The Abbey Ruins at Kingsmere, Chelsea, Quebec, Canada

Shulie1

Ottawa, Canada

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Artist's Description

The collection of ruins apparently began in King’s mind when efforts were being made to save William Lyon Mackenzie’s house on Bond Street in Toronto. King declined the invitation to provide funds to save the home of his illustrious grandfather, preferring to give, instead, some free advice. It seems he really had in mind that if the house were demolished he might acquire the historic plaque and some bricks to move to Kingsmere. Happily, King was frustrated when the house was saved.

A few months later he saw a house being demolished in Ottawa and offered the developer $50 on the spot for a semicircular stone window. That became the first completed ruin. The developer then offered King, without charge, the stone needed to complete a building incorporating the window. To King, the price was right. His fancy took flight with plans to build “something in the nature of a chapel, or library, or hall, or all combined—a combination of the Parthenon at Athens with a cathedral or abbey.” Kingsmere would never be the same again.

When that idea gently died, he collected stones from the burned Centre Block of the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa. These he combined with stones from the British Houses of Parliament when they were being routinely repaired.

The most extraordinary acquisition came in the darkest days of the Second World War when Britain’s survival seemed to hang by a thread. Late one night in 1941, Mr. Pearson, then on the staff at Canada House, was called at home with a “Secret and Most Immediate” cable. It was not some decision that would change the fortunes of war, but a request from the Prime Minister for a few stones from the Palace of Westminster, which King had learned, had just been bombed by the Germans. As Pearson notes in his memoirs, the Office of Works was overwhelmed with repairs vital to the very life of London. Nevertheless, the British, with private comments happily unrecorded, complied with the request. “This heavy and historic freight was shipped safely through the submarines to add a new distinction to Mr. King’s ruins at Kingsmere.”

Excepting those stones, the ruins were erected between 1935 and 1937. It is curious that, although King revered them always in a mystic way, he never added to them, nor did he revive the idea of an imposing temple.

Artwork Comments

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