Legends of Laurier HouseOn June 4, 2020 by Jeremy Jagusch
Did you know that one of the first speeding tickets issued in Canada hangs in Laurier House in Ottawa? It’s true! It was issued on February 8th in 1910 for going at a breakneck speed of over 16km an hour. Oh, it was issued to Zoe Laurier the wife of former Prime Minister Wilfred Laurier. The house was built in 1878 and it was the home of the former prime minister from 1897, until his eventual passing in 1919. A few years later when his beloved wife Zoe was headed into the great beyond she willed the home to future Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King. Speaking of him, in this home you will also find the crystal ball that Prime Minister King would consult with via the use of a medium.
Laurier House is another of my favourite venues. It captivated me as soon as I walked in. If you are ever in Ottawa (a trip I highly recommend) don’t miss this house! There are lots of “firsts” in my personal and professional life I’ve forgotten. But I vividly remember my first steps into Laurier House. As a first-generation Canadian it hit me pretty hard that I was standing in the home of two former prime ministers. Two men who led this country that has afforded my family so many opportunities. Two men who had to make choices and deal with situations that I never will. (But if I do run for office I hope I can count on your vote dear reader!) That feeling never went away either. Live History has been lucky enough to perform at Laurier House many times, including our first season in 2015.
No matter how much time I spent there, no matter how many times I walked up and down the three flights of stairs, I always had that same feeling. Call it pride or reverence. Probably half one of one and fifty percent of the other. Part of it is, of course, my patriotism. It sounds corny but the first time in my adult life that I stood across from the parliament buildings, I was moved. A lot of that feeling though was thinking of all the history involved in the Parliament buildings, and the feeling and thoughts returned at Laurier House.
When we see a historic building, it’s easy to look at in the most basic way. This is a building that has been around for a long time and is a snapshot of architecture on that day. But too often, we forget the history that took place inside. That is what makes the building special. It doesn’t have to be some grand world-changing event that took place within its walls to make it historic. When I would walk around Laurier House, it was like being transported to another time. I would picture Sir Wilfred Laurier walking around the halls wrestling with what to do in regards to the mounting pressure on him to send troops in support of the second Boer War in 1899, or just smiling at his wife. Big and small things happened in that house. Having to deal with the pressures he faced from both the British Empire and his countrymen who were opposed to sending troops, or just the pressures of learning English, I imagined him walking the halls late at night, considering his options, his thoughts turning over and over again.
Then, of course, my thoughts turn to the home’s last inhabitant, former Prime Minister Wiliam Lyon Mackenzie King who strived for Canada’s independence from Britain during his term. Those pressures weighed on him heavily. As any leader comes to learn, leadership is a delicate balance. You’re always riding a razor’s edge. Imagine being in the center of several paths of dominos stacked up. Any decision you make could shift not only the presence of your country and affect the lives of potentially millions at the moment. But also, lives of those not yet born who will potentially feel the repercussions of your actions or lack thereof. It’s an amazing amount of pressure. Sometimes pressure creates diamonds, other times it causes irreparable cracks.
I found myself looking into the rooms and just imagined all the countless moments we never see or hear about. The quiet moments between a man and his wife, moments of reflection and even moments of joy that for various reasons really can’t be shared with anyone. Then, there were my own personal moments. Getting to watch people I greatly admire perform in this historic place. When Live History gets to add our own little history as a footnote to this amazing house, it’s an honour. Getting to hear words I wrote on the same laptop I’m using now, performed in the very rooms these men spent time in… It was humbling, to say the least. Forevermore the history of Live History is intertwined with the history of Laurier House, in the same way people who work at Parks Canada (whom Prime Minister Mackenzie King left the home to) are linked to its history.
Of course, as this is the home of two of the most important men in Canadian history I also can’t help but think of some of its famous guests, who have included the likes of Sir Winston Churchill, King George VI and President Franklin D Roosevelt. Places like Laurier’s House need to be preserved. Not for any sense of patriotism. They need to be preserved as a physical reminder of the legacy of the people who not just worked but lived there. It’s a physical snapshot of another time and it’s a place I cannot recommend visiting enough, for the history, for the beauty and for a surprising connection to a major event in American history that I won’t spoil here that resides on the third floor.
Know your history, know your future. Thank you for reading. We’ll see you in the past.