Visiting the Mackenzie King Estate With a Small Dog
There are few places I enjoy more than the MacKenzie King Estate in the Gatineau Park. Luckily for me, it is only about a 20 minute drive from my home! I don’t know if it’s the pretty gardens, the lovely tea house, the majestic mature trees, the wonderful trails or the time worn ruins that dot the property… but there is just something alluring about the place.
So, whenever I have visitors from out of town, I like to take them there because, not only is it a delightful stroll, it is a big part of Canada’s history too. You see, the estate belonged to the tenth prime minister of Canada, and he was in office for more than two decades. It is safe to say that William Lyon Mackenzie King (OMG’s he was the LION KING!) left an indelible mark on the history of Canada. He was a man that loved nature and architecture, and the estate was his summer home. He spent every summer there for close to fifty years. When he died in 1950, he generously bequeathed it to the people of Canada.
It was around this property that the Government of Canada, through the National Capital Commission (NCC), established what we now know as Gatineau Park. Gatineau Park is endowed with hundreds of kilometers of trails, forests containing more than forty species of trees, abundant wildlife and numerous lakes typical of the hills of the Canadian Shield. Summer and winter outdoor activities take place in the tranquility of this protected natural environment. In fact, now that I think about it – I really need to write more about the Gatineau Hills. But for now, let’s focus on the 231-hectares that make up the Mackenzie King Estate.
Let’s begin with the two summer havens: Kingswood cottage, located along Kingsmere Lake and Moorside cottage.
I am particularly fond of the restored chalets of Kingswood – which include two summer cottages purchased by Mr. King in 1903 and the second in 1922. You can also find the horse carriage (minus the horses sadly). Down some steps and by the water’s edge, there is a lovely little boat house, complete with a separate change room for the ladies! This is a lovely quiet spot, where I have often seen some grey herons in the shallow waters edge.
Moorside cottage on the other hand is a larger, more elegant Victorian structure built in 1901 and purchased by King in 1924. Today it acts as a tea house where you can still enjoy a proper tea and scone or a light meal. In the summer months, tables are set up outside as well, and there you might get away with enjoying tea time with your canine companion. The bipeds and I have yet to try – something I hope we will soon be rectified (I will report back!).
It was at Moorside that King laid out his splendid flower gardens and his picturesque collection of stone ruins. It was also here that he entertained such dignitaries as Sir Winston Churchill, Yousuf Karsh, and Charles Lindbergh. Often with his faithful canine companion Pat (an Irish Terrier) by his side. MacKenzie King really loved his dog.
A little about Pat (1924-1941), possibly one of Canada’s most famous canines.
It all started in July 1924, when Mackenzie King’s close friends, the Pattesons, gave him an Irish terrier. King named the dog Pat in their honor, and became extremely fond of him. Pat was mentioned in King’s diary, almost every day for the next 17 years. He was King’s closest companion and he often went with King for morning walks on the grounds and it was common knowledge that in the evening the two shared a snack of oatmeal cookies and Ovaltine.
Sadly, as Pat grew old, he developed several health problems, and he died on July 15, 1941. Mackenzie King buried his “Little Angel Dog” near the ruins.
On the last day of the year – on December 31, 1941 – King wrote this entry in his diary:
“As I think it all over tonight, the event that touched me most deeply of all was perhaps the death of little Pat. Our years together, and particularly our months in the early spring and summer, have been a true spiritual pilgrimage. That little dog has taught me how to live, and also how to look forward, without concern, to the arms that will be around me when I, too, pass away. We shall all be together in the Beyond. Of that I am perfectly sure.”
So when I gallivant around Moorside and the ruins, I always have a feeling that Pat is there too. I am not sure what ruins he is buried next to – but I am looking! And while I sniff about in my search, I can almost feel Pat’s ghost wanting to play with the other dogs that have come to visit.
During the last years of his life, King gave free rein to his passion for architecture. He devoted himself to a new project; restoring a 19th-century farmhouse and transforming it into an elegant year-round residence. He settled at “The Farm” in 1943 and died there in 1950, only two years after he retired from politics . (note: The Farm is off-limits to the public and still serves as the official residence to the Speaker of the House of Commons).
But the King project I enjoy the most? The best part about the Estate? The various ruins located throughout the property. There are three major spots.
The first is a bay window – right on the edge of the woods. With the tea house at your back – it is straight ahead just after the bright flower beds.
The second is the triumphal arch that was built in 1936 from the entrance pillars of the old Bank of British North America. Its move to the estate celebrated King’s 1935 electoral victory after five years in Opposition.
The third, is found on the crest of a little hill. There sits an assemblage of architectural details Mackenzie King named 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 these ruins to meditate. Now, they are very popular backdrops for photographers.
In a stroke of genius, the trails in and around the Mackenzie King Estate link up with the broader trail network of the Gatineau Park. You can in fact start or end a much larger hike with a visit of the estate and gardens … or break for a cup of tea! The Waterfall Trail was King’s favorite wilderness walk. You can hike all or part of the loop formed by the Lauriault and Waterfall trails. The complete loop is three kilometers and takes about 1 to 1.5 hours to complete. This is what I do with the bipeds when we go. Sights include the Bridal Veil Falls at the end of the Waterfall trail and the Lauriault trail lookout. These trails are open year-round to hikers.
Although Moorside is a bit bigger than Kingswood, and has beautiful grounds, I would never qualify either as a “grand house”. I am always 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. It is a testatement to his spirit and soul that, his project was never about self-aggrandizement. And of course his love for Pat (and then Pat II and Pat III) speaks volumes as well.
“If I have been true to some of the great causes that I have sought to remain true to, it’s been the example of that little fellow that has helped in many, many ways.”
In Review: The Mackenzie King Estate is a first-class historic destination. Visit the Estate for its peaceful setting, to discover the romantic atmosphere of the Victorian era at a unique Canadian heritage site, and to learn the story behind a complex public figure that marked Canadian history for half a century. To visit this magnificent Estate is to share former Prime Minister Mackenzie King’s love for horticulture, landscaping, and romantic gardens with picturesque ruins. It is a beautiful legacy.