When our guides cycle up the driveway of Rideau Hall in Ottawa, some of us like to quip: “Welcome to the White House of Canada”. It baffles out of towners that you can just cycle up to the front door of the Governor General, the official representative of the Queen of England, and ring the doorbell. It probably symbolizes the laid back nature of Canadians.
But who is the Governor General, more commonly known as the “GG”? The Governor General is the federal vice regal representative of the Canadian monarch, currently Queen Elizabeth II. The Queen, on the advice of her Canadian prime minister, appoints a governor general to carry out most of her constitutional and ceremonial duties, usually for five years. Julie Payette, a Canadian astronaut who has worked at the International Space Station, is currently the Governor General.
Rideau Hall is the place where the GG resides. It was built in the early years of Bytowne (as the city was called at that time) by a successful Scottish stone mason called Thomas McKay, who was the main contractor during the construction of the Rideau Canal, nearly 200 years ago. When Bytowne became the capital of Canada and was renamed to Ottawa, it needed a residence for the GG. After a few years of leasing the house from McKay, the government decided to buy it in 1868 and modified it over the following decades.
A trip to Rideau Hall is highly recommended. Not only does Rideau Hall give free tours (you don’t want to miss the Tent Room), the grounds around the buildings are waiting for you to be discovered by bicycle. You will find that many trees have been planted by VIPs such as Queen Elizabeth II, John F. Kennedy (the red oak he planted is a perennial favourite for Instagram selfies), Mother Theresa, the Princess of Wales, Nelson Mandela and three generations of Dutch royals.
If you are lucky you might see a cricket game in another corner of the vice regal park in the weekends. And sticking (pardon the pun) to a great Canadian tradition, the sugar maples are tapped for maple syrup making in early spring. If you squint your eyes you might see a cottage at the far end, a two-level, 22-room Georgian Revival building where the Prime Minister currently lives.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Rideau Hall is incorporated in a number of the Escape Bicycle tours. An honorary one kilometer Trans Canada Trail (aka the Great Trail) runs through the park after all. We often enter at the main entrance on our bikes after we have taken some pictures with the Governor General Foot Guards, who change every hour on the hour during the summer. We’ll pass by the inukshuk by Kananginak Pootoogook, the fountain of Hope, the beautiful formal rose garden and a totem pole by Kwakiutl carver Mungo Martin. There is just so much to experience at Rideau Hall.
You really don’t want to miss Rideau Hall and the best way to see it is by bike. Escape Bicycle Tours and rentals rents comfy bikes and kid trailers and e-bikes so that you can check it out on your own. We can also take you on a tour to Rideau Hall as part of our guided tours and tell the stories of yesteryear and today. And bonus: one of our tour guides was bestowed a Governor General Sovereign Medal for Volunteers for his work in bicycle advocacy. How cool is that?
Visit our website and book one of our guided tours including a visit to Rideau Hall.