Preserving and Promoting local history for the former Rideau Township
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House at the corner of Somerset and Metcalfe Streets

House at the corner of Somerset and Metcalfe Streets, now the home of Soccer Canada, previously the residence of Sir John Thompson, P.M. from 1892 until his sudden death at Windsor Castle in 1894 (photo by Hagit Hadaya)

R.B. Bennett (P.M. 1930-1935) was a bachelor. He chose a suite in the Chateau Laurier, and the owners, Canadian National Railways, strove to provide more luxurious accommodation when he became Prime Minister – a 17-room suite renovated at a cost of over $85,000. When word of his luxurious lifestyle became public, in the depths of the Great Depression, it became one more reason to dump the Conservative government.

Prime Minister W.L.M. King's study

Prime Minister W.L.M. King's study at Laurier House, 335 Laurier Ave. E., Ottawa. The home both to Sir Wilfrid Laurier, P.M. 1896-1911 and King, 1921-1930, 1935-1948. At the end of the room is the portrait of King's deceased mother, with whom he believed he was in spiritual communication. (Library and Archives Canada C-018629)

By the time Louis St-Laurent became Prime Minister in 1948, his rented quarters at the Roxborough were no longer so fashionable. The government at last purchased the house at 24 Sussex Drive, to be the Prime Ministers’ official residence. Nevertheless, in 1951 the St-Laurents were reluctant to move in. Jeanne, Mme St-Laurent, did not want to leave their elegant and comfortable house in Quebec City, and when she saw the front hall at 24 Sussex, she cried, “I’m not going to live here. I cannot live with that wallpaper!” of giant chrysanthemums. But the chrysanthemums went and Jeanne stayed.

Hagit offered a few thoughts on the much-needed repairs to 24 Sussex, on an evening only two nights after the federal election. We concluded with a lively question session and refreshments.

The Chateau Laurier, 1937.

Hagit Hadaya spoke to about 25 members of the Rideau Township Historical Society and their guests at the Client Service Centre in North Gower on the evening of 21 October. Among those present was Barbara Humphreys, longtime member of our Society, who had been one of Hagit’s lecturers when she was an undergraduate at Carleton University.

Hagit Hadaya with Barbara Humphreys

Hagit Hadaya with Barbara Humphreys at the October meeting. (Photo by Owen Cooke)

Hagit spoke about her current research project, to write a book about the Ottawa homes of the early Canadian Prime Ministers before the Canadian government purchased 24 Sussex Drive as an official residence. Although she is in the early stages of her research, she treated us to a wealth of detail and anecdotes about the domestic arrangements of each of the Prime Ministers up to Louis St-Laurent.

She noted that the situation for the earlier Prime Ministers was different from that facing today’s incumbents. Parliament sat for only three to four months each year, so the Prime Ministers did not have to buy houses in the capital. In some cases, their wives did not accompany them to the capital, and they rented rooms in hotels. Most were men of modest means, and there was no living allowance paid. As they walked to their offices, they preferred locations in Centretown or in the new suburb of Sandy Hill.

One of the first “homes” of a Prime Minister still extant is Stadacona Hall at 395 Laurier Ave. E., where Sir John A. Macdonald (Prime Minister 1867-1873, 1878-1891) lived 1878-1883, before moving to Earnescliffe. Stadacona Hall later was the home of Sir Frederick Borden, Minister of Militia and Defence in the Laurier administration, and is today the Brunei High Commission.

Other residences have not survived. 22 Vittoria Street was used by Alexander Mackenzie (P.M. 1873-1878), after his earlier quarters burned and he personally assisted in fighting the fire. Sir John Abbott (P.M. 1891-1892) also lived in this house, and Sir Charles Tupper (P.M. 1896)considered moving here. The house – and the whole street - was demolished to make way for the Confederation Building on the north side of Wellington St. Other homes used by Sir John Thompson (P.M. 1892- 1894), Sir Charles Tupper, Sir Robert Borden (P.M. 1911- 1920) and Arthur Meighen (P.M. 1920-1921 and 1926) similarly have not survived.

One which still exists is the handsome brick house at the corner of Somerset and Metcalfe Streets which Thompson and his wife Annie rented in 1894, soon before his untimely death at Windsor Castle where he was a guest of Queen Victoria. The house is today the headquarters of Soccer Canada.

Early Prime Ministers rented rooms at the Russell House, a famous early hotel at the corner of Elgin and Sparks Streets, or at the Victoria Chambers at Wellington and O’Connor Streets. In later years the Roxborough Apartments at Laurier and Elgin were a fashionable address, the city’s first luxury apartments

 

 

On the right the Chateau Laurier, 1937. R.B. Bennett, P.M. 1930-1935, had a palatial suite in the back left corner, where we can see the awnings on the second floor. In the worst of the Great Depression many did not care for his lifestyle. (Library and Archives Canada E-010862042)

The October 2015 Presentation

At Home with the Prime Minister Ottawa Residences of the Prime Ministers Prior to 1951

Article by Owen Cooke, Illustrations by Hagit Hadaya