Site history

Woodside was built in 1853 by James Colquhoun, a British barrister who had recently arrived in Canada. Following Colquhoun's death in 1877, it was occupied by a succession of tenants, among whom was the King family.

In the early 1940s, Woodside was in danger of demolition to make way for a housing development. A group of citizens organized the Mackenzie King Woodside Trust to preserve and restore the house in honour of Mackenzie King. The King family only occupied the house for seven years but the importance of those years for the young Mackenzie King may be judged by his later reflection: "The years that left the most abiding of all impressions and most in the way of family associations were those lived at Woodside." Woodside has now been reconstructed and restored to represent the period of the Kings' residence, 1886-93.

The King Family
King family children (Bella, Willie, Jennie et Max)
King family children
© National Archives of Canada

For seven years (1886-93), a boy who was destined to become our tenth prime minister called Woodside home. His name was William Lyon Mackenzie King. Willie, as he was affectionately known by his family and friends, resided with his father, John King, a lawyer, and his mother, Isabel Grace Mackenzie, a noted hostess in the community.

He had two sisters, Isabel (Bella) Christina Grace King and Janet (Jennie) Lindsey King, and a brother Dougall McDougall (Max) King. They also had a much-loved family dog named Fannie.

John King
Photo of John King
John King
© National Archives of Canada

John King was raised by his mother and uncle in Berlin, Ontario (previous name for Kitchener, Ontario). An excellent student, John King graduated from the University of Toronto in 1865 with a master's degree and finished his law degree three years later.

John King had an easy-going personality that was reflected in his management of family finances. The King family left Berlin in 1893 for Toronto and John King became a lecturer at Osgoode Hall Law School. His legal practice did not prosper. As a result, the King family continually lived beyond their means, a situation that was not remedied until Mackenzie King was well-established in politics and helped support the family.

John King died in 1916.

Isabel Grace Mackenzie King
Photo of Isabel Grace Mackenzie King
Isabel Grace Mackenzie King
© National Archives of Canada

William Lyon Mackenzie and Isabel Grace Mackenzie had 13 children, the youngest of whom, Isabel Grace, was born in New York during the family's exile. 

Isabel Grace Mackenzie was engaged to John King while he was still a law student in Toronto. Five years later in 1872, when John King had established himself in a law practice in Berlin, Ontario, they were married. Both were 30 years old.

A vivacious, humorous, and affectionate woman, Isabel Grace Mackenzie had high expectations for her eldest son. The adversity of her childhood and the image of her father as a national hero who suffered for a just cause were vividly impressed upon her children.

Mrs. King died in 1917. Her death was a severe blow to Mackenzie King and an important step in his growing belief in spiritualism.

William (Willie) Lyon Mackenzie King
High school graduation photo of William Lyon Mackenzie King
William Lyon Mackenzie King
© National Archives of Canada

"Willie" was the eldest son of John and Isabel. A vigorous child, he raced his pony through town and worked his mother's vegetable patch for profit. With his siblings, he learned to play piano and dance, enjoyed sports and camped in the wooded grounds of Woodside.

He worked diligently at school, encouraged by his parents who also introduced him to the excitement of politics and public affairs. Willie took to heart the King's devout Presbyterianism, for a while considering a career as a church minister. The moral attitudes and social conscience he formed while living at Woodside were to influence him for the rest of his life.

While he went on to great academic and political successes, Willie always remembered his time at Woodside - surrounded by his loving family and free from financial and professional burdens - as among the happiest of his life.

Born: December 17, 1874, Berlin (Kitchener), Ontario

Died: July 22, 1950, Kingsmere, Quebec

Education:

  • Harvard University (M.A. Economics 1898, Ph.D. 1909)
  • University of Chicago (1896-97)
  • University of Toronto (B.A. 1895, LL.B. 1896, M.A. 1897)

Achievements:

  • Prime Minister of Canada
  • December 29,1921 - June 28, 1926
  • September 25, 1926 - August 7, 1930
  • October 23, 1935 - November 15, 1948

  • Liberal Party Leader,1919-48
  • Canada's First Deputy Minister of Labour, 1909-1911
  • Appointed head of the Department of Industrial Relations, Rockefeller Foundation, 1914
  • Labour consultant, Rockefeller Foundation, 1917-1919
  • Author
Isabel (Bella) Christina Grace King
Photo of Isabel (Bella) Christina Grace King
(Bella) Christina Grace King
© National Archives of Canada

"Bella" was the eldest of the King children. Her unselfish, serious nature was combined with the King sense of humour. In 1898 Bella began to train as a nurse in Boston, against her parent's wishes. She never completed her training and never married. Her life revolved around church work, social activities, and the care of her aging parents. Bella died in 1915 at the age of 42.

Janet (Jennie) Lindsey King
Photo of Janet (Jennie) Lindsey King
Janet (Jennie) Lindsey King
© National Archives of Canada

"Jennie" King was more mischievous, fun loving, and lively than either Bella or Willie. Her letters to her older brother at university were a happy mixture of mock seriousness and genuine pride in his accomplishments. Jennie married to Harry Morrison Lay in 1906. They had five children.

When Woodside was opened in the 1950s, Jennie was the only surviving member of the King family. She provided photographs and objects that the family had used at Woodside in the later 1880s.

Dougall McDougall (Max) King
Photo of Dougall McDougall (Max) King
Dougall McDougall (Max) King
© National Archives of Canada

"Max" was the youngest member of the King family. Max financed the cost of medical school himself, spending time in a medical corps in South Africa in 1902. In 1911 Max married Mae Ingleson Wookey, the daughter of a Congregationalist minister from England whose family had lived in Jamaica before moving to Toronto. Twin sons were born to Max and Mae King in 1913 in Ottawa. In the same year, Max contracted tuberculosis and moved to Denver, Colorado. The result of his personal experience with the disease and his knowledge as a physician lead him to write a book entitled The Battle with Tuberculosis and How to Win It, which was published in 1917 when Max had regained his health. Within two years, however, he was ill again with a muscular disease that left him paralyzed. Before his death in 1922 he dictated a second book, Nerves and Personal Power. When Max died, Prime Minister King lost not only a brother, but a friend and frank critic. One of Max's sons, who carried the name of his famous uncle, was killed in the Second World War.

Designation

Woodside National Historic Site is a place of national historic importance because of its association with William Lyon Mackenzie King, Canada's 10th prime minister, whose home it was during his formative years, 1886 to 1893.