Ottawa author Hagit Hadaya, a recipient of a Gordon Cullingham Research and Publication Grant from Heritage Ottawa has published a new book, At Home with the Prime Minister: Ottawa Residences of the Prime Ministers Prior to 1952.
Hadaya’s book examines the residences of 12 Canadian prime ministers, beginning in 1867 with Sir John A. Macdonald and continuing until 1952 when 24 Sussex Drive became the official residence of the prime minister while Louis St. Laurent held the office.
Each chapter begins with a brief biography of a particular prime minister and then delves into the residences they lived in. The book combines anecdotal descriptions of the prime ministers’ private lives taken from personal diaries and letters, along with architectural details that include photographs of the residence’s interior and exterior, and occasionally blueprints and floor plans.
Hadaya was born in Jerusalem and moved to Montreal with her family as a teenager. She earned her bachelor’s degree in history and theory of architecture and her master’s degree in heritage conservation at Carleton University.
Hadaya said she came up with the idea for the book while looking at burial places of the wives of prime ministers.
“The question ‘where did they live?’ came up because Sussex Drive was not the official residence of the prime ministers until the 1950s,” she said. “Nobody had a good answer for this. That’s when I started thinking about where the prime ministers lived.”
Hadaya took two-and-a-half years to write the book and said a conscious effort was made to have it published before July 1, 2017.
“I wanted to have my little contribution for Canada 150,” she laughed.
Hadaya says the prime ministers and their families were not paid to live in Ottawa, and so money was often tight. Having to give up sometimes lucrative occupations added further to the financial burden of the position. Many chose to live within walking distance of Parliament Hill in order to save on travel costs.
Hadaya says it was interesting to see what sorts of housing they came up with on such limited funding. Several prime ministers chose to live at high-profile hotels, such as the Chateau Laurier, the Russell and the Roxborough, while others chose more modest accommodations.
Prime ministers, she said, “lived like regular people in a sense, and had to contend with the same conditions other people had to. They were not up there on a pedestal.”
According to Hadaya, finding photographs of some of the residences was a challenge, as the homes were often not directly connected to the prime ministers, and many had been demolished. For example, Hadaya was unable to find photographs of Charles Tupper’s house at 123 Cooper Street.
“There were a couple buildings I just couldn’t find, no matter how hard I tried,” she said.
Another difficulty Hadaya had was verifying the information she researched.
“Just because you read something, doesn’t make it so. You have to try and find other references that mention the same thing in order to corroborate, or decide which writer is more reliable,” she said.
In 2013, Hadaya published In Search of Sacred Space: Synagogue Architecture in Ottawa and she recently served as interim archivist at the Ottawa Jewish Archives. She says she has no future projects in mind right now, as she needs, “a little bit of down time before I get to the next one.”