Tag Archives: Doors Open Ottawa

On the Virtue of Being “Set in Stone”: The Cornerstone of the Supreme Court of Canada

A few weeks ago, I had the chance to participate in Doors Open Ottawa. This is an annual event in Ottawa where some of the oldest (or most celebrated) buildings in the city open their doors to the public for free tours. While visiting the Supreme Court of Canada, I heard a fascinating tale that I hadn’t heard before involving the Queen and the laying of the cornerstone for the building that houses the Supreme Court of Canada.

Have you ever heard the phrase, “set in stone?” I’m sure you have — you’ve probably even used it yourself. Well, it turns out that there just might be a bit more wiggle room than previously thought when it comes to something being set in stone.

In 1939, there was a Royal Visit to Canada planned for Queen Elizabeth. On this trip, the Queen was set to lay the cornerstone for the building that would house the Supreme Court of Canada (until that point, the Supreme Court had been operating out of one of the buildings on Parliament Hill). As the schedule was meticulously crafted, the person responsible for carving the date into the cornerstone already knew when it was going to be laid. So, the date on the cornerstone was etched in as the nineteenth day of May, 1939.

Given that this was going to be a Royal Visit to Canada, there were other things on the schedule, besides the laying of the cornerstone for the Supreme Court of Canada. There were plans to take a train across Canada to visit all the way to Vancouver! However, there was one thing that wasn’t accounted for in the timeline of the trip — the weather. That is, when the Queen travelled by sea to Canada from the UK, there was heavy fog that delayed the trip. As a result of this fog, the meticulously planned scheduled had to be amended in places. One of those places that had its schedule amended: Ottawa. In particular, the day that the Queen was set to be in Ottawa was no longer than 19th!

In fact, instead, the Queen wasn’t in Ottawa until the twentieth. I suppose you can see where this is going. So, when the Queen “laid the cornerstone” for the building that houses the Supreme Court of Canada, the date was May 20th, 1939. However, the date on the stone read, May 19th, 1939.

So, why am I telling you this?

Well, the next time someone tries to tell you that something is “set in stone,” you have a perfect story to tell them about what it might mean to be “set in stone.”