Parliament’s former copper roof supports those with developmental disabilities

Parliament’s former copper roof supports those with developmental disabilities

Article from: Kitchissippi Times

Written by: Charlie Senack

Posted: February 11, 2023


By Charlie Senack

An Ottawa organization is working to support people with disabilities while preserving a part of Canada’s history at the same time.

For almost three decades, Under One Roof has been making maple leaf brooches and pins from the Parliament Building’s former copper roof, which sat on top of the center block from 1917 until its replacement in 1997.

Hoping to preserve an important part of Canada’s history, the federal government contacted Under One Roof to see if it could upcycle the greenish, weathered copper.

“They shipped us about a five-tonne box-truck full of copper,” said John Lonergan, who runs the facility’s woodworking program. “We had to sort it all out, (because) there was a lot of it that was unusable that we had to scrap.”

Under One Roof received 50 per cent of the former roofing material with the other half going to an organization in Quebec. After receiving such a unique item, Under One Roof had to figure out what it could be used for. Experimenting led them to settle on pins and brooches – items easy to make, and attractive to tourists. They occasionally make custom-made items for businesses needing gifts for employees.

“With regards to the copper, our men help me cut it all up and then I punch it out (of the copper sheets),” said Lonergan. “They then do all of the packaging, cleaning and the rest of it.”

The items derived from former Parliament roofing are sold at Ottawa shops and online. They can be purchased through the Parliament Hill gift shop and at Kitchissippi’s Maker House, located at 987 Wellington St. W.

Maker House founder and owner Gareth Davis said the pins and brooches are among their best sellers with people from across Canada buying either for themselves or as gifts.

“It’s got a universal, countrywide appeal,” Davis said. “They are all unique because it’s a roof. It means a lot for us to partner with Under One Roof because each product we buy and sell not only has an amazing story but has a history behind the materials.”

Maker House

Kitchissippi-based Maker House is one of Under One Roofs biggest sellers. Photo by Charlie Senack

Under One Roof is part of the Ottawa-Carleton Association for Persons with Developmental Disabilities (OCAPDD). Davis praised it for creating “a better community” through “employment for people with barriers.”

Lonergan, who has been part of the not-for-profit Under One Roof for 37 years, said it started with 15 individuals dealing with developmental disabilities. It now has four employees operating out of their current, smaller location on Rosenthal Avenue, where it has been for the past 11 years.

“The men that work here, it would be difficult for them to hold competitive employment. They make minimum wage. It’s not enough, but it’s an opportunity,” Longeran said. “I have a close relationship with them and their families.”

It’s hard for people with disabilities in Ontario to find such opportunities, he said. Provincial funding isn’t widely available and wait lists for support are sometimes decades long.

“The average age for my group of people is probably around 47. Of the four employees, three live with their parents and one lives alone. It doesn’t take much to do the math and realize their parents are seniors,” Longeran said. “It provides the family with respite and it provides our workers with something meaningful and worthwhile.”


Longeran said they have sold 150,000 pins and brooches since acquiring the copper roof in the mid 1990s. They have only used half of the material, meaning they can churn out pins for decades to come.

The material is from the original roof of the Parliament buildings that was rebuilt following the 1916 fire which destroyed the entire centre block except the library.

Copper roofs have a lifespan of over 200 years, but Parliament’s roof had to be replaced sooner because it was thinner – copper was needed for shell casings during the First World War.

The green copper items can be ordered from Maker House at 987 Wellington St. West. Pins begin at $7.95 and broaches at $14.95. These products are for sale online at either or

Founded in 1956, the Ottawa-Carleton Association for Persons with Developmental Disabilities has changed its activities in the Carlington neighborhood from a day program to efforts to help people with developmental disabilities find jobs. The association also runs Hearty Tails, a sister enterprise which produces gourmet pet treats made from local, fresh ingredients.

Under One Roof Brooch

The pins and brooches are made from the former copper roof of the Parliament Buildings which was in use from 1917 until 1997. Photo by Charlie Senack

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