By Cindy Olberg
Perhaps you’ve heard whispers about an unusual monument hidden in plain sight on Parliament Hill. On the east side of the Centre Block, past the statues of the Famous Five and Queen Elizabeth II, there’s a statue referred to as the “whispering wall.”
The Robert Baldwin and Sir Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine memorial, designed by Walter Seymour Allward and built in 1914, is a tribute to two statesmen who worked together to give legislative power to elected assemblies and prove that French and English Canadians could collaborate on political issues.
Often praised for its original curved design, another quality tends to get overlooked: it carries sound. When two people sit at opposite ends of the monument and whisper, they can hear each other — perfectly, as if they were sitting side by side.
According to Craig Merrett, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Carleton University, it’s caused by a phenomenon known as evanescent waves. “Sound waves almost move in a ripple along the surface of the wall, and the person at the other end can hear — with little distortion. With the sound waves moving along the surface of the wall, it actually doesn’t lose its intensity as much as when you normally just talk into open air.”
The effect is fun for passersby, but it’s not an intentional design element. Other famous examples include the dome in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London and a dam in Williamstown, Australia – both of which attract tourists with their sound-channeling properties.
Take a friend and experience it for yourself – tell each other a secret or something nonsensical. But bear in mind: you’ll be doing it under the watchful gaze of two politicians who continue to remind us that communication is the glue that bonds English and French Canadians, whispers and all.
This REASON TO LOVE OTTAWA is found on Page 17 in the 2014 Summer Issue of Ottawa Magazine, available now at independent local news outlets or at ottawamagazine.com