William Lyon Mackenzie King (1874-1950) was Canada’s 10th prime minister. He dominated Canadian politics from the 1920s through the 1940s. With 21 years in office, he was the longest-serving Prime Minister in British Commonwealth history. As prime minister, he led the Canadian government through the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression, and the Second World War, finishing his last term of office in November of 1948.
King first worked in Ottawa in the fall of 1900 as a civil servant, assigned to study labour issues. In 1909, he became Canada’s first Deputy Minister of Labour, a civil service position. During these early years of his career, he was attracted by Gatineau’s rugged landscape, and in 1903 he purchased land on Kingsmere Lake and built a cottage, which he named Kingswood. Over the years, he purchased more land and he eventually owned an estate of nearly 231 hectares. Upon his death in 1950, he willed his property in Gatineau Park to the Canadian people.
His estate became his sanctuary, where he could retreat to the peace of the forest and countryside. His original cottage, Kingswood, has been restored and maintained in much the same state as it was in when King spent his summers there. A simple building, it has a rustic charm from another age. The four-room cottage was constructed in 1903 and enlarged in 1916 and 1924, but it is still quite small. Close by, there is a little guest cottage, added in 1922 and a garage that was built a year later.
The cottage is situated above Kingsmere Lake. A small boathouse with a change room was built in 1917.
King became prime minister in December of 1921. He continued to summer at Kingswood until 1928, when he moved his summer home to Moorside, a short walk from Kingswood. Moorside features open grounds and a larger cottage with four small bedrooms upstairs, two of which were used by King as offices.
The livingroom has been converted into a little tea room where visitors can enjoy tea or a light meal. At Moorside, King received such distinguished guests as Winston Churchill and F.D. Roosevelt.
From the veranda, you can look out over some of the restored formal gardens that King laid out.
Among the most popular features of the estate are the ‘Abbey Ruins’. Erected between 1935 and 1937, the stones came from various places including the old Parliament Buildings (destroyed by fire in 1916) in Ottawa. King liked to visit the ruins to meditate. Now, they are very popular backdrops for photographers.
The triumphal arch was built in 1936 from the entrance pillars of the old Bank of British North America, and celebrates King’s 1935 electoral victory after five years in Opposition.
In 1927, King bought additional adjacent property, which included a 19th-century farmhouse. He lived at the farmhouse in his later years and died there in 1950. Today, the house is the official residence of the Speaker of the House of Commons and is not open to visitors.
Moorside is a bit bigger than Kingswood, and has beautiful grounds, but would not qualify as a grand house. I was very much struck by the modesty of the buildings that a man who was Canada’s prime minister for more than 20 years called home. The contrast between Moorside and the monuments to wealth and self·-aggrandizement that were constructed by successful businessmen such as George Fuller could hardly be greater.