The Mackenzie King Estate, located in Gatineau, Quebec, takes you back in time. You can explore the cottages of one of Canada’s most famous prime minister, as well as exploring the gorgeous grounds and gardens, and you can even squeeze in a beautiful hike to a waterfall.
Mackenzie King clearly had an eye for beautiful land as he purchased a section of property that, nowadays (and thanks to him), is located in the heart of Gatineau Park’s “Chelsea Sector.” William Lyon Mackenzie King, one of Canada’s most famous prime ministers, owned this property for nearly 50 years (1903-1950) and, as you’ll see, he did a marvellous job of turning it into his own piece of paradise.
Mackenzie King ultimately intended for Canadians to enjoy this place, as he had the privilege to do for so long. That’s why he willed it to Canada before his passing, and since then, it’s become one of the hidden gems of the National Capital Region. He always attended for people to come visit this place after his passing, and to take a deep breath and gather themselves, as he did for so many years.
Whether you’re staying in Quebec‘s Outaouais Region (perhaps in nearby Chelsea), or you’re in Downtown Ottawa, it’s not hard to squeeze in a visit to the Mackenzie King Estate, and if you do, we’re quite certain you’re not going to regret it.
With its unique history and landscape, it’s really a place unlike any other.
A Bit More About William Lyon Mackenzie King & The Estate
William Lyon Mackenzie King was Canada’s 10th prime minister, and also our longest-serving prime minister (1921-1930, 1935-1948). As you may notice from those dates, this means he was our leader during both the Great Depression and the Second World War.
Objectively, he’s known as the most powerful politician of that era, and many Canadians credit him with laying the foundation for the welfare state, as well as establishing Canada as a nation that is keen to maintain world order, as opposed to disrupt it.
The property is quite famous as a place that he came to take refuge, and find some clarity in his thinking during difficult times. It was also a place that he hosted others to do much the same, including the likes of Winston Churchill and Charles Lindbergh.
Scholars point to King as a bit of an eccentric (mainly in the way he thought about spiritualism and mediums), and someone who didn’t necessarily fit the archetype of a charismatic prime minister, but objectively, he was a terribly smart individual, and is widely regarded as one of Canada’s greatest ever leaders.
Highlights of the Mackenzie King Estate
Thankfully for us, in 2013 the cottages and the property at large were restored, all in an effort to help “take visitors back in time to King’s era.” That approach has, evidently, worked rather well, as when you visit here, you do feel a sense of peace and reprieve – as if you’re a little removed by the busyness and weight of daily life.
“Such happiness as I felt in being beneath my own roof, amid the trees.” – William Lyon Mackenzie King
The Kingswood Cottage
King apparently first visited this land in 1900, and it was more or less love at first sight. In 1903, King bought a piece of land, and built a humble cottage on it which he called “The Kingswood Cottage.” It’s a one-storey, rustic cottage overlooking the lake, and it was originally built for just him, but later expanded to have a few more bedrooms, as well as a front verandah.
The Moorside Cottage
In the early 1920s, King moved to Moorside, largely because, with his newfound political power, he needed more than just a place to hike, swim and relax (which is what Kingswood primarily offered). Moorside was built in a much more elegant style, and that meant he could still have his friends up to visit, but he could also now host foreign dignitaries, or host meetings that were of a professional nature.
It’s a one-and-a-half-storey place with a wooden gable-roofed building, and it’s said to be modelled after English country residences of that time. Apparently, King was very much a romantic, and beautifying the home, the property and the gardens was a top priority for him in his spare time.
Both cottages are still rich with artifacts, and they now have interactive panels that provide context to visitors. Since the summer of 2022, the Moorside Cottage also not serves as a day shelter (with tables, chairs, and a wheelchair accessible washroom).
King knew that he wouldn’t be in politics forever, and as such, he began to plan for his retirement by sinking all his energy into “The Farm.” He originally settled here right before WWII, and, sadly, he died there only two years after formally retiring.
The Farm best showcases King’s love of architecture. He passionately restored this 19th century farmhouse, and turned it into a gorgeous residence where he could live year-round. Just a note for visitors, The Farm is now the official residence of the speaker of the House of Commons, so it’s not accessible to the public in the way that Kingswood and Moorside are.
There are a variety of ruins on the property, and all of them serve to add a certain prestige and mystique to the Mackenzie King Estate. The most prominent of the ruins are likely The Abbey Ruins. Fun fact – the Abbey was actually constructed, in part, with materials from the Centre Block of Parliament that was destroyed by fire in 1916.
The Abbey Ruins are just a short walk from The Farm, so there’s no reason not to stroll down there and to get a picture or two.
On the property, you’ll also fine the L’Arc de Triomphe, which happens to be the salvaged front entrance of the demolished Bank of North America building that King decided should not go to waste.
One of our favourite parts about visiting the Mackenzie King Estate was that you’re really in nature throughout the entirety of your visit. When you’re visiting, we’d definitely recommend that you take a moment to explore the Waterfall and Lauriault Trails. These were his favourite trails on the estate.
We did the 4.5 kilometre or so loop so that we could set eyes on the waterfall, and then headed back up. The whole thing took roughly an hour, but if you’re taking your time and taking photographs throughout, it may be closer to 1.5 hours. There’s plenty of signage, and it’s quite well marked.
King loved to garden, and this property certainly showcases that. There are beautiful flowers pretty much everywhere – at the cottages, at The Farm, near the ruins. The best way to explore the flowers is to simply keep your eyes open wherever you are.
There’s a particularly large arrangement of flowers and gardens near The Farm that’s rather famous and picturesque and you should set eyes on before you leave.
The King Estate Awaits
Today, we’ll leave you with a beautiful quote from the Parks Canada Directory of Heritage Designations that we feel illustrates how King felt about this property, and precisely why you should find the time to go and enjoy it.
“The large estate, inclusive of three separate sites, Kingswood, Moorside and the Farm, were regarded by King himself as his true legacy to the Canadian people.”
Christopher Mitchell is a Co-founder of We Explore Canada. He’s visited over 80 countries and has lived on 4 continents, but now has his eyes set squarely on exploring this incredible country and helping others do the same.