Wednesday, September 7, 2016

World War Wednesdays: The Two Homes of William Lyon Mackenzie King

     It's been a hot minute since I've done an experience/ attraction post! To make up for it, I've combined two into one this time. Since I had about a week between when I came back to school in Ottawa and when classes actually start, I decided to check off a few destinations on my bucket list while I'm still stress- and snow- free. I'm not sure if I've ever accurately expressed this on here before, but I'm extremely obsessed and infatuated with William Lyon Mackenzie King, who was Prime Minister during the Second World War. We actually have a lot of things in common, which I won't get into, but it's enough to make me feel like we have an interesting connection. So, it was only natural that I spent one of my first days of freedom venturing deep into Gatineau Park with a highly confused taxi driver in order to experience King's beloved estate, Kingsmere.


     Before I left for the estate, I did my research to make sure I knew what I was getting into. Rather than being one house with the museum inside like I'm used to visiting (and working at), Kingsmere is actually a hiking trail with numerous cottages and outbuildings to stop in along the way, plus a variety of outdoor scenic attractions. As soon as I arrived, I was super impressed with the signage, which made my path clear and easy to interpret. So easy, in fact, that I was able to tell where I was headed through the tears that welled up when I realized that they had taken excerpts from King's diary and had them mounted along the trail! That was one of my favorite parts of the estate and I loved having the constant reminders of the deep devotion King had to the land. 

"Such happiness as I felt in being beneath my own roof, amid the trees"

"Let no word or thought enter there which was not the holiest and best"

"I felt better the minute I was at Kingsmere, the air here is fine, the trees fresh, lovely."
     I decided to visit the cottages at Kingswood first. This is where the guest cottages are located, and where numerous famous visitors spent the night when visiting King at his estate. As I passed through the gate, I noticed that the NCC, who runs the museum, took great care to include some fascinating images in their signage which corresponded with the scenes being experienced in real life. This came to be a common theme during both my visits, and one that I appreciated very much!
A Library and Archives Canada image showing King in front of the gates to Kingswood

The actual gates to Kingswood
     The cottages were absolutely adorable and felt so realistic; it was completely as if I had arrived as a guest at an actual working cottage! I appreciated how modern visitor necessities like the bathrooms were incorporated into the actual original bathrooms, it really added to the seamless experience (even though it felt rather surreal being actually allowed to use King's bathroom!) I also thought it was neat how the first cottage was setup like a little lounge and really took advantage of the relaxed environment of being in the woods. There was a little checkerboard setup with some cozy chairs where visitors could actually sit and play! Here are some pictures of the  Kingswood cottages:

Isabel Mackenzie King, his dearly beloved mother's bedroom at Kingswood. After her death, the room became like a shrine to her memory.

I absolutely adored the glass detail in that cabinet, and loved that they included a little basket for Pat, King's dog.

     Already obsessed with the place, I continued down the path toward Moorside cottage, where King actually stayed (his permanent place of residence on the Estate, where he died in 1950,is called The Farm and is the official private residence of the Speaker of the House of Commons). Before going inside, I stayed on the path to check out some of King's outdoor attractions as well as a short movie inside his garage:
The outside of Moorside

King created a stunning combination of a French and English garden

"The Window on the Forest", a gorgeous ruin

King's most ambitious ruin, The Abbey Ruins. An admirer and collector of historic objects, he designed this ruin using pieces of ancient buildings
A miniature Moorside behind the real thing for Pat!
     Then, finally, I ventured inside:
A copy of the telegram that King sent to Hitler in 1939 urging him to carefully consider his plans for Europe and curb his aggression

The little room where King conducted some of his famous séances

Another basket for Pat in King's Moorside bedroom

His gorgeous dresser

A radio fit for a King (and Prime Minister)

If you look closely, you can see the fake tea in the teacup! This museum had a really impressive array of fake foods

Knowing it would be hard to top my amazing experience at Kingsmere, I decided to take another trek to visit King's other former residence at Laurier House in downtown Ottawa. I knew from my previous trip that while he spent more of time at Laurier House during his career, he much preferred being out of the city and at Kingsmere, which he actually developed and maintained over the course of his life. Kingsmere was the escape from Laurier House, and I kept that in mind during my second visit!

     As the sign says, Laurier House was previously owned by Sir Wilfrid Laurier, whom King greatly admired. Since it became King's home next, it is considered the first prime ministerial residence in Ottawa prior to 24 Sussex Drive. The house was originally built for an Ottawa jeweler. It's a gracious example of the Second Empire style, and was first called Kininvie. During King's time, the home underwent a few major renovations, and after he died it was left as it was. As a result, it currently reflects more of King's style and pieces, with the addition of some Laurier items interspersed throughout. 
The ceilings were absolutely stunning, and reminded me very much of those found inside Parliament

A statue of both King and Pat! Notice the dark woodwork behind it- the home so strongly reflected the stuffy and dark designs found in Parliament that it's really no wonder that King preferred spending time in the bright and airy rooms at Kingsmere.

The RCMP room on the main floor. During the Second World War, the house was guarded by an RCMP constable. Staff and business associates would enter, sign in, and wait for Mr. King in the reception room.

The formal dining room

Check out that fireplace!

An archival photo showing the stunning antique French-style china cabinet and chair 

Which are still found in the home today

While it's difficult to see from this picture, the item directly to the left of the farthest left curtain panel (between the chair and umbrella stand) is a prie dieu that King collected, which is connected to Mary, Queen of Scots.

King's bed at Laurier House

His breakfast room, where he ate while listening to the radio

One of two stunning pianos in the home. The second is a self-playing piano which belonged to Lady Laurier. After playing it for me, the guide told me that it had been donated to a local charity shop . Someone thought to take a look at the serial number, did some research, and realized that it was Lady Laurier's exact piano! Further archival research produced photos of it in the house. The still-working piece of history was returned to its original home, where they've added some more modern tunes to its repertoire (it can play Hey Jude!) To see the self-playing piano drum out a tune, check out my personal Instagram @miss_wonderly

An archival photo shows King reading in the exact chair pictured above

This sign indicated that King's political staff worked on the third floor of the home, where he also carried out most of his political work himself during the Second World War. 

The drawing room, where King and his guests gathered after dinner. He would usually lead conversations from the stool in front of the fireplace.
     I hope you enjoyed this little internet tour of two great places in our nation's capital! I'd like to give a huge shoutout to the National Capital Commission (NCC) for their phenomenal work in historical interpretation and conservation, and for maintaining some awesome and budget-friendly tourist attractions in the area (Kingsmere is totally free and Laurier House only set me back $3.90). All the guides were super friendly and informative, and I appreciated all of the little details they incorporated into both sites. All photos were taken by yours truly!
     Thanks for reading,
Delany (@DLeitchHistory on Twitter)

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