers bookstore is renowned for its huge selection of academic and other titles.


How to get there

United Airlines flies from New York Newark Airport to London Heathrow Airport, where car rental is available. Underground and train services link Heathrow Airport with Central London. Please note that some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada


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