A Manor House mansion for the Holy See

| January 5, 2015 | 0 Comments
The Papal Nunciature, or the Manor House, as it is called in Ottawa, is the historically grand abode of the Pope’s man in Ottawa.

The Papal Nunciature, or the Manor House, as it is called in Ottawa, is the historically grand abode of the Pope’s man in Ottawa.

When you arrive at the end of Manor Avenue in Rockcliffe Park, you can’t help but gawk. You have to pinch yourself to realise the white-turreted gatehouse with the beautiful arch, stone crest and antique lamp is not situated in France. Nor is the elegant tree-lined driveway beyond, nor the looming stone mansion at the end.
In fact, this is Ottawa and what you’re looking at is the Papal Nunciature, or the Manor House, as it is named. It is the home and office of the Holy See’s representative in Canada, Most Rev. Luigi Bonazzi.

A wood-panelled library is decorated with cream-coloured furniture and draperies.

A wood-panelled library is decorated with cream-coloured furniture and draperies.

The historic house, settled on a cliff overlooking the Ottawa River and the Gatineau Hills, has a fascinating history and is surely one of the premier residences in the city. It may not be in France, but it is fashioned after a château as lovely as many you might find anywhere in Europe.
Originally, Manor House, the oldest house in the village, was built as the home of a magistrate, Duncan MacNab, in 1837. It was later occupied and enlarged by businessman T.C. Keefer and finally purchased by lumberman Norman Wilson and his wife, Cairine, in 1928. She was appointed as Canada’s first female senator and became a supporter of many charitable causes.

His Excellency, Most Reverend Luigi Bonazzi poses amid the frescoes at his residence.

His Excellency, Most Reverend Luigi Bonazzi poses amid the frescoes at his residence.

The couple hired Boston architect John Worthington Ames, and with the senator’s influence, turned the large property into a showpiece. With its lavish lawns and majestic views, it played host not only to Canada’s elite, but also those Cairine Wilson felt she could assist. The house was purchased by the Holy See in 1962 and is still a place for special guests, including Pope John Paul ll, who stayed in the third-floor guest suite while on an official tour in 1984.
The stable entrance and the roof of the house are covered in French grey slate, a style similar to French Provincial architecture that is reflected in the small-paned casement windows and tall chimneys of the house.

The main receiving room has a fireplace, elaborately painted crown mouldings and gold-accented furnishings.

The main receiving room has a fireplace, elaborately painted crown mouldings and gold-accented furnishings.

Some parts of the original MacNab house were retained, including the
entrance that faces the river. In earlier times, those arriving by boat had easy access to the house after climbing a path up the steep cliff. Unfortunately, the more modern Rockcliffe Parkway eventually intersected the path.
A formal circular entranceway leads to the front door. In the west garden, stone and marble pillars provide the background for a statue of the Madonna and Child. The back entrance, once the front, faces a manicured lawn with stone fences and a formal circular flower garden.

The staircases in the home are panelled with blue and white hand-painted motifs of grapes and flowers. They are restored and repaired by artists whenever required.

The staircases in the home are panelled with blue and white hand-painted motifs of grapes and flowers. They are restored and repaired by artists whenever required.

The interior still embodies the opulence of its early days, as well as the grandeur of Rome. It’s an imposing place to see and savour. Beauty abounds in the silver oak-panelled dining room, with its crimson and gold chairs and Venetian glass chandelier, and in the formal reception room that runs the full length of the house. The Holy See purchased much of Wilsons’ furnishings and supplemented from the Vatican Museum. Each detail is magnificent and sumptuous, including the gilded furniture in the reception room.

The Holy See purchased much of the furniture previously owned by the Wilsons, and then rounded out its decor with items from the Vatican Museum.

The Holy See purchased much of the furniture previously owned by the Wilsons, and then rounded out its decor with items from the Vatican Museum.

The main entrance hallways, ceilings and the resplendent reception room are painted in yellow and white with intricate mouldings and panels. Artworks line the walls, among them frescos of four Rome basilicas, including St. Peter’s and Santa Maria Maggiore. Massive gold-framed religious paintings cover the walls of the reception room, including Our Lady of the Cat, by Renaissance artist Federico Barocci.
A small, more casual sunroom, a later addition, is located off the formal reception room and has bright red furniture and a terrific view of the garden and the river. An original panelled library is decorated with cream curtains and chair coverings and a cream-coloured area rug. The stairwells in the house are panelled with blue and white hand-painted motifs of grapes and flowers and, we are told, are repaired and restored whenever required.

Light abounds thanks to large windows throughout the residence.

Light abounds thanks to large windows throughout the residence.

Although the house is an ambassadorial residence and office, with more than 15 staffers, at least five of whom live in, it has a homey, peaceful dimension, the ambassador says. He sums it up simply: “There is a silence you enjoy.”
A small cocker spaniel has lived at the house for a number of years and there’s a hammock tucked away in the garden. Most Rev. Bonazzi arrived last year, but had spent five months in Ottawa in 1999.
But in this wonderful home, his favourite place, not surprisingly, is the lovely little chapel located in the basement in what used to be the Wilsons’ billiards room. The small chapel has stained glass windows and pictures of Canadian saints. He holds mass there every morning and friends and guests are often invited to join him.

The sunroom, a later addition, offers an amazing view of the grounds, which overlook the Ottawa River.

The sunroom, a later addition, offers an amazing view of the grounds, which overlook the Ottawa River.

“This is an ambassadorial house and has lots of official activities. But it is one of the best residences. It is very comfortable to breathe fresh air and connect to the city here,” he says. “It is the best [Nunciature] in the world.”
The Nunciature may not be in France or the Vatican, but it has old-world grandeur overlooking an iconic Canadian landscape. That’s a pretty spectacular combination.

Margo Roston is Diplomat’s culture editor. Some information for this article came from Rockcliffe Park: a History of the Village, by Martha Edmond.

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Margo Roston is Diplomat’s culture editor.

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