The Way We Were

The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the December 07, 2011 issue. Reprinted with permission.

Will the way Kingsmere left open to public

foreword by Louise Schwartz

William Lyon Mackenzie King, Canada's 10th prime minister, loved the Gatineau Hills and owned property at Kingsmere for almost fifty years until his death in July 1950. The Evening Citizen printed the following in August 1950, after the contents of King's will were publicly disclosed. The article was titled "Magnificent Property Belongs to Canadians" and has been edited for length.

by Reginald Hardy

When the publication of the will of the Rt. Hon. William Lyon Mackenzie King disclosed that he had left his 500-acre country estate at Kingsmere in the Gatineau Hills to the people of Canada, the curiosity of a great many Canadians was aroused. Nearly everyone had heard of Kingsmere, of course. It was the mountain retreat to which Mr. King retired when he was freed, for the moment, of the affairs of the state. It was a place too, where he entertained his close personal friends and sometimes, visiting dignitaries.

The Way We Were
Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King with his younger sister Jennie Lay outside the guest cottage at Kingsmere. (1923) Photo courtesy Library and Archives Canada.

In the main, Canadians took but a vicarious interest in Kingsmere and the oddities, it was rumoured, it encompassed. It is different today. With the announcement that Mr. King has deeded it to the nation, Canadians are already beginning to demonstrate a keen personal interest in it, even to the extent of exercising the prerogatives of ownership.

The wish expressed by Mr. King that the government preserve part of the estate as a forest reserve and bird sanctuary and that a portion of it be set aside as a country home for Canadian prime ministers has piqued the public fancy.

Roughly, the estate is divided into three parts. First, there is "Moorside", comprising the largest acreage and on which stands a large commodious cottage, which King used during the war years. Second, there is "The Farm", which King preferred as a summer residence and in which he spent most of his time. Third, there is "The Cottage", an acreage on the lakeshore proper, the site of King's small cabin, which he erected in 1902. And in addition, there is a smaller holding, called "Shady Nook" which King set aside for use of close friends.

I arrived at "The Farm" this week, just in time to find a number of visitors being shown about by Mrs. Frank Kelly, the wife of Mr. King's long-time gardener. Mr. Kelly has looked after the gardening for some 16 years off and on and for the past 12 years he and his wife have lived permanently at the old farmhouse.

"This is the door by which Mr. King always came in", Mrs. Kelly was explaining to the visitors. "He always wanted me to meet him at the door. They would telephone me ahead of time and I would be waiting." Later I chatted with the gracious little lady who has been the Chatelaine of "The Farm" for over a decade. Yes, she had loved working for Mr. King. She knew just how he wanted things done.

She pointed out a path through the meadows. "That was his morning walk" she explained. "At the end of it, is the grave of Pat II, Mr. King's second dog. And where was Pat III, Mr. King's third dog? "He ran away again this morning", explained Mrs. Kelly. "I got a call from the Mountain Lodge that he was up there. He'll come home tonight. He didn't ever run away when Mr. King was here."

I found Mr. Kelly and his helper on their hands and knees in one of the big flower beds. They were busy catching up with the weeds.

"Mr. King used to keep six gardeners", explained Mr. Kelly, "but during the war there were only two of us and we did not go in so much for the flowers. "It was at "The Farm" that Mr. King kept his bees - the hives being periodically raided by bears. It was here that for a time he engaged in a sheep-raising venture, which proved a failure. Perhaps his orchard was his most successful agricultural investment. He liked to pick the apples himself and present them to his friends.

Mr. King purchased the Moorside cottage from the late Very Rev. Dr. W.T. Herridge, father of W.D. Herridge, who for years was one of the stormy petrals of the Canadian political scene. It is here that Pat I, the little Irish Terrier that was King's constant companion for all of 17 years, lies buried.

It will seem then that the authorities will be faced with a real problem in deciding which of the sites will be opened to the public and which set aside as the Prime Minister's residence.

Postscript: Now managed by the NCC, Kingswood cottages and Moorside are closed for the season. The Farm became the official residence of the Speaker of the House of Commons. Three kilometres of hiking trails around Kingsmere estate remain open year round.

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