Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia's only Speakers to share chair built for Edgar Rhodes

When Centre Block undergoes much-needed repairs, the Speaker's chair will be left behind because it's too big to move. In its stead, Geoff Regan will preside from a century-old chair built for and used by Nova Scotia's only other Speaker in history, Edgar Nelson Rhodes.

Speaker's chair too big to be moved during Centre Block renovations that include asbestos removal

Edgar Nelson Rhodes, left, and Geoff Regan are the only elected officials from Nova Scotia to serve in the role of Speaker. They were also both lawyers and both ministers of fisheries for Canada. (House of Commons, Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Parliament Hill is undergoing major renovations and asbestos-removal that will empty Centre Block for years, but crews can't get the massive Speaker's chair out the doors.

The United Kingdom Branch of the Empire Parliamentary Association gifted the current Speaker's chair to the Canadian House of Commons "as a fitting symbol of the great parliamentary tradition which binds together the free Nations of the British Commonwealth." (House of Commons)

That would leave Speaker Geoff Regan seatless when the House of Commons sits. But the Nova Scotian MP says his replacement chair holds cherished history.

"When I learned that I would be sitting in the chair that was made for the only other Nova Scotia Speaker, the only other Atlantic Canadian Speaker, I was thrilled," Regan said.

Regan is talking about Edgar Nelson Rhodes, whose century-old chair will return to service. The Speaker's chair has served as a symbol of Canadian democracy since Confederation.

21 Speakers, 95 years

The regular chair has been occupied by 21 Speakers in 95 years. It's an exact replica of the original British House of Commons Speaker's chair, which was destroyed in the London Blitz in 1941. 

Until 1921, Speakers of the House were assigned their own chairs and permitted to keep them following their tenure. There were fifteen chairs, following six different stylistic designs.

Regan will be the only Speaker other than Rhodes to use the alternate chair, which was the last one built for an individual Speaker.

A chair with 'gravitas'

The Rhodes chair was built for the former Speaker during the period that the House resided in the Victoria Memorial Building, from 1917 until 1920. (DigiScarf Photographic Services, Halifax)

Johanna Mizgala, curator for the House of Commons, said the Rhodes chair was an "obvious choice" to replace the current Speaker's chair.

"It had the right scale and gravitas in terms of design," said Mizgala. Fittingly, Rhodes presided from the chair when the House previously sat in a temporary chamber.

Regan recently had the chance discuss the history of the Nova Scotia's first Speaker and his chair with Rhodes's grandsons.

'It's part of history'

David Rhodes, who lives in Ottawa, was born three years after his grandfather's death in 1942. 

He called his grandfather's legacy "significant."

After Rhodes's death, his family donated his Speaker's chair to the Nova Scotia Archives. The Archives donated the chair to the House of Commons in 2005.

In 1990, David Rhodes and his wife took a trip to the Archives, where they had the opportunity to sit upon the chair.

"It was something else," he said. "It's part of history."

'It is an honour'

He said he thought the chair was still at the archives until he recently read that it was going to be used again at Parliament. 

"I was delighted. I thought it was terrific, because it is an honour," Rhodes said.

"I would say it's not quite as comfortable as the current chair, but it's being restored," Regan said. He would know about the chair's comfort, as he spends eight hours a week sitting on it.

Geoff Regan recently met Rhodes' grandsons, Ned and David Rhodes. He gave them a tour and showed them a desk and boardroom table belonging to their grandfather that still sit in the Speaker's office. (House of Commons Speaker’s Office)

The chair is being reupholstered. Brown leather will be replaced with green velvet to match the colour of the current chair. Ornate carvings in the oak piece will also be repaired.

The Rhodes chair is supposed to replace the Speaker's chair in 2018.

Regan said he already uses several other pieces of furniture built specifically for Rhodes. 

"I'm using his desk and his table, now I'll be sitting in his chair. I think that's pretty cool."

Regan said he was thrilled when he learned that he would be sitting in the chair that was made for the only other Nova Scotia Speaker. (House of Commons Speaker’s Office)