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Visiting La Ferme / The Farm, Gatineau, Quebec: Linked With W. L. Mackenzie King & the Speaker of the House of Commons

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The Farm, the official residence of the Speaker of the House of Commons of Canada

The Farm, the official residence of the Speaker of the House of Commons of Canada

A 19th century farm, refurbished by a Prime Minister

Not open to the public (1) but recognized by le Répertoire canadien des lieux patrimoniaux / Canadian Register of Historic Places is a building in le Parc de la Gatineau / Gatineau Park, Chelsea, Quebec, which is visible from a distance and which bears a simple name: la Ferme / The Farm.

The original farmhouse dated from 1850; by the mid 20th century, the simple structure surrounded by farmland came into the possession of long-serving Prime Minister of Canada William Lyon Mackenzie King (1874-1950) (2) but was not suitable for year round habitation.

(All there, but no one at home?)

Under Mr. King's direction, the building was winterized and drastically refurbished. Prominent features of this 1 ½ storey building include a conspicuous, pillared porch, and stone chimneys (3).

It was not always called la Ferme / The Farm; it was also briefly known as The Meadows, a name suggested as a result of frequent visits from Mr. and Mrs. Joan Patteson; while William Lyon Mackenzie King preferred the name Shady Hill (after the name of the house of his former Harvard professor), in the name first adopted he in due course deferred to the judgment of Mrs. Patterson (4).

This building, with the simple name eventually finalized as la Ferme / The Farm, thus has a somewhat elusive identity. (It might even be fair to say that the building became known as la Ferme / The Farm at the period when it ceased to be a farm.)

Oddly, Prime Minister King claimed to have received psychic guidance for the refurbishment la Ferme / The Farm via his deceased maternal grandparents (he was a known psychic researcher) (5).

La Ferme / The Farm and defining the historical legacy of William Lyon Mackenzie King

On his retirement from Prime Ministerial office in 1948, La Ferme / The Farm was William Lyon Mackenzie King's chosen permanent residence for his retirement. Mr. King's plan was to write his memoirs there.

At least, this was the plan: a year and 8 months later, at la Ferme / The Farm, Mr. King passed away on July 22, 1950.

Tributes poured in: voluminously polite rather than warm. The year before his retirement, their tone had perhaps unwittingly been set by the Niagara Parks Commission when a carillon was installed inscribed with the words: 'in memory of our nation's leaders, Winston Spencer Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt'. On hearing the news of his passing at la Ferme / The Farm during a thunderstorm, Norman Robertson (1904-1968)(6), one of Mr. King's closest aides, said: 'I never saw a touch of greatness in him' (7).

All rather unfair, no doubt.

William Lyon Mackenzie King is chiefly remembered both for having led Canada during World War Two and for having assisted in introducing old age pensions. His understated style is possibly also at the origin of the difficulty which many Canadians have had in defining precisely what he stood for: with a flair for avoiding taking decisions and for statements which seemingly pursued the anodyne as an art form, he once famously exuded pride in what he as a leader avoided doing rather than actually did.

In his will, Mr. King deeded much of his estate to the Canadian people via the Government of Canada: his plans for la Ferme / The Farm were that it should be used as a residence of future Prime Ministers of Canada. (Presumably, also, la Ferme / The Farm would serve as some kind of memorial to Mr. King, also.)

In practice, this did not happen, either.

Instead, since 1955, la Ferme / The Farm has been the official residence of the Speaker of the Canadian House of Commons, in nearby Ottawa.

So, since 1955, have the ex officio residents of la Ferme / The Farm been overwhelmed by a colossal historical sense of the presence of the Prime Minister who spent his short retirement there?

Well, maybe so.

Or maybe not.

(All rather unfair, no doubt.)

But we may be sure at least that the various, successive senior Parliamentarian residents of la Ferme / The Farm will have been unmoved by the alleged psychic guidance of Mr. King's grandparents.

January 7, 2020

Notes

(1) Mr King's other, former properties, Kingswood and Moorside, situated close by, are indeed open to the public.

(2) Succeeding Sir Wilfrid Laurier as Liberal leader in 1919, William Lyon Mackenzie King served as Prime Minister of Canada from 1921 to 1926, when he briefly went into Opposition, and then from 1926 until 1930 and subsequently from 1935 until 1948.

(3) See also: https://www.historicplaces.ca/en/rep-reg/place-lieu.aspx?id=11372

(4) See also: Edwinna Von Baeyer, Garden of Dreams: Kingsmere and Mackenzie King, Toronto & Oxford: Dundurn Press, 1990, p. 96. Mr. King also shared with Jack Patterson, son of Godfroy and Joan Patterson, an interest in gargoyles, to which he attributed spiritual significance. (See also: Edwinna Von Baeyer, op. cit., p. 153.) This work cited also contains copious details of the gardens of the various properties and ruined artifacts which make up le Domaine Mackenzie King / Mackenzie King Estate,

(5) See also: Edwinna Von Baeyer, op. cit., p.p. 196-197.

(6) Norman Robertson served as Under Secretary of State for External Affairs, and later Clerk to the Privy Council of Canada, High Commissioner of Canada in London and Canadian Ambassador to Washington, DC.

(7) Norman Robertson, qu. in: Allan Levine, King, Vancouver/Toronto/Berkley: Douglas & McIntyre, 2011, p. 404. Biographer Allan Levine adds, to Norman Roberston's comment: 'Neither did a lot of people who knew or worked closely with him'.

Some sourcing: Wikipedia

Rt. Hon. W.L. Mackenzie King (right) and Mr. Norman Robertson attending the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference, 1944

Rt. Hon. W.L. Mackenzie King (right) and Mr. Norman Robertson attending the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference, 1944

Also worth seeing

In Gatineau itself, the Musée canadien des civilisations / Canadian Museum of Civilization is Canada's most visited museum. Gatineau's Masion du citoyen / Citizen's House has a noted art gallery and the Hall des nations / Hall of the Nations containing valuable cultural artifacts from around the world. Parc de la Gatineau / Gatineau Park has exceptional recreational and scenic possibilities.

In Ottawa (distance: 2 kilometres from Downtown Gatineau) a few of the noted sights and cultural treasures include Parliament Hill, Rideau Hall, the Chateau Laurier, Laurier House, the Rideau Canal, and the Bank of Canada's Currency Museum.

...

How to get there: Air Canada flies from various North American destinations to Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier International Airport / Aéroport international Macdonald-Cartier d'Ottawa, where car rental is available. However, travellers may prefer to use OC Transpo public transit for travel within Ottawa / Gatineau. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

Map location of Gatineau, in Quebec

Map location of Gatineau, in Quebec

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