Skip to main content

Rene Chartrand was one of several long-time volunteers at the Parliament Hill cat sanctuary in Ottawa.

Peter Jones/REUTERS

Parliament Hill is populated with statues and stately buildings – and, of course, plenty of living politicians. But it was an oddball colony of cats, with names such as the Kid, No. 1 and Fluffy, that left a lasting impression on many visitors.

Just a short walk from Parliament's front door, near the Queen Victoria statue, stray felines thrived for decades under the care of doting volunteers. (One even built a shingled two-storey shelter that resembled the Centre Block.) But in January, the last kitties headed indoors and the cat sanctuary closed. The Globe spoke to Brian Caines, a long-time volunteer.

It's been said the sanctuary began as a way to support the cats laid off from mousing duty in the halls of Parliament. What's the real story?

Story continues below advertisement

There were mousers in the Parliamentary buildings. And there were Senate debates in the 1950s when they were no longer needed, but there's no indication on whatever happened to the mousers. Certainly there have been cats for many years in that vicinity. One of the stories was there was a dump at the foot of Bank Street. That's the story that makes the most sense to me because wherever there's refuse, there's going to be cats – because there's always going to be mice. In the 1970s, Irene Desormeaux started taking care of them.

The sanctuary survived on donations and the dedication of its volunteers. There was even the Catman of Parliament Hill – René Chartrand – who took care of the animals into his 80s...

René was a special person. He was entertaining. He was willing to talk to anyone and he was always in a really good mood. He really popularized the place.

The cats had a blog and Facebook page. What made the sanctuary so popular?

It was unique. I think the Centre Block was the most visited area, and then it was the cat sanctuary. It was on the booklets for the Parliament Hill tours. It was on a game show in Japan. They'd be part of bus tours. In the early 2000s, there were shows that [aired] all over the world that featured the cats of Parliament Hill. You could tell where they had been shown recently because suddenly, there'd be all Swedish visitors or all these visitors from Australia or New Zealand.

There were four cats left – Coal, Spot, Bugsy and Ti-Gris – when the caregivers moved them into homes. What was behind the decision?

Once all the colony was spayed and neutered, and once the abandoned cats were being adopted, it was inevitable that the sanctuary would end. One of my concerns was that there's wildlife on the escarpment. There are families of foxes, and people claim they've seen coyotes. My big worry is that fishers are moving into the city. As the cats got older, their defences reduced. A number of them are 15 or 16 years old.

Story continues below advertisement

How are those last cats making the transition to indoor living?

They've all integrated remarkably well. It shows that the cats had really become domesticated. We have four cats – and all at one point lived on the Hill. Cats like comfort. And they're certainly very happy to be in from the cold.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • All comments will be reviewed by one or more moderators before being posted to the site. This should only take a few moments.
  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed. Commenters who repeatedly violate community guidelines may be suspended, causing them to temporarily lose their ability to engage with comments.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.
Cannabis pro newsletter