Buildings tell stories, so do landscapes. In Gatineau Park, just north of Canada’s Capital, both landscape and architecture tell a very Canadian story of preservation, contemplation and the place of nature in our national identity.

The large 361-square-kilometre park — only 15 minutes from Parliament Hill — is home to the former estate and grounds of Canada’s 10th prime minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King. Thanks to King’s foresight, a beautiful segment of the Gatineau Hills was preserved as a park in 1938. King’s collection of rescued architectural fragments, installed in this natural setting, have also created a sort of spiritual oasis within the park.

With more than 21 years in office, Mackenzie King was the longest-serving prime minister in Canadian history. Leading the country through the Second World War, King was prime minister at a time when the country was undergoing great change. Though King strove to improve Canada’s role in the changing world state, he was also mindful of future generations. Through his efforts, he helped establish a peaceful postwar Canada that preserved its past.

King addr Read More
Buildings tell stories, so do landscapes. In Gatineau Park, just north of Canada’s Capital, both landscape and architecture tell a very Canadian story of preservation, contemplation and the place of nature in our national identity.

The large 361-square-kilometre park — only 15 minutes from Parliament Hill — is home to the former estate and grounds of Canada’s 10th prime minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King. Thanks to King’s foresight, a beautiful segment of the Gatineau Hills was preserved as a park in 1938. King’s collection of rescued architectural fragments, installed in this natural setting, have also created a sort of spiritual oasis within the park.

With more than 21 years in office, Mackenzie King was the longest-serving prime minister in Canadian history. Leading the country through the Second World War, King was prime minister at a time when the country was undergoing great change. Though King strove to improve Canada’s role in the changing world state, he was also mindful of future generations. Through his efforts, he helped establish a peaceful postwar Canada that preserved its past.

King addressed his aspirations for Ottawa in a 1923 speech to Parliament. “We may not come to have the largest, the wealthiest, or the most cosmopolitan Capital in the world, but I believe that with Ottawa’s natural and picturesque setting, given stately proportions, and a little careful planning, we can have the most beautiful Capital in the world…[and] those who follow in future years will come to recognize it as an expression in some degree of the soul of Canada.”

One of the most beautiful landscapes in the region is the Gatineau Hills, where Mackenzie King created a working farm, several summer cottages for himself and visitors, beautiful French- and English-style gardens, and a permanent home to which he eventually retired in 1948. Upon his death two years later, he bequeathed his property to the people of Canada, adding to a vibrant and accessible public park that entertains more than a million visitors each year.

One small corner of Mackenzie King’s estate was devoted to architectural fragments salvaged from buildings under repair or demolition. Named the “Abbey Ruins,” these garden features were created from the fire-ravaged Canadian Parliament Buildings, from the blitzkrieg-era British Parliament Buildings, and from various grand homes around Ottawa that were undergoing renovations and reconstruction.

Originally, King wanted to create a private chapel from the collected stones. When he realized he didn’t have quite enough material, he re-imagined the collection into “ruins” resembling a gothic abbey, a Greek temple and other time-tumbled structures. The partial buildings, beautiful in their own right, are designed to complement and frame the surrounding Canadian landscape.

King insured that not only were the stones preserved, but that they also integrated with the Canadian Shield landscape of the region. Much of King’s estate honours the landscape — which is significant to Aboriginal peoples, European settlers and park users today — by creating viewpoints and contemplative grottoes. It is easy to visit the Abbey Ruins and imagine Mackenzie King sitting among the stones, gaining insight into the weighty problems that the country faced.

Today, park visitors use the ruins as a photo opportunity. Many happy faces on Flickr and Facebook feature the ruins in the background, an ongoing part of Canada’s visual story. Because of King’s vision, Gatineau Park remains a cultural and environmental legacy that Canadians enjoy year-round.

© National Capital Commission. All Rights Reserved.

Photo of King statue, 2002

A statue of Canada’s longest-serving prime minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King, stands in front of the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa, only 15 minutes away from King’s beloved home in the Gatineau Hills. This statue was created by Raoul Hunter.

Statue: Raoul Hunter
Photo: National Capital Commission

© National Capital Commission. All Rights Reserved.


Photo of Rt. Hon. William Lyon Mackenzie King and his dog "Pat", 1924-1948

Mackenzie King aimed to create a peaceful oasis from the tumult of Ottawa politics. Using reclaimed stones from various demolished or damaged buildings, he assembled the Abbey Ruins on his estate, now part of Gatineau Park.

Library and Archives Canada
c. 1924-1948
C-024304
© Library and Archives Canada. All Rights Reserved.


Abbey Ruins, keyhole shot, 2008

The Abbey Ruins in Gatineau Park provide visitors with interesting and surprising viewpoints, many of which frame the landscape surrounding the ruins.

National Capital Commission
c. 2008
© National Capital Commission. All Rights Reserved.


William Lyon Mackenzie King is an important figure in Canadian history. Research and write a short paper on his accomplishments. His life is well documented through his diaries (now part of Library and Archives Canada). How does his private estate reflect his private life?
William Lyon Mackenzie King is an important figure in Canadian history. Research and write a short paper on his accomplishments. His life is well documented through his diaries (now part of Library and Archives Canada). How does his private estate reflect his private life?

© National Capital Commission. All Rights Reserved.

How are parks created? In a small team, research a park in your area. Who is responsible for maintaining the park? How do people use the park? Does the park preserve any natural area or historical landmark? Is there an area in your community that you think should be a park? Suggest a new park in your area or neighbourhood. What events or activities would take place there?
How are parks created? In a small team, research a park in your area. Who is responsible for maintaining the park? How do people use the park? Does the park preserve any natural area or historical landmark? Is there an area in your community that you think should be a park? Suggest a new park in your area or neighbourhood. What events or activities would take place there?

© National Capital Commission. All Rights Reserved.

King reassembled old stones to create a new park feature, the Abbey Ruins. These structures provide seating for weary visitors, climbing structures for adventurous kids and tranquil backgrounds for people taking photographs. Try making a maquette or model for a park near you. Gather materials that would otherwise go into your recycling bin. Select a suitable area for your structure. Identify what purpose your structure will serve. Draw a design for your structure, then re-create a small model of it using your recycled materials.
King reassembled old stones to create a new park feature, the Abbey Ruins. These structures provide seating for weary visitors, climbing structures for adventurous kids and tranquil backgrounds for people taking photographs. Try making a maquette or model for a park near you. Gather materials that would otherwise go into your recycling bin. Select a suitable area for your structure. Identify what purpose your structure will serve. Draw a design for your structure, then re-create a small model of it using your recycled materials.

© National Capital Commission. All Rights Reserved.

The Abbey Ruins provide photographers with many interesting viewpoints and vistas. Look at Asset 3. The photographer has chosen to shoot one scene framed by the architectural keyhole feature in the foreground. Using a large piece of paper, cut out a decorative “window.” Your window can be modern, or a more historical one (such as the one in the Abbey Ruins photo). Using drawing media, provide detail around the hole, such as stones, curtains and so on. Using a second piece of paper, draw a scene that will be seen through your keyhole window.
The Abbey Ruins provide photographers with many interesting viewpoints and vistas. Look at Asset 3. The photographer has chosen to shoot one scene framed by the architectural keyhole feature in the foreground. Using a large piece of paper, cut out a decorative “window.” Your window can be modern, or a more historical one (such as the one in the Abbey Ruins photo). Using drawing media, provide detail around the hole, such as stones, curtains and so on. Using a second piece of paper, draw a scene that will be seen through your keyhole window.

© National Capital Commission. All Rights Reserved.

Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • find out more about the life of Canada’s 10th prime minister;
  • explore how a park is created;
  • re-create Mackenzie King’s process in making the Abbey Ruins by making their own park structure out of found materials;
  • examine aspects of framing as a visual strategy.

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