Parliament Hill webcam still keeping watch after 20 years

Twenty years ago, what is likely one of Ottawa's oldest and longest-running webcams was installed across the street from Parliament Hill, and the man who helped set it up it says he's surprised it's still operating.

Original analog camcorder finally replaced last year, still serves as backup

The new high-definition webcam, installed in June 2015, sits above the old analog camcorder, which now serves as a back-up system. (Public Services and Procurement Canada)

Twenty years ago, what is likely one of Ottawa's oldest and longest-running webcams was set up across the street from Parliament Hill, and the man who helped install it says he's surprised to see it's still operating after all these years.

In 1995 Brent Eades was working on websites for the federal government. He got a job with Public Works — now known as Public Services and Procurement Canada — to work on a site for a Parliament Hill reconstruction effort that included live images.

Brent Eades, who helped bring the Parliament Hill webcam online in 1995, stands in front of the Birks Building, where the webcam is located. (CBC News)

At the time webcams as we know them today didn't exist, so a Public Works employee built a wooden box to hold an analog Sony camcorder on the back of the Birks Building on Sparks Street, which was cabled into the government network.

One hiccup Eades remembers was having to adjust the camera shot to exclude the former U.S. embassy for security reasons.

Once it was online new images were uploaded every five minutes — roughly the same time it took people with slow dial-up connections to download the images, says Eades, who now works for the Bank of Canada.

Webcam upgraded last year

"I don't know if it was the first [webcam] in Ottawa, but it would have been, certainly, one of the first."

In the years since, Eades says he was surprised to see what looked like the very same webcam still transmitting images from the Hill.

This is what Centre Block looked like in 1997 when renovations were taking place. (Public Works)

In fact that original webcam was in use right up until June 2015, when it was replaced by a new high-definition camera, according to Rob Wright, assistant deputy minister of Public Services and Procurement Canada.

The new system takes better-quality images at night, among other upgrades, and the old system now serves as a back-up.

About 200,000 people visited the webcam website in 2015, and Wright says that whenever the webcam stops working, "we get very quick feedback, so we know that people are out there using it."

The images it generates will likely come in handy for people interested in the ongoing rehabilitation of the Parliamentary precinct, he adds. Centre Block is slated to close in 2018 for an extensive restoration project.

"The webcam will provide, again, a window for Canadians to check in on the progress of that restoration work," Wright says.

Here's what the Parliament Hill reconstruction project website looked like back in 1997:

This is what the Hill webcam website looked like back in 1997. (Internet Archive: Wayback Machine/Public Works)