The governor general lives here, confers with the leader of Canada’s government, hosts foreign dignitaries and performs the functions of Canada’s head of state, as the representative of the Crown in Canada. This heritage site is also a national gathering place, where the governor general presents honours and awards to recognize excellence.
A classified federal heritage building, Rideau Hall is the largest official residence in Canada’s Capital Region and the only one open to visitors. Tours of the residence, art collection and grounds are offered all year long. The grounds are open to the public in all seasons of the year for a range of concerts, ceremonies, celebrations and sporting events.
In 1838, Thomas McKay, a wealthy entrepreneur, built his elegant family home on the outskirts of Ottawa. This impressive 11-room structure earned the nickname “McKay’s Castle” among the neighbours.
In 1864, the Government of Canada was looking for a country estate for the governor general in Ottawa, which had been named capital of the Province of Canada in 1857. Rideau Hall was inadequate in many ways, being small and distant from central Ottawa. It was leased anyway, as “temporary” quarters for Lord Monck (the last governor general of British North America, 1861–1867, and first governor general of the Dominion of Canada, 1867–1869).
Lord Monck disliked the house, especially because Parliament Hill was a full 4.8 kilometres away along muddy, rutted tracks. Despite his complaints and those of his successors, Rideau Hall was gradually improved, and eventually accepted as the permanent seat of the governor general.
The grounds of Rideau Hall represent one of the finest historic landscapes in Canada. In 1998, they were designated as a cultural landscape of national historic significance by the Minister of Canadian Heritage. In keeping with British landscape tradition, the grounds are divided between treed lawns, flowerbeds and service areas, with some areas remaining in a semi-wild state.
Despite the British inspiration, however, these grounds have an unmistakable Canadian quality. In the 19th century, they became the centre of a culture of winter, as governors general and their families enjoyed snowshoeing, tobogganing, skating and skiing on these grounds.
Over the years, the house has evolved in size and complexity to serve its various official purposes. Rideau Hall may have been small when the Government of Canada rented it in 1864, but the concept of a viceregal estate was already in place to guide architects as they plunged into the work of transformation. As early as 1868, Rideau Hall began to acquire a changed image.
Today, the main building contains about 175 rooms, covering about 8,825 square metres (95,000 square feet). The grounds encompass some 32 hectares (79 acres) and 20 historic buildings, as well as rose gardens, rockeries, cricket lawns and stands of trees.
Since 1986, the buildings and grounds of Rideau Hall have been managed by the NCC, which is implementing a long-term rehabilitation project to ensure that the valuable heritage buildings on the estate remain in optimal condition. The work will continue in years to come.
Rehabilitation of the forecourt is the latest in a long tradition of improvements to preserve the iconic Rideau Hall. The rehabilitation work and the reconfiguration of the front entrance arrival area will focus on meeting today’s functional and ceremonial needs.
Rideau Hall Visitor Centre
1 Sussex Drive, Ottawa, ON
May to Labour Day
Daily, 10 am to 5 pm
September to October
Daily, 10 am to 4 pm