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Laurier House, a Second-Empire style home in Ottawa, was built in 1878 for a jeweller, John Leslie. In 1897, it became the home of the new Prime Minister, Wilfrid Laurier, and his wife, after the Liberal Party purchased it for them. Sir Wilfrid died in 1919 and his wife in 1921. Lady Laurier bequeathed the house to the new Liberal leader, Mackenzie King. Thanks to financial contributions from a number of Liberals, particularly Peter C. Larkin, the house was extensively renovated before King took possession. Larkin personally donated china, silver, furniture and other decorations.
Laurier House, in Ottawa, the residence of Mackenzie King, ca. 1925-1930
In January 1923, King moved into the home that he called Laurier House. He recorded his impressions: "Am writing for the first time in my new library at Laurier house and spending the first night beneath my own roof. It is [quiet] and peaceful and there is a feeling of space and repose in this wonderfully beautiful room ...." (Diary, January 12, 1923) In March, he gave two receptions for members of Parliament and senators, as well as some other officials, neighbours and friends, in his new home. He wrote: "Everyone seemed genuinely pleased with the House, and there was a regular chorus of praise with regard to it." (Diary, March 14, 1923) Of the second reception, he commented: "... Guests wandered all over the house and all seemed ... to enjoy the 'open door - house warming' character of the gathering." (Diary, March 21, 1923) A total of more than 500 people attended the two events, and King was pleased and proud: "How I wish some of the family could have shared this with me." (Diary, March 22, 1923)
Mackenzie King ponders the J.W.L. Forster painting of his mother, Isabel Grace Mackenzie King, in the library of Laurier House, Ottawa, ca. 1945
In the painting, King's mother is holding the book Life of Gladstone by John Morley, open to the chapter "The Prime Minister." During his term as Prime Minister, Mackenzie King surpassed Gladstone as the longest serving Prime Minister in the British Empire.
A few years later, a group of Liberals gave King a fund of $225,000 to allow him some financial independence. King used the interest on this money for, among other things, the maintenance of his home and the costs of entertaining there. King devoted a lot of time and thought to the house and its furnishings.
Laurier House was King's Ottawa residence for the rest of his life. In his will, he left it to "the Government of Canada in trust for the people of Canada." He also bequeathed to the Government and people of Canada the sum of $225,000, the interest on this to help pay for the maintenance of the house. The amount was the same as the sum that Peter Larkin and other Liberals had raised for King, more than 20 years earlier.
The interior of Laurier House, Ottawa
The portrait on the left depicts Sir Wilfrid Laurier, and the one on the right, Peter Larkin.
In his will, King expressed the hope that the house could be maintained as a place of historic interest, having been the home of two former prime ministers, and he hoped it would remind Canadians of his close association with Sir Wilfrid and Lady Laurier. He hoped that the house could be associated in some way with the Public Archives of Canada, and that the library and other rooms on the top floor could be used for purposes of research and study.
The house is now a historic site administered by Parks Canada.