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Main façade of Government House
|Architectural style||Regency, Norman Revival, Florentine Renaissance Revival|
|Town or city||1 Sussex Dr.
|Current tenants||Queen of Canada
Governor General of Canada
|Size||9,500 m2 (102,000 sq ft)|
|Design and construction|
|Client||Thomas McKay (1838), The Crown in Right of Canada (1865, 1872, 1899, 1906, 1914, 1925, 2004)|
|Owner||The Queen in Right of Canada|
|Landlord||National Capital Commission|
|Architect||Thomas McKay, David Ewart, etc.|
Rideau Hall is, since 1867, the official residence in Ottawa of both the Canadian monarch and the Governor General of Canada. It stands in Canada's capital on a 0.36 km2 (88 acre) estate at 1 Sussex Drive, with the main building consisting of 170 rooms across 9,500 m2 (102,000 sq ft), and 24 outbuildings around the grounds. While the equivalent building in many countries has a prominent, central place in the national capital (for example Buckingham Palace, the White House, and the Royal Palace in Amsterdam), Rideau Hall's site is relatively unobtrusive within Ottawa, giving it more the character of a private home.
Most of Rideau Hall is used for state affairs, only 500 m2 (5,400 sq ft) of its area being dedicated to private living quarters, while additional areas serve as the offices of the Canadian Heraldic Authority and the principal workplace of the governor general and his or her staff — either the term Rideau Hall, as a metonym, or the formal idiom Government House is employed to refer to this bureaucratic branch. Officially received at the palace are foreign heads of state, both incoming and outgoing ambassadors and high commissioners to Canada, and Canadian crown ministers for audiences with either the viceroy or the sovereign, should the latter be in residence. Rideau Hall is likewise the location of many Canadian award presentations and investitures, where prime ministers and other members of cabinet are sworn in, and where federal writs of election are dropped, amongst other ceremonial and constitutional functions. The house is open to the public for guided tours throughout the year; approximately 200,000 visitors tour Rideau Hall annually.
The site of Rideau Hall and the original structure were chosen and built by stonemason Thomas McKay, who immigrated from Perth, Scotland to Montreal, Lower Canada, in 1817, and who later became the main contractor involved in the construction of the Rideau Canal. Following the completion of the canal, McKay built mills at Rideau Falls, making him the founder of New Edinburgh, the original settlement of Ottawa. With his newly acquired wealth, McKay purchased the site overlooking both the Ottawa and Rideau Rivers, and built a stone villa where he and his family lived until 1855, and which became the root of the present day Rideau Hall.
Even before the building became a royal residence, the hall received noted visitors, including three Governors General of the Province of Canada: Lord Sydenham, Lord Elgin, and Sir Edmund Head. It was said that the watercolours of Barrack Hill (now Parliament Hill) painted by the latter governor's wife, Lady Head, while she was visiting Rideau Hall, had influenced Queen Victoria to choose Bytown (now Ottawa) as the national capital. Also, on 2 September 1860, the day after he laid the cornerstone of the parliament buildings, Prince Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII), drove through the grounds of Rideau Hall as part of his tour of the region.
In 1864, after Ottawa was chosen by Queen Victoria as the new capital of the Province of Canada, Rideau Hall was leased by the Crown from the McKay family for $4,000 per year, and was intended to serve only as a temporary home for the viceroy until a proper government house could be constructed. The next year, Frederick Preston Rubidge designed additions to the villa, seeing it enlarged to three or four times the original size in order to accommodate the new functions, and, once complete, the first Governor General of Canada, the Viscount Monck, took residence. These additions were opposed by George Brown, who claimed that "the governor general's residence is a miserable little house, and the grounds those of an ambitious country squire." Prime Minister John A. Macdonald agreed, complaining that more had been spent on patching up Rideau Hall than could have been used to construct a new royal palace. Nonetheless, the gatehouse was enhanced by Rubidge and the entire property purchased outright in 1868 for the sum of $82,000, after which the house became the social centre of Ottawa — even Canada — hosting foreign visitors (the first being Grand Duke Alexis, son of Tsar Alexander II), investitures, swearing-in ceremonies, balls, dinners, garden parties, children's parties, and theatrical productions in the ballroom, in which members of the household and viceregal family would participate. Probably the largest event held in the ballroom was a fancy dress ball that took place on the evening of 23 February 1876, and which saw approximately 1,500 guests attending.
Still, despite the popularity of the events that took place in the building, negative first impressions of Rideau Hall itself were a theme until the early part of the 20th century. Upon arrival there in 1872, the Marchioness of Dufferin said in her journal: "We have been so very enthusiastic about everything hitherto that the first sight of Rideau Hall did lower our spirits just a little!" In 1893, Lady Stanley, wife of Governor General the Lord Stanley of Preston, said "you will find the furniture in the rooms very old-fashioned & not very pretty... The red drawing room... had no furniture except chairs & tables... The walls are absolutely bare... The room which has always been the wife of the G.G.'s sitting room is very empty... There are no lamps in the house at all. No cushions, no table cloths, in fact none of the small things that make a room pretty & comfortable." Echoing these earlier comments, the Marchioness of Aberdeen and Temair said upon her departure from Ottawa that Rideau Hall was a "shabby old Government House put away amongst its clump of bushes..."
Various improvements were undertaken over the decades, seeing the first gas chandeliers and a telegraph wire put in, as well as the construction of the ballroom in the same year. By the time Rideau Hall was to live up to its role as a royal home, when its first royal residents — the Marquess of Lorne and his wife, Princess Louise — moved in at the beginning of 1878, many upgrades had been completed. Lorne stated of the hall: "Here we are settling down in this big and comfortable House [sic], which I tell Louise is much superior to Kensington, for the walls are thick, the rooms are lathed and plastered (which they are not at Kensington) and there is an abundant supply of heat and light." The Princess was not long in Rideau Hall before Fenians posed themselves as a threat to her life, and she was ushered back to the UK for both rest and protection. When she returned in 1880, with the Queen greatly concerned for her daughter's safety, it was felt necessary to post extra guards around the grounds of the hall.
Thereafter, members of the Royal Family would stay periodically at Rideau Hall, if not as governor general then as guests of the Crown, so that the palace played host to Prince Leopold (later also Duke of Albany) in 1880; Prince George (later King George V) in 1882, 1901, and 1908; Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught, and Princess Louise, Duchess of Connaught (later also the Duke and Duchess of Strathearn) in 1890, and as the viceregal couple from 1906 to 1912; Princess Louise in 1900; Princess Patricia with her parents from 1906 to 1912; Prince Albert (later King George VI) in 1910 and 1913; Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII), in 1919, 1923, 1924, and 1927; Prince George (later also Duke of Kent) in 1926 and 1927; and Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, in 1929.
When King George VI and his consort, Queen Elizabeth arrived at Rideau Hall on 19 May 1939, during their first royal tour of Canada, official royal tour historian Gustave Lanctot stated: "When Their Majesties walked into their Canadian residence, the Statute of Westminster had assumed full reality: the King of Canada had come home." The King, while there, became the first monarch of Canada to personally receive the credentials of an ambassador, that being Daniel Calhoun Roper as the representative of the United States. It was thought for a time, after the outbreak of the Second World War, that the King, Queen, and their two daughters, Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, would move permanently to Canada for the duration of the conflict in Europe; though, Hatley Castle, in Colwood, British Columbia, was purchased by the King in Right of Canada for this purpose, instead of using Rideau Hall. However, it was decided that the Royal Family leaving the United Kingdom at a time of war would be a major blow to morale, and they remained in Britain.
During the war, the palace became the home in exile of a number of royals displaced by the invasions of their respective countries back in Europe. Among the royal guests were Crown Prince Olav and Crown Princess Märtha of Norway, Grand Duchess Charlotte and Prince Felix of Luxembourg, King Peter II of Yugoslavia, King George II of Greece, Empress Zita of Austria and her daughters, as well as Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, her daughter, Princess Juliana, and granddaughters, Princesses Beatrix and Margriet. Though the resident governor general's wife, Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone, could do little to add her personal touch to Rideau Hall, due to rationing and scarce supplies, she put many of the other royal ladies to work making clothing for those who had lost their homes in the Blitz. It was then in 1940 that the governor general's office in the East Block of Parliament Hill was closed and moved to Rideau Hall and, in December of the following year, Winston Churchill arrived at the hall, where he presided over British Cabinet meetings via telephone from his bed.
At the end of the global war, the first peacetime ball at Rideau Hall was held for President of the United States Dwight D. Eisenhower, after which life within the household returned to normal. The transition from war to peace was marked by the appointment as Governor General of the Viscount Alexander, whose son, Brian, reportedly used the portraits of former governors general throughout the hall as targets for his water pistol. During Alexander's tenure, Government House's first post-war Canadian royal visitors were the heiress presumptive to the throne, Princess Elizabeth, Duchess of Edinburgh, and her husband, Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, who came in late 1951 and, amongst other activities, took part in a square dance in the ballroom (replete with checked shirts). Churchill, once again Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, returned to Rideau Hall in January of the next year, where, sprawled on a sofa with a cigar in one hand and a brandy in the other, he persuaded Alexander to join the British Cabinet.
With the death of the King only a month following Churchill's 1952 visit, the front of Rideau Hall was covered with black bunting as a sign of mourning. Princess Elizabeth (who brought with her to Government House a draft proclamation in case her father should die while she was in Canada) was now queen, and, as one of her first acts as Queen of Canada, she appointed Vincent Massey as not only the first Canadian-born viceregal resident of her Canadian home, but also the first who was single, with Massey having been widowed two years prior to his installation; his daughter-in-law, Lilias, thus acted as Chatelaine of Rideau Hall. Massey spoke of the Queen's Canadian palace as "a piece of architecture that might be regarded as possessing a certain lovable eccentricity," in spite of "some of the most regrettable pieces of furniture I have ever seen."
The number of formal occasions at Rideau Hall increased through the 1950s and 1960s, as Canada's diplomatic corps increased and the country gained greater international standing; visitors during Massey's tenure included Queen Juliana, President Eisenhower, Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia, Jawaharlal Nehru, and the presidents of Germany, Italy, and Indonesia. With the greater ease of travel, more members of Canada's royal family visited as well, including the Queen Mother; Princess Mary, Princess Royal; Katharine, Duchess of Kent; Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon; Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh; and, in 1957, Elizabeth was again in residence, though for the first time as queen. The Queen also stayed in her Ottawa government house and held audience with an influx of 53 foreign heads of state and government during Expo 67, held in Montreal, and Canada's centennial celebrations.
However, darker days fell on Rideau Hall during the October Crisis of 1970, when, under threat from the Front de libération du Québec, who had planted bombs and conducted kidnappings in Quebec, the palace was heavily guarded for a number of weeks. The relatively free access to the grounds, which had been traditionally allowed since 1921 and had been previously enjoyed by tourists and local neighbours alike, ceased during Jeanne Sauvé's time as governor general; access was requested only through invitation, appointment, or pre-arranged tours on certain days. The decision to do so was based on concerns expressed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the National Capital Commission for the security of the viceroy, and brought Rideau Hall in line with other official residences, including 24 Sussex Drive and Buckingham Palace, that did not allow public access; however, Sauvé was reported to have also been personally worried about her safety, saying: "I'm worried about those crazy men out there." This caused controversy not only because Sauvé had contradicted her earlier statement about Rideau Hall, wherein she said: "oh yes, definitely, it has to be open," but also because it denied Ottawa residents the use of the palace grounds. One group formed under the name Canada Unlock the Gate Group and asserted the closure was more due to Sauvé's selfish desire for privacy than any real security risks; The Globe and Mail reported in 1986 that the group planned to boycott the Governor General's annual garden party because of what they called her "bunker mentality". Sauvé's successor, Ray Hnatyshyn, reopened Government House and its gardens to the public.
The hall was designated as a classified heritage property by the Federal Heritage Buildings Review Office in 1986, giving it the highest heritage significance in Canada.
The name Rideau Hall was chosen by Thomas McKay for his villa, drawing inspiration from the Rideau Canal which he had helped construct, though the house was also known colloquially as McKay's Castle. Once the house became the official residence of the governor general, it was termed formally as Government House, but, as Rideau Hall stuck as the informal name, the existence of two names for the building led to some issue: in 1889 the viceregal consort, the Lady Stanley of Preston, was rebuked by Queen Victoria for calling the house Rideau Hall; it was to be Government House, as in all other Empire capitals. Today, however, Rideau Hall is the commonly accepted term for the house, with Government House remaining only in use for very formal or legal affairs; for example, Royal Proclamations will finish with the phrase: "At Our Government House, in Our City of Ottawa..."
The original 1838 structure was relatively small; only two storeys tall with a full-height, central, curved bay, and an accordingly curved pediment on top, the villa was designed by Thomas McKay (who had also designed and built Earnscliffe) in a Regency style, inspired by the work of architect Sir John Soane, who had himself designed a never realised government house for the then capital of Upper Canada, York, in 1818. Unlike the present arrangement, the rooms of the McKay villa for entertaining, sleeping, and service were dispersed throughout the two floors of the structure, with the main parlour located on the second level, in an oval room behind the curved, south bay. The main entrance to the house was on the west side and opened into a hall with stairs to the upper floor directly ahead. Along the south front were a library, a dining room, and a boudoir, all with French doors opening onto a narrow balcony; the dining room was served by three of these doors, one of which now opens into the Tent Room's antechamber, one into the Long Gallery, and one that still opens to the outside. The French door originally opening from the boudoir is today the window of the Pauline Vanier Room.
Initially rented from the McKay family as a temporary accommodation for the Canadian viceroy, the house has since been expanded numerous times. The Viscount Monck oversaw the first addition to the villa: a long wing extending to the east and built in a style that, while attempting to be harmonious with the original, was intended to resemble the governor general's residence in Quebec, Spencer Wood, which Monck greatly preferred over Rideau Hall. The extension was thus done in an overall Norman style of design that was typical in Quebec at the time, and had a similar long, covered verandah, a cross hall, and a new staircase capped by an ornate stained glass lantern.
In 1872, during the tenure of the Earl of Dufferin, the indoor tennis court and the ballroom were added to the western end of the house, arranged to the south and north, respectively, of the main entrance. Then, when the Earl of Minto arrived in 1898 with his large family and household, the Minto Wing was constructed on the east end of Rideau Hall and was completed in the following year, though this was again intended to only be a temporary measure until a proper government house could be built. Minto's successor, the Earl Grey, added the governor general's study to the far east end of the Monck Wing, thus symmetrically balancing out the curved bay and pediment of the original McKay villa to the west.
One of the greatest alterations to the form of Rideau Hall came in 1913, with the construction of the Mappin Block as a link between the ballroom and Tent Room, along with a re-facing of the two latter structures to harmonise their windows, cornice heights, and cladding (in a limestone ashlar), all in an "adapted Florentine architectural style" designed by Chief Dominion Architect David Ewart. The block is three stories in height, and its front is divided by pilasters into five bays, with the central one slightly wider than the equal other four. The windows on the main floor are each surrounded by smaller pilasters beneath a triangular pediment formed by keel moulding geisons, while the second level windows are each simply framed by astragal moulding broken at the top by a keystone. A heavy entablature separates the second and third levels, atop which sits less pronounced pilasters and simply framed windows, with the entire facade capped by a narrow cornice and a pediment with a tympanum that bears a bas relief of the Royal Arms of the United Kingdom (believed to be the largest rendition in the Commonwealth). For formal arrivals, this addition also included a porte-cochere with three arched openings, the centre one topped with a carved stone rendition of the shield of the Royal Arms of Canada as it appeared between 1868 and 1921. All the arches were later fitted with permanent fanlights, under which glass doors are installed during the winter to provide an enclosed space in which to exit cars. Further projects that were completed by 1914 were the addition in 1912 of the Long Gallery to the east of the Tent Room, and the enlargement of the State Dining Room.
Over the summer of 2007, the main facade of Rideau Hall underwent a major renovation by the National Capital Commission, that saw the masonry treated and restored, the original sash windows rehabilitated and stripped of their lead paint, and the copper roof of the Mappin Wing repaired. This was the first time any considerable work had been done on the front façade since the 1960s.
Rideau Hall has long been a collection point for Canadian art and cabinetry. As early as the first viceregal inhabitants, the hall has held pieces by prominent Canadian cabinet makers, such as Jaques & Hay of Toronto, James Thompson of Montreal, and William Drum of Quebec. Originally, the interior decoration was heavily Victorian, with many Rococo influences. Renovations, however, have turned the interiors into predominantly Georgian spaces, with Adam and Palladian elements. Until the 1960s, the contents and colours of the house changed with each successive royal and viceroyal family; the consort typically seeing it as her duty to update Rideau Hall to suit both her personal and contemporary tastes. As there were few paintings in the palace's permanent collection, the National Gallery would provide works on loan; a relationship that continues into the present.
Today the rooms are furnished both with elements from the history of the residence as well as art and other objects that showcase contemporary Canadian culture, including pieces by the Group of Seven's Lawren Harris, Emily Carr, Jean Paul Lemieux, and Bill Reid. The Long Gallery's Chinoiserie decoration was restored in 1993 at the direction of Gerda Hnatyshyn, wife of Governor General Ray Hnatyshyn, putting back much of the furniture and artifacts that had been collected by the Machioness of Willingdon throughout her tour of China in 1926. The space now contains five carpets donated by the Hongkong and Shanghai Bank and a Steinway & Sons baby grand piano that belonged to Glenn Gould, and is used to greet and host functions for ambassadors and high commissioners to Canada. Other consorts left their mark on Rideau Hall, such as Princess Louise's painted apple branches on a 6-panel Georgian door in the first-floor corridor and Nora Michener's donated collection of Inuit sculpture. Governor General Adrienne Clarkson and her husband, John Ralston Saul, worked with Ontario potter Bill Reddick to develop Rideau Hall's first Canadian porcelain state dinner service.
Since Vincent Massey's time as governor general, the viceroy has worked closely with the Department of Public Works and Government Services in repairing and refurbishing Rideau Hall; the department now provides a more systematic approach to the maintenance of the palace, with a full-time building manager in charge of the project. The National Capital Commission is charged with the decoration of the rooms; since 2004 the commission has undertaken a project to restore many of the salons and other state rooms to the period in which they were first built. Many pieces — objets d'art, paintings, sculptures, books, furnishings, and rugs — are drawn from the Crown Collection, so that, in Adrienne Clarkson's words, "the mix of furniture and other objects here now reflects the country, the people who came and settled here, and became part of the Canadian story."
The sole remaining part of the original McKay villa is the reception room on the ground floor and the royal suite directly above. The former is where small ceremonies and presentations take place, while the latter is an oval room that was previously the drawing room of the original McKay villa and was subsequently used as a ballroom, a studio, and a study before becoming the monarch's bedroom. Some signs of the McKay house are still visible, notably in the now blanked window on the north wall of the reception room and the ornate plaster ceiling in the royal suite.
Directly west of these rooms is the Mappin Wing, which contains the white marble panelled and red carpeted entrance hall, with wood panels flanking the central door to the reception room and documenting the names and escutcheons of each of the governors general for New France, British North America, and Canada. On the opposite wall, to the left of the entrance, is the Royal Window — a stained glass piece commemorating the 40th anniversary of the accession of Elizabeth II to the throne, displaying the monarch's coat of arms for Canada surrounded by the shields of each of the provincial coats of arms, and sitting between the Queen's Personal Canadian Flag above and the Great Seal of Canada below. Additionally, in the top two corners are images of Elizabeth's royal cypher, balancing out representations of the Sovereign's badges for both the Order of Canada and the Order of Military Merit in the bottom two corners. Another stained glass window is found to the right of the entrance, marking the first appointment of a Canadian-born governor general; the viceregal position is symbolised by a crowned lion holding a maple leaf and surrounded by the shields of the arms of the first seven persons to hold the post.
Book-ending the Mappin Wing are the Tent Room — used for slightly less formal gatherings — and the ballroom — the centre of state life at Rideau Hall. It is in the latter space that honours and awards ceremonies take place, members of the Cabinet are sworn in, ambassadors present their diplomatic credentials, and large-scale state dinners are held. A double-height space, it is lined with tall, arched windows between rectangular pilasters that are topped with gilt, acanthused capitals. Cable moulding trim surrounds most of the openings, and around the perimeter of the room, at the intersection of walls and ceiling, is a deep and ornate plaster crown moulding formed by a godroon textured frieze and a heavy dentiled bed-mould between layers of talon and gorge mouldings. Above this is the Victorian, lacunar, clear span vaulted ceiling, from the centre of which hangs a Waterford crystal chandelier, presented by the British government on Victoria Day in 1951 as a token of gratitude for Canada's role in World War II. Also, in an alcove to the south of the ballroom's main door is a stained glass window that celebrates the excellence of Canadian performing artists and the establishment of the Governor General's Performing Arts Awards.
The present decor in the ballroom — powder blue walls with beige marblised pilasters, cream trim, and shades of peach, cream, and Old Gold on the ceiling, all with gilt highlights — was implemented by Adrienne Clarkson when she served as the Queen's representative between 1999 and 2005. By stripping away a more monochrome palette that had been applied to the room in the 1970s, this restored the ballroom to a scheme closer to the original that was in place when the room was first completed in 1872.
The appearance of the Tent Room is drawn from the original use of striped fabric draped on the walls and hung in swaths from the ceiling in order to temporarily transform what was normally the tennis court into a dining hall. The room today has a wall covering of vertically sriped red and gold fabric with a padded backing, which rises to meet the same fabric hung in a swag fashion outwards from a single coffer in the centre of the ceiling, and trimmed around the perimeter of the room with a scallop edged valence of simple passementerie and tassels, thus giving the space an overall resemblance to the interior of a large tent. The west wall of the room is broken by series of windows, each paired with a double door into the Long Gallery on the opposite wall, and between them a continuous frame and panel wainscotting. All this woodwork, including the door frames and other trim, is painted in a gloss white to contrast with the textured and patterned wall fabric.
Within the Monck Wing, built between 1865 and 1866, is the viceregal suite, guest bedrooms, and various other drawing and dining rooms for generally non-state affairs, such as the Pauline Vanier Room, a small sitting room where informal meetings are held with visiting heads of state and other officials. The room was originally created in the 1960s by Pauline Vanier out of an old aide-de-camp smoking room, giving the space pine panelling and filling it with antique furnishings from Quebec. However, it was later again refurbished to remove the tongue and groove planks Vanier had installed and which were said to be reminiscent of suburban basement panelling popular in the 1970s. The Pauline Vanier Room today contains furniture and other cabinetry works by Canadian artisans.
For more formal gatherings both before and after state events, as well as for entertaining visiting heads of state and their party, the Large Drawing Room, on the south side of the Monck Wing, is used. Previously called the Red Salon, the space underwent thorough renovations in 1901, updating it to the Edwardian style that was popular at the time, giving it boiserie panelling formed from plaster mouldings, a layered crown moulding, as well as windows and doors with chambranled montants, the latter openings also equipped with moulded, classical overdoors. On the walls of the drawing room are hung portraits depicting the viceregal consorts of previous governors general. Directly across the hall from the Large Drawing Room is the State Dining Room, which is reserved for state dinners for visiting heads of state with smaller parties, with the table seating a maximum of 42 guests. in 1909, the dining room too was renovated to a similar Edwardian look, but its present day layout did not emerge until the late 1940s, after various subsequent renovations. The sterling silver sets on display in this room are on loan from Buckingham Palace.
The governor general's study sits at the far east end of the Monck Wing's ground floor, next to another study allocated for the viceroy's consort. The former is panelled in carved wood that was installed when the room was constructed in 1906, with a rendition of the sovereign's arms for the United Kingdom as a focal piece above the fireplace (reflecting the era in which the room was fitted). When the prime minister arrives for an audience with the governor in the latter's study, he or she uses the dedicated Prime Minister's Entrance, which sits on the north side of the Monck addition, and opens into the east-most of the wing's two staircases, from which it is only a short walk to the viceroy's office. The study also contains a complete collection of Governor General's Literary Award winning works; prior to 2005, the library was lacking more than 25% of the winning pieces, but, at the instigation of Governor General Adrienne Clarkson, the remainder were sought out. Today it forms the only complete collection of Governor General's Literary Award winners in existence.
Further, the Monck Wing houses another, smaller drawing room, a library, and a billiard room, while on the far west end of the upper floor is the viceregal suite, consisting of a study/living room, a large bedroom, and a kitchenette. Also on the second level, each of the aforementioned guest bedrooms is named for a former British governor; the descendants of these men were approached in the 1990s with a request for donations of historical memorabilia, to which, amongst others, the Devonshires — relations of the ninth Duke of Devonshire — responded with a Regency mirror that had been used at Chatsworth House. On that floor is also a chapel, installed during the Michener period, and which was made ecumenical and opened on 2 July 1967, in the presence of Queen Elizabeth II, for both Anglican and Roman Catholic services.
Originally, most of the art in Rideau Hall was the personal property of the incumbent governor general and, as with much of the furnishings, was removed upon the end of the viceroy's commission. Starting in the 20th century, however, more and more pieces were added to the dedicated Crown Collection for Government House, either through gifts or purchases; for instance, in 1946, Sir James Dunn presented the Crown with two paintings by Johann Zoffany. Today the collection of furnishing, art, and artifacts at Rideau Hall is composed of private gifts from the Canada Fund (a foundation created by the government of Canada) and the Friends of Rideau Hall. The pieces, though predominantly Canadian in origin, also represent the Far East, Europe, and other regions, and can be arranged thematically, such as the Asian influenced pieces in the Long Gallery, the portraits of Canadian governors general in the reception room.
The Crown Collection works on display are also usually augmented with approximately 100 art pieces and antiques on loan from various museums, galleries, and private collections; this continues a tradition started in the 1930s, when the National Gallery lent pieces to the viceroy at the time, the Earl of Bessborough. Additionally, since the time of Clarkson's appointment, themed artistic exhibitions have been mounted at Rideau Hall, such as that during the tenure of Michaëlle Jean wherein the show "Body and Land" featured select silkscreen prints from the artist's book The Journals of Susanna Moodie by author Margaret Atwood and artist Charles Pachter. What had been praised during Clarkson's tenure, however, was soon critiqued when it was revealed that into Jean's appointment, Rideau Hall's interpretation and exhibition planner, Fabienne Fusade, was removing from sight the portraits of Canada's past and present sovereigns and other members of the Royal Family, in order to fulfill Jean's wish to make the royal residence a showcase for Canadian art and give "a strong image of Canada";[n 1] the portrait by Jean Paul Lemieux of Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh that had for decades dominated the focal wall of the ballroom was shifted to the rear wall, thereby bumping the copy of George Hayter's state portrait of Queen Victoria that had hung there to the Tent Room, where the portraits of Canada's British governors general had been collected together. These moves and removals were criticised by the editorial board of the National Post, as well as other journalists,[n 2] as having "demoted and ghettoized" history in order to "siphon off the great symbolic power of the monarchy, to further [the staff's] particular tastes and agendas," noting that Rideau Hall should not be used "primarily [as] an art gallery."
Rideau Hall's 0.36 km2 (88 acre) property is surrounded by a 2,500 m (7,700 ft) long Victorian cast iron and cast stone fence put up in 1928, and contains uniquely Canadian landscapes designed in the natural style, including broad lawns, groves of trees, and meandering roads and pathways. The entire site is divided into five distinct areas: the wooded entrance park (trees, groundcover, daffodils, and lawn), the open parkland (meadow), the sugar bush, the ornamental gardens, and the farm (out-buildings, Rideau Cottage, and open area). The last once included a herd of cattle and fields used to grow hay, but today the only remaining agricultural ventures are the vegetable and herb gardens that have been present on the site since the time of the McKay family. From these fields, plants, fruits, and edible flowers are used in the palace kitchens, and a greenhouse and flower garden provide flowers for the hall and other government buildings in Ottawa. Further, during the early spring months, the maples throughout the property are tapped for syrup making. In total, more than 10,000 trees grow on the grounds.
As with the house that sits on them, the grounds too were transformed throughout the decades: Lady Byng created the existing rock garden, with a reflecting pool and wild corner for growing trilliums and orchids; a totem pole by Kwakiutl carver Mungo Martin was gifted to the Earl Alexander of Tunis by the Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia-in-Council; the Fountain of Hope was initiated by Gerda Hnatyshyn to mark the International Year of Disabled Persons, built in front of Rideau Hall, and dedicated to Terry Fox; and an inukshuk by artist Kananginak Pootoogook, from Cape Dorset, Nunavut, was built to commemorate the second National Aboriginal Day, in 1997. Also, each visiting dignitary to Rideau Hall is asked to plant a tree; as such, the park, mostly along the main drive, is dotted with nearly 100 trees with small plaques at their bases listing the name and office of the person who planted each particular tree. These include Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother; Diana, Princess of Wales; Prince Charles, Prince of Wales; King George VI; and numerous by Queen Elizabeth II. Foreign dignitaries who have planted trees include John F. Kennedy, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton, Kofi Annan, Boris Yeltsin, Vladimir Putin, Vicente Fox, and Emperor Akihito.
Throughout their history as a royal park, the gardens have hosted numerous activities and events. The earliest governors general added amenities such as a curling rink, a skating pond, toboggan runs, tennis courts, and the like,[n 3] and many of the guests at Rideau Hall would partake in these outdoor activities, including prime ministers William Lyon Mackenzie King and Robert Borden, who would often skate on the iced over pond with the viceregal family. Of the tobogganing, Lieutenant William Galwey, a member of the survey team that laid out the Canada – United States border and later visited Rideau Hall in November 1871, said: "It is a most favourite amusement at Government House. Ladies go in for it. I think they like rolling over and over with the gentlemen."
The grounds of Rideau Hall have been open to the public since 1921, when the Lord Byng of Vimy's aide-de-camp resolved to open Government House to "all who had a right to be there," a move that outraged the traditionalists. Today an expanded visitors' centre has been established to facilitate tours. Further, garden parties are held by the viceroy in the summer months, continuing the tradition started by the Lord Lisgar in 1869, and each year the governor general holds a New Year's Levée, an event that traces its roots back to the French royal government, and which welcomes guests from the public to attend and participate in skating, sledding, and refreshments. The park also hosts the Rideau Hall Cricket Association and Ottawa Valley Cricket Council, which continues the tradition of cricket being played in the royal residence's gardens, beginning when the cricket pitch was laid out by the Viscount Monck in 1866. Matches continue to be played at the hall during summer weekends.
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