A reporter’s Gallery has existed on Parliament Hill since before Confederation. In 1866, the Parliament buildings opened for the first time in the new nation’s capital. The Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada (composed of Quebec and Ontario) held its last session in the new digs that summer, and journalists were there to witness it.
The reporters had been given space in a Gallery perched directly above the Speaker, and also a pair of rooms in the northwest or Speaker’s tower. Their lounge in the early years overlooked the Chaudière Falls and the hills of Quebec. The accommodations would later move to a different location towards the front of Centre Block.
The first session of the newly created Dominion of Canada in 1867 opened on Nov. 6. There was no Hansard, just a band of reporters from different cities in Canada trying to take everything down. The accounts of some of these first scribes, particularly the long defunct Ottawa Times, would be carefully pasted by librarians into scrapbooks to be kept as a permanent record of the first years of debates until official reports were commissioned in 1875.
George Holland, a Senate reporter who was there in 1867, wrote that there were representatives that session for the Toronto Globe, the Toronto Leader, the Hamilton Spectator, the Montreal Herald, La Minerve, and the St. John Freeman, among others.
It is unclear as to when the Parliamentary Press Gallery first came together as an association. The fire of 1916 destroyed most of the records of the time.
A 1895 Toronto Globe article on the Press Gallery, written by then correspondent Joseph E. Atkinson, lists Edward Goff Penny of the Montreal Herald as the first president in 1869. Penny had covered the Legislative Assembly since the 1850s, and is also described in his grandson Edward G. Penny’s memoirs as the first president of the Parliamentary Press Gallery.
Another figure who has been described as the “father” of the Parliamentary Press Gallery is Thomas White. He had reportedly attended every session of the Legislative Assembly and Parliament of Canada since 1852, through to when he became an MP in 1878, with two exceptions. He is listed in Atkinson’s list of Gallery presidents has having held the position continuously from 1871-78, during which time he was owner of the hugely influential Montreal Gazette with his brother.
The unofficial Hansard of 1874 notes a meeting of the Gallery took place that year, and that “several rules were adopted for the governance of the Gallery, including one prohibiting the admission of civil service employees to the Gallery…, and another declaring that the president should be elected for the whole term of Parliament.”
No women reporters would be granted membership until Genevieve Lipsett-Skinner of the Vancouver Sun in 1922-23, although a few did report from the press and visitors’ galleries as early as the 1880s.
The Gallery in those early years was composed of men who took down reams of shorthand notes on what was said on the Commons (or Senate) floor, and of senior journalists (sometimes the newspaper editors or owners themselves) who would write the editorials and sketches. Cartoonists also worked in the Gallery ranks.
Foreign correspondents came in and out of the reporters Gallery, representing such outlets at the Associated Press, the London Times, several papers from New York City, and the Chicago Times and the Chicago Tribune. Some reporters would work for more than one publication, and even take on extra work with Parliamentary Committees.
By all accounts, being assigned an Ottawa correspondent by a major newspaper held a great deal of prestige.
Important figures in Canadian journalism and politics worked in the Gallery in that early period, including Globe editor John Willison, Toronto Star editor Joseph E. Atkinson, Quebec newspaper editor and later Cabinet Minister Joseph-Israel Tarte, Winnipeg Free Press editor John Dafoe, influential editor and writer Edward Farrer, Conservative Senator Grattan O’Leary, Ottawa Mayor Charles Mackintosh and Montreal Mayor and Federal Secretary of State Fernand Rinfret.
Some of those famous journalists were immortalized in 1950 in a series of carvings outside the Parliamentary Reading Room, in what is called the Correspondents’ Entrance. (See http://www.parl.gc.ca/About/House/collections/heritage_spaces/honour/reading/reading-e.htm)
When the Parliament Buildings were rebuilt, the Gallery took up its new home in Centre Block in 1920. The space would be dubbed the “Hot Room” and would include a lounge, and working space for reporters and Gallery staff.
After much resistance, and pressure from the Speaker of the House of Commons and other MPs, broadcasters were allowed to seek memberships in the gallery in 1959. The ranks of the gallery expanded in the following years from a couple of dozen to hundreds. Eventually, the “Hot Room” overflowed and a warren of desks sprung up in the hallway outside.
The government of Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson offered up a solution by offering up rental space in 150 Wellington, the former Norlite Insurance Building, as a new, National Press Building for the media organizations. The National Press Theatre opened in its lobby, while the “Hot Room” on the Hill was renovated. Later, a space for interviews and press conferences was established in the basement of Centre Block in the Charles Lynch Press Conference Room.
The Press Gallery was incorporated in 1987. In 2015, the gallery included approximately 350 full-time members and 30 press support members.