Friday, 19 October 2012

The Gatineau National Park across from Ottawa

Many decades ago a French urban planner suggested to the Federal Government of Canada in his report on the National Capital that a string of great parks be created around the Capital. One such park is the Gatineau Park. Just a few minutes away from Ottawa on the Quebec side of the Outaouais river, the park entrance is inside the City of Gatineau and the parkway takes you deep into the mountains. There are lots of lakes and trails taking you inside the forest, however stay on the trail, you do not want to get lost in the woods, the forest is thick, there are lots of bogs, waterfalls, cliffs and other hazards.

There are also several official residences in the Gatineau Park, one is Meech Lake which is the official summer residence of the Prime Minister, formerly owned by a Lumber Baron and the other is Kingsmere, the former Estate of Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King. Upon his death he donated this large estate to the people of Canada. The Estate like the man is eccentric, Uncle Rex as he was known to his friends started going up to the Gatineau and developed his Estate over 50 years until his death July 22, 1950, it was his hobby, his fantasy.

The Farm, one of the three houses on the Estate, was an old farm house he bought, renovated and enlarged into a beautiful house, today it is the Official Residence of the Speaker of the House of Commons and closed to the public. I remember maybe 30 years ago it was still open on certain days and you could see the bedroom where Mackenzie King died with all the original furniture. The Speaker then was married and had little kids, the children were afraid to sleep in that bed, it had a plaque which said that this is where the Prime Minister had died. His wife had the plaque removed which caused a great deal of comment. She was also the one who use to push the emergency security buzzer to see how quickly the RCMP, who provided security, would take to answer the call, they were not amused.
The other house on the lake is Kingswood a simple cottage which is undergoing renovation at this time to be completed by June 2013. The three houses are over 100 years old.

The one best known to the public is Moorside which houses the tea salon and small restaurant with formal gardens. I noticed that the old stone bird bath in front of the house is gone. The ruins have been spruced up and look better than ever. Those are the famous ruins from buildings demolished in Ottawa a long time ago, with architectural features the Prime Minister liked, so he purchased these bits of stone and masonry, had them moved up to his Estate and reassembled in a fantasy style garden.  To this day, people think that Uncle Rex was an eccentric. In his days there were also other features like stone animals but those have been removed a long time ago.

I am currently reading his biography entitled "King" by Allan Levine, the author goes over all the usual stories about Mackenzie King, using the diaries and journals left by Uncle Rex, we have close to 2 million pages of detailed information, Uncle Rex kept up his diaries over his entire adult life from age 18, a real treasure trove.

He was a deeply religious man, raised a Presbyterian, had puritanical ideas, believed firmly that the Hand of the All Mighty was guiding him in all things, but all that did not prevent him from having several mistresses. He explains in great details in his journal that he is looking for the perfect woman, who would be like his mother, virtuous, pious and kind, the embodiment of all feminine qualities. A very 19th century picture, he never found that woman despite having several lady friends often the wives of prominent men in Ottawa. One was the wife of the Pastor of St-Andrew Presbyterian Church on Wellington Street.

The book also tells us that he was deeply involved in Spiritualism and though his mother died in 1917, throughout his life he will travel everywhere with no less than 5 pictures of his mother. In his study at Laurier House in Ottawa, there is one such picture described by one of his lady friends as "that horror". He also spoke or communicated with his dead dog Pat and he also spoke to Pat 2 and Pat 3 who will outlive his master. Ministers were appointed to his Cabinet based often on doodles they would make on pieces of paper. Mackenzie King studied them to determine if any significance or meaning could be given to them.  Thanks to his journal we have a complete record of his thoughts and emotions. On the other hand he was a far thinking man and we can thank him for much of the labour code reforms in Canada and for starting much of the social programs we have today. Mackenzie King believed deeply that his duty as a politician was to help his fellow man. He worked for Rockefeller and certainly tried to change the anti-labour attitude of most business owners at the beginning of the XXth century. We are lucky that William Lyon Mackenzie King deeded his property to the Nation, a magnificent gift.

The fantasy ruins

To go back to my ride up into the Gatineau Park, I was almost alone on the road, only saw 2 other cars and about a dozen cyclists, those are the hard core cyclists, the climb is difficult and steep. There were two men at the Huron Lookout and both must have been in their sixties with legs of steel. We are very lucky in the National Capital Region to be able to enjoy this park.

View at Huron lookout, looking south towards Ottawa in the distance to the left
Huron Lookout is so named because in the period between 1604 and 1613 several French explorer came to the area among them Etienne Brulé and Samuel de Champlain. The Huron lived further north down the Outaouais river. The area of the Gatineau Park is Algonquin land cousins of the Mohawks of the Iroquois Confederacy.

1 comment:

  1. I quite like those "fantasy ruins" that Mackenzie King collected.