Maureen McTeer presenting.
In 1943 the federal government, fearing that Gordon Cameron Edwards might sell the property to be developed, expropriated the land for $100,000. The expropriation was taken to court. In 1946 Gordon Cameron Edwards lost his case. He died shortly after. For quite some time the house lay vacant and soon became somewhat dilapidated as it was left to the environment, and acts of vandalism. Eventually the federal government decided to completely renovate the house and make it the official residence of the Prime Minister. It was at this point that Ms. McTeer argues that the historical architecture aspect of the house was lost; as the renovation saw all the beautiful Victorian style and furniture destroyed for simple 1940’s style architecture. By 1950 the house was ready, and the Prime Minister (who wasn’t told about the project up until that point) was told to move in.
24 Sussex Drive
At this point Ms. McTeer moved to her main topic. She described how successive Prime Ministers have attempted to make the home theirs, but have refrained from doing any major work for fear that the costs would be scrutinized by the public for “wasting taxpayers’ money”. Thus at this point we find the house as it stands today—dilapidated and as the Auditor General has concluded needing a minimum of $10 million in order to repair or replace practically everything in the mansion.
Ms. McTeer put a question to the audience asking what thoughts we had on the subject: whether we should repair the house, and continue to have it as the Prime Minister’s residence; whether we should tear down the house and build a new one in its place, one that fulfills the needs of the Prime Minister; or if we should move the official residence to another location, perhaps as Ms. McTeer commented to a new house on the Rideau Hall Grounds. One of her best arguments beyond the extensive repairs needed to the old house and the lack of historic architecture present was safety concerns. It was not designed to house the Prime Minister or any foreign dignitary. As a result there are a lot of concerns on this subject. In fact there have been serious security breaches in the past.
After lively and extensive discussion and questions Ms. McTeer concluded her talk, arguing that there are a lot of different options that we could take, that for her perhaps the most suitable would be to hold a Canada wide contest and have Canadian architects and builders design the perfect Canadian house with Canadian style and Canadian materials. However, first she put forward that we must seriously ask the question of what role do we want the house to play: do we want it as a place of business like Rideau Hall or the White House in the US, or do we want this strictly as a place for the Prime Ministers and their families to live. Once we answer that question we can move forward with the issue.
Following the discussion, Ms. McTeer was given a membership in the Historical Society and signed copies of two of our books, The Dickinson Men of Manotick and The Women of Dickinson House. The meeting was concluded with wonderful desserts and refreshments.
Ms. McTeer’s talk proved to be a big draw at the meeting, with 75 members and guests attending.
Our featured speaker for this month’s meeting was Maureen McTeer, an accomplished lawyer, author, historian, and politician. Dr. Bill Tupper introduced Ms. McTeer, in an elegant and thoughtful preamble, which described her many accomplishments, as well as her connections to the community. The topic of Ms. McTeer’s discussion was the Past and the Future of 24 Sussex Drive, the Prime Minister’s Official residence. She is uniquely qualified to talk on this subject, having lived in the house as the wife of Joe Clark, Canada’s 16th Prime Minister, and written a book “Residences: Homes of Canada's Leaders.
Bill Tupper introduced Maureen McTeer and gave an overview of her truly brilliant career.
To begin Ms. McTeer talked about the builder of the house, Joseph Currier, whom we all know as the partner of Moss Kent Dickinson in the building of Watson’s Mill and the founding of Manotick. She described the Troy, Vermont native’s early life as he came to the Ottawa Valley and achieved the status of lumber baron at a young age. A series of tragedies revolved around Mr. Currier’s life. His first and second wives passed away at early ages as did three of his four children who succumbed to typhoid in a span of ten days. His second wife, Ann Elizabeth Crosby, had died in an accident in the Mill.
Mr. Currier married for a third time. His new wife, Hannah Wright, was a niece of lumber baron and founder of the City of Hull, Philemon Wright. For a wedding gift, Currier built her a house at 24 Sussex Drive.
We learned that there was a particular reason behind the location of the property. Currier wanted a clear view of the two things that brought him his wealth; the forests and the river.
Almost immediately the mansion became a social spot for Ottawa’s elite as the owners had many lavish parties including many that were attended by Canada’s First Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald. Following Currier’s death, Hannah continued to own the property until it was sold to the Cameron Edwards family following her death. One interesting story told by Ms. McTeer was that all three owners of the property, Joseph Currier, William Cameron Edwards, and his nephew Gordon Cameron Edwards were federal MPs. Currier and Gordon Cameron Edwards were MPs for Ottawa, and William Cameron Edwards was the MP for Russell county.
From left to right, Bill Tupper, Susan McKellar, Maureen McTeer, Tom Macdonald and Georgie Tupper. Ms. McTeer very kindly stayed on for quite some time chatting with people and answering further questions.
24 Sussex Drive
Article and Photos by Brandon Kassis