Stornoway is the official residence of the leader of the opposition in the Canadian House of Commons. It is situated at 541 Acacia Street in the Rockcliffe district of Ottawa.
Stornoway was built in 1914 as the family home of Asconio Major, an Ottawa grocer. It was not known by its current name until after the Majors had left it. The Perley Robertson family (who were next to live in the house) chose to honour the geographic region from whence their ancestors came, which was called Stornoway, by naming the house after it. The name stuck and it has been used to refer to it ever since.
The house, which sits on a one acre lot, is valued at roughly $2 million CAD. It is currently owned by the National Capital Commission and has not always belonged to the Canadian government. Stornoway was privately owned until it was purchased by a citizen’s group in 1950. It was at this point that it became the official residence for the leader of the opposition; until then, opposition leaders were generally responsible for their own accommodations.
This is, however, not to say that Stornoway was not a part of Canadian history before opposition leaders moved in. The house is famous for providing refuge to Queen Juliana of the Netherlands after she and her family were forced to flee the country during World War II. One of Juliana’s daughters was born in Ottawa during their stay; the hospital room was temporarily designated Dutch soil so that the princess could be a naturalized citizen of her own country.
Stornoway was funded by donations from citizens until 1970, when the government of Canada purchased it for one dollar. Of all of Canada’s official government residences, it is located furthest away from the parliament buildings and is instead closer to ambassadorial residences.
While most Canadians were aware that the leader of the opposition had an official residence, Stornoway did not start grabbing headlines until the later part of the twentieth century. Former opposition leader-turned-prime minister Joe Clark and his wife, Maureen McTeer, first brought the residence to the public’s attention when they decided that household staff would not 'work for' their young daughter. McTeer was reportedly especially worried that such an upbringing (with housekeepers and such) would spoil young Catherine.
To date, only two opposition leaders have declined to move into Stornoway. In 1993, Bloc Québécois leader Lucien Bouchard turned down the residence on a matter of principle; as the leader of the party designed to increase separatist presence in Ottawa, he was uninterested in living in a residence owned by the Canadian government and funded by Canadian taxpayers. Bouchard resided instead in Hull, Québec, which lies just across the Ontario-Québec border and is very close to Ottawa.
Reform leader Preston Manning also initially refused to move into Stornoway in 1997 (but later relented). He thought the residence to be a waste of taxpayer money and at odds with his party’s platform of a smaller, more limited government. Manning also rejected the notion that politicians’ residences should be subsidized by taxpayers and by the government, but did ask that he be provided with a smaller residence in lieu of Stornoway (since, he argued, only he and his wife would be living their as their children were adults).
This even caused some squabbling among members of the relatively newly-created Reform Party: some argued that Manning’s protest was harming the party’s reputation and detracting from real issues, while others maintained that their leader had a point. He did, eventually, move in, indicating that ‘Stornogate’ had really been for naught.
Every other opposition leader (since 1950) has moved into Stornoway without incident.
Though it is clearly a smaller and less expensive residence than 24 Sussex Drive or Rideau Hall, Stornoway comes with its own household staff (including cooking and cleaning staff) and a driver. Household staff members generally live off-site. One of the downsides to life at Stornoway is that the press (and anyone who bothers to look it up) knows exactly where the leader of the opposition lives (which, I imagine, can be a bit of a downer should you be the leader of the opposition). On the plus side, the residence also comes with security.
Since it is not usually in the opposition leader’s official capacity to entertain ‘officially’ (i.e. diplomats from other countries on state visits, etc.), high profile events don’t usually occur at Stornoway. This isn’t to say that opposition leaders and their families don’t sometimes use the house and property for entertaining; it’s just rarely done in an ‘official’ capacity.
Stornoway is the opposition leader’s residence while parliament is in session. Like all other members of parliament, the leader is expected to return to his or her constituency at various points during the year, and possibly to live there between sessions. It is likely that the leader would have a smaller residence in his or her riding. Stornoway is available to the leader at any point during the year, however.
Stornoway is maintained (upkeep of the house, the grounds, staff payment and anything else involved with the residence) with $70,000 CAD in taxpayer funds each year. This makes it one of the least expensive official Canadian residences. Unlike the official residence of the prime minister (and like Rideau Hall, the official residence of the governor general), Stornoway is always referred to by its name, not by its address. This may be because it is so far removed from the parliament buildings in comparison to other official residences.
The current occupants are Stéphane Dion, the leader of the opposition, and his wife, Janine Krieber. Dion has announced his intention to resign as leader of the opposition Liberal party after an upcoming leadership convention, at which point he will move out of Stornoway.
Canada’s Capital and its Region – Capital Attractions Official Residences – Stornoway http://www.canadascapital.gc.ca/attractions/official_residences/stornoway_e.html 4 August 2005
Stornoway – Official Residence in Canada http://canadaonline.about.com/cs/parliament/g/stornoway.htm 4 August 2005
Stornoway – Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stornoway_(residence) 4 August 2005