The Way We Were

The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the November 23, 2011 issue. Reprinted with permission.

King cultivated his other side at The Farm

foreword by Louise Schwartz

William Lyon Mackenzie King was Canada's 10th prime minister and its longest serving. He died of pneumonia at The Farm in Kingsmere, now the official residence of the Speaker of the House of Commons. The following article, by Frank Walker, appeared in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix four days after King's death on July 22, 1950. It was titled "The Man From Kingsmere" and has been edited for length.

by Frank Walker

This is the story of the man who lived at Kingsmere. The other man, who presided over Parliaments, who held office longer than any other Prime Minister in history, who could coldly calculate the difficult paths of politics, who brought Canada to nationhood, did not "live" at Kingsmere.

The Way We Were
Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King relaxing at his Kingsmere estate with his Irish Terrier, Pat I. (1940). Photo credit Yousuf Karsh/Library and Archives Canada.

In all of us there are two, the parts overlapping and melting into each other, but still separate, the private and the public, the simple and the complex. In Mr. King, because he was so much more, the line cut more sharply, the two stood further apart. There was little of the statesman in the man from Kingsmere, and less of Kingsmere in the short stubby figure, who was so supreme a judge of this nation's character and so intuitive a forecaster of its inarticulate intentions.

Kingsmere was wild and unspoilt. He kept it so over the years even when his step had slowed and the statesman was already history. True, the lawn down to the tiny lake was green and smooth, and so, in a sense, a contradiction of the rock and forest which surrounded his retreat: still the essence of Kingsmere was its core of naturalness, which was the heart of the man.

He keep his life private though many, especially in the years of his retirement were frequent visitors, who rarely failed to respond to the warmth which was so much a part of the man of Kingsmere and so much in contrast to the man of politics.

Those who have recorded their impressions used words or phrases which were rarely applied to the man who was prime minister for more than 21 years.

For the man who presided over the nation, there was admiration and appreciation of his talents; but for the other there was affection.

They talk of his books, a varied collection; of his delicate love of fine possessions, of his pictures, his furniture; of how once walking along Daly Street in Ottawa he saw an old house being ripped down and saved from it a beautifully proportioned bay window which he set up in a proper setting on the slope at Kingsmere; or of how he saved a lovely old door from a bank in the same city and placed it also in Kingsmere where it stood with the ivy crowding over it.

Few left Kingsmere without a tour of his home and his land. The picture is always the same - a small thickset man in old tweeds, stick in hand, wandering over the hills with his dog. He knew, it is said, every tree and stone of his land. He watched his sheep and would take his visitor in search of them.

He acquired it over the years, adding to it as the opportunity presented itself, once a piece of woodland which was threatened with destruction and without which an ugly gash would have been cut across the face of Kingsmere. There was an office of course at Kingsmere and the flow of documents and decisions was not checked because he was there. But the two portraits do not match; they stand separately though they are the same man.The great prime minister and the gentle figure of Kingsmere; the recordbreaker and the man who asked Pat to do his tricks for his visitor, cannot be disassociated. The lines cross and recross.

Postscript: For more personal perspectives on King, go to the CBC website at archives.cbc.ca/politics/prime_ministers/topics/1276/ for Kingrelated audio and video clips, including "Loneliness at Kingsmere" and "My little friend Pat".

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