Archive for August 26th, 2010

William Lyon Mackenzie King (photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

Kingswood Cottage

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.

Kingswood kitchen

Kingswood living room

The cottage is situated above Kingsmere Lake. A small boathouse with a change room was built in 1917.

Kingsmere Lake

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.

Moorside Tearoom

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.


George Fuller's summer house, completed 1901

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Lake Fortune

On the weekend, the weather was just too perfect to pass up the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors. We travelled up to Gatineau Park, north of Ottawa and spent a relaxing afternoon there. At 33,000 hectares, the park is huge. We were just able to see some of the attractions in the southern section, which features easy-access hiking trails and a scenic driving route that winds through the hills and past wetlands and lakes. Our first stop was the Champlain Lookout, where you can get an idea of the geology that shapes the region.

Champlain Lookout

Gatineau Park is situated at the junction of the Canadian Shield and the St. Lawrence Lowlands. The Eardley Escarpment marks the edge of the Shield, and the lookout offers a view of the escarpment to the right and the lowlands stretching out to the Ottawa River before you. The Eardley Escarpment is the richest and most biologically diverse area in the park. With a height of about 300 metres, the escarpment has its own warm, dry microclimate. In winter, about 80% of the deer in the park take shelter on the escarpment.

Signs at the lookout explain how the escarpment and lowlands were formed over several hundred million years as the earth shifted and glaciers eroded the surface. The sign above shows the route of a hiking trail that starts at the lookout and we decided to follow it as it winds through a section of the escarpment.

Having moved to the Ottawa region from west of Toronto, we are familiar with the Niagara Escarpment, which runs from the Niagara region to Tobermory on Lake Huron. I was struck by the similarities between the too escarpments. The view from Rattlesnake Point on the Niagara Escarpment, looking out over farmland (and now a whole lot of development) down towards Lake Ontario is very similar to the view from Champlain Lookout.

The forest is similar too. Both escarpments feature a mix of deciduous trees with Sugar Maple, smooth-barked Beech and Black Cherry dominating. The Black Cherry trees are easy to pick out, with their dark bark in rough, squarish scales.

The trail follows the escarpment and leads to another lookout platform. From there, the trail leads away from the escarpment edge and loops back to the parking lot.

While the forest shares similarities with the Niagara Escarpment where we had hiked in the past, there were also new things to see. I photographed this yellow flowerhead and checked on its identification when I got home.

It appears to be Hairy, or Upland Goldenrod (Solidago hispida). I’m used to goldenrod having a bushy head, like the flowers shown below, which grow in the fields around the house.

However, there are quite a few different goldenrod species. About a dozen grow in Ontario. Another plant that roused my curiosity featured pretty pink flowers.

It had large, maple-shaped leaves and berries. The fruit looked like fat, flattened raspberries. I tasted one. It tasted like a raspberry. If it looks like a raspberry and tastes like a raspberry, it probably IS a raspberry, but not like any I remembered seeing.

In fact, it is purple-flowering raspberry (Rubus odoratus), a native perennial shrub. Raspberries belong to the rose family, and you can really see the family resemblance in the flowers. Speaking of maple leaves, I also spotted trees with these tulip-like leaves.

They belong to Striped Maple (Acer pensylvanicum). Striped maples have the coolest bark, with the young trees striped green and white. Older trees have brown and white bark. Also known as moosewood, this tree grows as a small understory tree or shrub in deciduous forests, where it is very shade tolerant. It likes moist ground and prefers slopes, so the escarpment forest offers ideal conditions.

After completing our hike, we drove down to the Mackenzie King estate, but that is a story for another post. However, I will include here our last stop of the day. We drove a bit north of the park to watch bungee jumping! I’ve never seen this in person. The Great Canadian Bungee jump opened in 1992 at Morrison’s Quarry. The jumpers jump from a crane-like structure that reaches out high above the water filling the quarry. A pick-up boat waits to retrieve the jumpers and bring them to the dock. You can just see the boat on the water, to the right of the picture. The jump is 200 feet, with a 160 foot rebound.

It was a perfect day, and there was a lineup of adventurous, immortal young people waiting for their turn to take the plunge. Just watching was excitement enough for me! There’s a person dangling upside down on the end of that bungee cord. The daredevils seemed to be having a lot of fun.

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