As a young man, William Lyon Mackenzie King would ride his bicycle into the beautiful Gatineau Hills he grew to love. Located about 20 kilometres from Ottawa, it was here that King would eventually make his home. First in the modest four-room cottage known as Kingswood, then at Moorside, where he carved both home and gardens out of the Canadian Shield, and finally at The Farm, now the residence of the Speaker of the House of Commons.
It’s at Moorside in Quebec where visitors can best experience King’s visionary plans for both the property’s gardens and for the city of Ottawa itself. Moorside presented the scope for King to explore his ideas of landscape, which were shaped by England’s Capability Brown, as well as Fredrick Law Olmsted’s concepts of working with nature. His work here compelled him to engage French architect and urban planner Jacques Gréber to develop a plan to transform the industrial, small-town Ottawa into parkways and greenbelts worthy of the nation’s capital.
“King had a good idea of space,” explains Dorota Grudniewicz, landscape architect and project manager for the estate. “He created distinct areas: meadows, gardens and lawns,” she says. There’s a studied design progression from the house, starting from the French garden nearest the house, which is a symmetrical, manicured area carpeted in colourful annuals, much like an outdoor living room. Farther from the house are the English style perennial borders, ornamented by the ruins that rise behind them. And farthest from the house on the edge of the forest is the rock garden, where plants grow from the weather-smoothed granite boulders of the Gatineau landscape.
Romantic ruins are carefully sited throughout the grounds. The abbey ruins, built in two stages starting in 1935, were created from an Ottawa residence that was being demolished. The view through the open windows is on a direct axis with Ottawa’s Peace Tower. The second part of the ruins uses stones salvaged from the Parliament Buildings, which burned in 1916.
There’s so much more to learn about this beautiful and historic estate. Plan to take one of the free tours, which are conducted hourly on weekend afternoons during the summer.