Main House

Classified Federal Heritage Building

Gatineau, Quebec
Façade of the Main House, showing the use of varied materials, including rough stone, imitation stone walls, wood shingles and half timbering, 1984. © Parks Canada Agency / Agence Parcs Canada, Robert Hunter, 1984.Detail view of the Main House, showing the shaped wood moulding with dentils, 1984. © Parks Canada Agency / Agence Parcs Canada, Robert Hunter, 1984.
Address : Gatineau Park, Willson Estate / Lac Meech, Gatineau, Quebec

Recognition Statute: Treasury Board Policy on Management of Real Property
Designation Date: 1985-06-27
Dates:
  • 1907 to 1907 (Construction)

Other Name(s):
  • Willson House  (Other Name)
Custodian: National Capital Commission
FHBRO Report Reference: 84-08
DFRP Number: 01612 00

Description of Historic Place

The Main House, sitting prominently on the grounds of the 12-hectare (30-acre) Willson House estate, shares its setting with four outbuildings. The Queen Anne Revival style house is a two-and-a-half-storey, gable roofed structure with a large verandah on its first storey. Its exterior walls are a combination of rough cut stone, wood shingles and half-timbering, which create a rustic appearance. The designation is confined to the footprint of the building.

Heritage Value

The Main House is a Classified Federal Heritage Building because of its historical associations, and architectural and environmental values.

Historical Value
The Main House, as part of the Willson House estate, is one of the best federally owned examples of the grand rustic summer estates popular in the late 19th and 20th centuries. It is directly associated with an early stage in the development of the Gatineau Hills for recreational purposes. The house was the summer home of the prominent inventor and industrialist, Thomas Leopold Willson, who played a prominent role in scientific research and development in Canada. At the summer home Willson and his family entertained the famous and influential, including the English poet, Rupert Brooke and poet, Duncan Scott.

Architectural Value
The Main House is valued for its very good aesthetic and good functional design. The careful massing, materials and detailing of the building suggest a restrained and relatively symmetrical version of the Queen Anne Revival style, in harmony with the rustic setting. The level of detailing and craftsmanship is high.

Environmental Value
The Main House establishes the rustic character of its estate setting and is a familiar building in the area.

Sources: Robert Hunter, The Wilson Estate, Meech Lake, Gainteau Park, Québec, Federal Heritage Buildings Review Office, Building Report, 84-008; Wilson House Complex, Meech Lake, Gatineau Park, Québec, Heritage Character Statement, 84-008.

Character-Defining Elements

The character-defining elements of the Main House should be respected.

Its very good aesthetic and functional design and very good craftsmanship and materials, for example: the two-and-a-half-storey, rectangular massing and symmetrical plan; the double sided gable roof with twin gables, shed dormers and stone chimneys; the rectangular windows, and the basement level windows capped by segmental arches; the large, first-storey verandah and the two wooden verandahs that span the rear façade; the masonry work, including the local pink rough-cut granite laid in irregular courses that forms the entrance steps, base wall and piers; the use of varied materials, including rough stone, imitation stone walls, wood shingles and half timbering to create a rustic appearance; the careful detailing, including the bracketed and flared eaves, the slight outward bell sweep on the shingles at the base of the second storey, and the shaped wood moulding with dentils; the window arrangement and treatment, including the oriel windows; the interior layout and features.

The manner in which the Main House establishes the rustic character of its estate setting and is a familiar building in the area, as evidenced by: its overall scale, design and materials, which harmonize with its adjacent outbuildings, and landscaped surroundings and contribute to the overall rustic character of the estate; its large scale and prominent location which make it a familiar building at the estate and in the area.

Heritage Character Statement

Disclaimer - The heritage character statement was developed by FHBRO to explain the reasons for the designation of a federal heritage building and what it is about the building that makes it significant (the heritage character). It is a key reference document for anyone involved in planning interventions to federal heritage buildings and is used by FHBRO in their review of interventions.

HERITAGE CHARACTER STATEMENT

Willson House Complex
Meech Lake, Gatineau Park
Hull, Quebec


The Willson House Complex consists of five buildings situated on approximately 30 acres. The estate includes a house and four surviving ancillary buildings: a chapel, a garage and caretakers' house, a stable and carriage house, and a woodshed. These structures were built in 1907 to the designs of an Ottawa architect, possibly Edgar L. Horwood. It is now the property of the National Capital Commission. See FHBRO Building Report 84-08.

Reason for Designation

On January 8, 1985, the Willson House Complex was designated Classified because of its architectural significance, its influence on the historical development of the area, its association with a prominent Canadian figure, and the quality of its environmental setting.

The careful massing, materials and detailing of the buildings suggest a restrained and relatively symmetrical version of the Queen Anne Revival style, in harmony with the rustic setting. The construction of the Estate marked an early stage in the development of the Gatineau Hills for recreational purposes. Thomas Leopold Willson's prominent role in scientific research and development has been recognized by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board, and at his summer house he entertained the famous and the influential. The estate continues to reinforce the dominant character of the area.

Character Defining Elements

The heritage character of the property is defined by the rustic but carefully designed setting and by the architectural treatment of the buildings.

The landscape is the result of extensive site planning, extending from the granite and wrought iron gates, along the winding private road with low granite walls and light standards, past the various outbuildings, to the highest point of land, where a sweeping drive leads down to the main house. In front of the house is a grassed area bordered by a simple wrought iron and granite wall, below which is a grassed terrace commanding a spectacular view of Meech Lake. The house itself is set into a cut into the rock shelf behind it. The design and detailing of the landscape are essential to the unity and character of the property and must be protected.

The main house displays rough stone, wood shingles, half-timbering, deep bracketed and flared eaves, and a variety of oriel windows and verandahs which together give a rustic appearance to an essentially symmetrical and rather formal plan. The outbuildings, which with the house create an integrated country estate, complement the design of the main structure, with their bracketed and flared eaves, bargeboards, and stone or imitation stone walls. The level of detailing and craftsmanship is high, and all exteriors should be meticulously protected and conserved. The continuity provided by the simple but substantial interiors should also be respected.

The significance of the complex as a whole is due, to a great extent, to the consistency with which the concept of a summer residence, still relatively new in the Canadian context at the time, was carried through. With relatively few changes other than the loss of the imposing boathouse in 1980, the integrity of the site remains high. Any changes, whether to the architecture or the landscape, should be kept to a minimum and must not interfere with harmony that has been created.

For further guidance, please refer to the FHBRO Code of Practice.

1987.02.04