The Ducal Palace at Ottawa

W. Arnot Craick September 1 1911

The Ducal Palace at Ottawa

W. Arnot Craick September 1 1911

The Ducal Palace at Ottawa

W. Arnot Craick

IT is a far cry from Windsor Castle or Buckingham Palace to Rideau Hall. The contrast is immense. With an Aberdeen, or a Minto, or a Grey in the gubernatorial chair, Canadians did not mind so much that Government House should be so markedly inferior to the residences of royalty, but when a scion of the royal house arrives on the scene to take his place as tenth Governor-General of this expansive Dominion, there is just a tinge of shame that he and his, accustom-

ed to the luxuries of palaces, should be housed so comparatively poorly. Fortunately or unfortunately, as the case may be, really very few Canadians have ever seen Government House, much less entered it, and little do they care what the place looks like so long as the roof doesn’t leak and the walls keep out the wind. In this democratic land there is plenty of respect for authority and consideration for health and comfort, but very little pampering of privilege.

It is, after all, only by contrast that Rideau Hall suffers. It has absolutely no form or comeliness, when compared with many another gubernatorial residence, but for all practical purposes it is a very comfortable and unassuming old place, quite good enough in the eyes of most commonsense people for anybody’s home, be he king, duke or commoner. Only those who still cherish a little reverence for the divine right of kings will have misgivings at placing a royal duke in such a queer, wandering, ramshackle old house.

In this strenuous land houses, as well as people, have a way of growing old before their time. As compared with many a country mansion in the old land, Rideau Hall is merely a child, and yet it has about it all the signs of venerable old age. It has had a chequered career. It has been overhauled and patched so many times that it is to-day but a semblance of

its former self. In the conglomerate mass of wings, towers and gables, which surround and cover it, the original building is buried away and lost to view.

Built originally in the year 1838 by one of the magnates of the day, called Thomas Mackay, it was a nine days’ wonder to the good people of By town, who looked across at the “Castle,” as it was called, from the future site of Canada’s capital, and whispered 'beneath their breath about the extraordinary wealth of a man who could afford to build such a wonderful house in the backwoods. The place became famous not only because it was a remarkably fine mansion to be built on the very fringe of civilization, but because of the abundant hospitality of its owner and his charming daughters. “Mackay’s Castle” was the show place of Bytown, standing there so romantically amid its splendid acres of wood and field,

and beneath its roof was entertained many a titled visitor, who came to Bytown to watch the picturesque operations of the lumbermen. The late King Edward VII., when, as Prince of Wales, he visited Canada in 1860, was a guest at Rideau Hall, and practically all the Governors before Confederation spent some time there.

When Bvtown was transformed at one stroke into Ottawa and the capital of the future Dominion, it became necessary for the Government to select a fitting habitation for the Governor-General. What more natural than that Rideau Hall, situated so beautifully on the outskirts of the little city, should appeal to the members of the Cabinet as the very place for the purpose? It was leased as a preliminary in I860, and purchased for eighty thousand dollars in 1868. There are not wanting those who blame the Government of that day, and particularly the Minister

of Public Works, for not proceeding at once to demolish the old house and rear a fine new building on its site, suited to the rank and dignity of its future occupants. But it must be remembered that the Canada of 1867 was very, very far from being the Canada of 1911. Its population was sparse and its revenues were small. Moreover, Rideau Hall was in those days an astonishingly fine house, and in comparison with the homes of even the wealthiest people, a residence of much distinction. So, instead of tearing it down, it was fixed up for the reception of His Somewhat Impecunious Excellence, the Right Honorable Viscount Monck, G. C. M.__G., the first Governor-General of the Dominion.

Since the days when Lord Monck was accustomed to borrow horses to haul the vice-regal carriage to the city, eight viceroys have dwelt at Rideau Hall, for per-

iods ranging from five to six years. Their regimes have been marked by the addition to this and that feature to what has become a veritable patchwork Government House. The ball-room, practically the one apartment of any marked distinction in the building, was a product of the jolly days of the Earl of Duff erin. The racquet court, a big bare ugly barn of a place, dates from the time of the Marquis of Lome. The little chapel was added in the period when the Earl of Aberdeen occupied the Hall, and the second tower and a large section of the conservatories will in future years serve to recall the regime of His Excellency Earl Grey. In this way the history of the viceroys is imbedded in the walls of Government House.

Rideau Hall possesses one great redeeming feature, and that is its charming location. In full view from the windows of the house, across an intervening stretch of level ground are the Government build-

ings, rising picturesquely on Parliament Hill. Beneath and around them rise the roofs of the city. In the opposite direction lie the wooded hills of Rockcliffe Park, with its charming roads and footpaths. Between, stretches the broad expanse of the lordly Ottawa river, rolling majestically eastwards, and beyond there are the hills of Quebec, with their everchanging coloring and variety—altogether a scene to stir the heartsof poets.

Were there not the rather official-looking gates, the lodge, the extensive grounds and an occasional glimpse of uniforms among the trees, one would be inclined to pass Rideau Hall by, and look for Government House elsewhere. But all these evidences point to the presence of authority, and the vistor enters the grounds. From only one side of the Hall is there any semblance of symmetry or charm in its appearance. This aspect, which is the one shown in practically all photograph*

of Government House, may lay claim to some respect, giving one the impression of a comfortable and unpretentious English country-house—a resemblance which will probably become more and more noticeable as the visitor proceeds on his way.

Despite the somewhat ramshackle appearance of the Hall, there is notwithstanding a certain degree of impressiveness about the place, inspired, no doubt, by the strict formality which is always observed within its portals. The entrance hall may be old-fashioned, its floor may be covered with oilcloth from which the pattern has been obliterated here and there by the passage across it of countless feet, but one never forgets that through it have moved a long succession of famous men and women, and their presence even in memory is sufficient to redeem itfrom complete unworthiness.

The ball-room to the left of the en-

trance hall is a large and handsome apartment. Its lofty ceilings and well-chosen decorations, with the portraits of the late King Edward, Queen Alexandra, and previous Governors-General of Canada, render it quite an imposing room. It has been the scene of many a famous and brilliant event in the social history of the Dominion. Here the state balls have taken place and the state dinners. Here on many occasions amateur theatricals have been performed and such other celebrations and festivities as have marked the course of each viceroy’s regime.

Occupying a similar position to the right of the entrance hall is the whiteelephant of a racquet court. It may be a useful appendage to the house and may afford convenient room for indoor tennis and other games, but attached as it is to the most prominent corner of the building, it is far from being a thing of beauty.

It is reached through an octagonal waiting-room in one of the two towers and the billiard room. An ingenious arrangement of canvas suspended from a pole, which crosses the court, can be used to convert the place into the semblance of a big tent or marquee, and here on the night of the state ball, refreshments are served, with a fair approximation to an outdoor setting.

Leading directly from the main entrance and reached by a flight of steps ascending from the entrance hall, is a narrow hall or passageway, which extends almost the entire length of the building. From it open on either side the principal rooms of the house. It is carpeted in crimson, as are most of the apartments, and the rich color with the pure white of the doorways and panelling give an appearance of warmth and brightness throughout. Large photographs of such

important events in recent Canadian history as the Quebec Tencentenary and the memorial service in Toronto to the late King Edward are hung from the walls, and other curios find places here and there in cabinets and cases.

First come several of the offices of the Governor-General’s staff, including that of the Comptroller of the Household. Beyond on the right lie the drawing-room, Her Excellency’s private sitting-room and the Governor-General’s office and study. To the left is the dining-room. All four apartments are large, bright and comfortably, but not showily, furnished. His Excellency’s study is a new room, occupying the ground floor of the second tower, which was only recently added to the Hall. Passing on towards the rear, the visitor reaches the private rooms of the aides and the other members of the household —small and very plainly furnished,

though occupied for the most part by young men of distinguished birth. Then he emerges into the conservatories, which are alike the pride and glory of Rideau Hall. They have been considerably enlarged under the superintendence of Countess Grey, who is extremely fond of flowers, and is a clever amateur gardener. Extending back fully two hundred and fifty feet, they contain an immense variety of flowering plants and provide a charming retreat for the lover of nature during the rigorous months of winter. A palm house in the centre rises to a considerable height and is provided with comfortable seats for lounging. The only other apartment in the house worthy of note is the little chapel, which has not been used by Earl Grey and his family except on the occasion of deaths in the family. It will probably be occupied again by the Duke and Duchess of Connaught, who may prefer the seclusion of a private chapel to the conspicuousness of a pew in any of the Ottawa churches.

Situated quite close to the Hall is a large skating rink, with commodious dressing, promenade and refreshment rooms, and here during the winter months it has been the custom of the Canadian viceroy to entertain the more youthful members of Ottawa society on Saturday afternoons. This is a form of amusement which has always been promiently associated with life at Government House, and the scene presented on the rink and the adjacent toboggan slide is a brilliant and animated one. Attached to the open rink is a covered curling rink, where the

Governor-General and his more sedate friends can enjoy the excitement of tho roarin’ game.

Outdoor forms of entertainment are always preferred at Rideau Hall, because of the lack of facilities for catering to the comfort of guests inside. Skating parties in winter and garden parties in summer are therefore of frequent occurrence and are enjoyed by large crowds of people.

Government House becomes the scene of a variety of entertainments, particularly during the months when Parliament is in session. A state dinner marks the opening of the session and a state ball is usually held towards its close. Interspersed between come a host of smaller dinners and other entertainments of a less formal character. In addition, visitors of distinction who come to Ottawa are generally entertained at the Hall. Particularly was this the case under the regime of Earl Grey, who took a deep interest. in science, literature and art and delighted in having about him men famous in these pursuits.

The conversion of Rideau Hall into a ducal palace will probably involve a considerable change in the way of doing things in that already historic house. A miniature court will be held within its walls, which will recall to mind the days when the Princess Louise lived beneath its roof. Whatever the outcome may be, the regime of H.R.H., the Duke of Connaught, will at least serve to add some interesting associations and memories to Canada’s Government House.