Did Canada have its own Minister of Magic? Not quite; but we did have a prime minister with a deep interest in mysticism and spiritualism.
William Lyon Mackenzie King was Canada’s prime minister for a total of twenty-two years. While he expertly guided Canada through difficult times, like the Great Depression and the Second World War, his reputation was that of a self-controlled leader who lacked the outspoken and passionate characteristics of some of his global counterparts. It was only after his death, when his diaries became public, that his otherworldly interests became apparent.
Mackenzie King held frequent séances at his Ottawa area homes (Laurier House and the Mackenzie King Estate), either alone or with a few friends and a medium. He often used the method of table rapping, a widely debunked method where participants place their hands on a light table and interpret any movements or tapping noises as spirit communication. These séances, according to Mackenzie King, were usually successful. Along with his deceased mother and dogs, with whom he frequently connected, he held conversations with his grandfather, brother, Wilfred Laurier, William Gladstone, and even American president Franklin D. Roosevelt, among others.
Along with these interactions with the afterlife, Mackenzie King read his tea leaves, saw images in his shaving cream and had frequent visions and dreams. Despite his deep interest in the spirit world, he kept this part of his life seperate from his career and insisted that he never made political decisions based on his communications with the beyond.
While it might seem strange that a man of Mackenzie King’s station was dabbling in the supernatural, it wasn’t entirely unusual. Séances and divination practices were popular—and even considered fashionable—during the 19th century, and that popularity trickled into the early 20th century.
Lucky for those of us in the 21st century, both of Mackenzie King’s former residences are accessible to the public. Laurier House, rumoured to be haunted, is home to an eclectic group of artefacts once belonging to Mackenzie King. In 1977, a CBC reporter recorded a séance at the house which supposedly connected with the former prime minister. The Mackenzie King Estate, which Mackenzie King spent 50 years perfecting, is located in Gatineau Park and it was there that he died on July 22, 1950.
Mackenzie King’s interest in connecting with the deceased shows us that sometimes it’s not just the places that are haunted—it’s the people.
Michelle Savage is a second-year Professional Writing student at Algonquin College who is hoping to turn her love of writing into a career. When she’s not buried in a book, she can be found on her yoga mat, on a hiking trail, or exploring one of Ottawa’s museums.