“Northern Lights”: Take in the Remarkable Sound and Light Show on Parliament Hill

Northern Lights is a striking sound and light show that explore’s Canada’s history, milestones, and identity. Each year, it’s updated to ensure that tourists and residents of the National Capital Region want to come back again and again. It’s a worthwhile experience for the whole family.

Northern Lights Show on Parliament Hill
The Parliament Buildings serve as the canvas in this unique show. Photo Credit: Christopher Mitchell

Catching a viewing of Northern Lights should be added to the bucket-list of anyone visiting Ottawa and the surrounding area in the summer months. In short, it’s a roughly 30 minute multimedia show that imaginatively uses the Parliament buildings as the screen.

After a day exploring our nation’s capital and the National Capital Region, this is the sort of show that’s going to add some meaning and context to what you saw earlier in the day, or what you’ll see following day. It certainly made our respective visits to the Mackenzie King Estate and the Bank of Canada Museum more intriguing.

Not to mention, it’s also quite visually stunning, so the entertainment factor is certainly there as well.

We were fortunate to link up with Jean-Marc Beauvalet to get a behind the scenes look at the incredible work put into the 8th edition of Northern Lights on the backend.

The Control Room for the Northern Lights Show on Parliament Hill
The Control Room for the Northern Lights Show on Parliament Hill. Photo Credit: Christopher Mitchell

About the Northern Lights Sound and Light Show

Northern Lights premiered back in 2015, and since then, it’s been updated every year to properly showcase new milestones that might fit well into the show, and are well worth highlighting. In 2022, for example, there was an added focus on the Platinum Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth.

The show itself is focused on 5 aspects of Canada:

  1. The Foundations of Canada
  2. Innovation
  3. Exploration
  4. Valour and Pride
  5. The Vision of a People

In all, it’s a great 30 minute overview of some of the key events and ideas that have forged the Canadian nation. We were grateful to see that the Canadian identity that was focused on was diverse and multifaceted. In this nation, our differences (and the acceptance of those differences) are our strength.

Furthermore, Northern Lights doesn’t shy away from recognizing how the “founding” of Canada came at the expense of those who were here before – namely, Indigenous Peoples. There’s an underlying message throughout about the importance of accepting some of the dark truths of our past, as we aim to move towards reconciliation.

Key Details About the Show

  • The show is free for anyone who would like to attend, and it’s just a matter of arriving early enough to find a spot that suits you well.
  • It’s a bilingual presentation (which seems only fitting for a bilingual nation like ours), so both English and French speakers are able to tune in.
  • Northern Lights plays 5 nights a week, from Thursday to Monday. In July, the show starts at 10pm, in August the show starts at 9:30pm, and in September the show starts at 9pm. Each year is different but for reference, last season the show ran from July 7th to September 5th.
  • The show may be cancelled for poor or inclement weather. Typically, if a show is to be cancelled, they’ll post an announcement on the Capital Experience Facebook Page.
  • If you know that you’ll be unable to attend in person, but you’re keen to see a performance of the show, the Canadian Heritage account has uploaded it to YouTube.
  • For those curious, the show that preceded Northern Lights was called Mosaika: Canada Through the Eyes of its People, and it ran from 2010-2015. More than a million people saw that show along the way, which let Ottawa know that there should always be a show in rotation!
  • If you arrive early and you’ve got some restless little ones, don’t stress – there are interactive games to play that use AI on either side of the truck that’s parked in the centre walkway. We may have taken part in a few ourselves!
  • Northern Lights strives to be universally accessible, and there is a designated area for wheelchair users along the centre walkway of Parliament Hill. We’re told that both American Sign Language and Quebec Sign Language are available at particular shows as well. If you want further information about all of this, you can email pch.kic-cik.pch@canada.ca or call 1-844-878-8333.
Northern Lights Show on Parliament Hill
Engaged in the games that run before the show on the Parliament centre walkway. Photo Credit: Jantine Van Kregten

Here at We Explore Canada, we’re excited to see what they plan to add or highlight next year, and we certainly plan to catch another performance of it because it’s an engaging, family-friendly activity that we’re thrilled has become such a mainstay on Parliament Hill.

We want to humbly thank the National Capital Region (Tourisme Outaouais & Ottawa Tourism) for hosting us as media. All opinions are completely our own.

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