History of the House and Garden Tour

Before 1961, IODE Laurentian Chapter had depended mainly on an annual Garden Party - an elaborate affair with crafts, sales and games and refreshments - to raise funds. That event was heavily dependent on the weather, it involved an enormous amount of work, and the funds raised were not huge. In 1961, Laurentian Chapter pioneered the concept of a House & Garden Tour in Ottawa.

The first tour consisted of six houses, including 24 Sussex (Official Residence of the Prime Minister of Canada), the French Embassy and the British High Commission (Earnscliffe, former home of Sir John A. Macdonald). The event included a souvenir booklet, telling the history of each house, as well as lunch - initially at a country club and later in the form of lunchboxes. The cost of the ticket was originally $3 and there it remained for many years. By 1980, the ticket price had risen slowly to $10 and to $20 by 1998. In the year 2000, the tour earned a record $21,300. After that, with increasing competition from other organizations and concerns about security, income from the tour thereafter declined by almost half.

The change of date in 2005 - from the third Thursday in May to the second Saturday in June - allowed the chapter to enhance the "Garden" element of the tour, with experts such as Master Gardener Ed Lawrence on hand to interpret lavish gardens to members of the public.

With one exception - 1992 - the tour has been successfully delivered every year since its creation in 1961. All over Ottawa, imitators have arisen, but the chapter's inimitable version remains rooted in IODE tradition.

In summer 2011 – the 50th anniversary of the House and Garden Tour in Ottawa – Laurentian made some important changes to its most important fund-raiser. The chapter recognized that, as an organization with over a century of history under its belt, it had a particular interest in and role to play in interpreting Ottawa heritage. As well as its traditional focus on décor and interior decoration, therefore, the chapter added a heritage layer to its House and Garden Tour. It decided that, instead of spreading the tour out city-wide, it would focus on an old Ottawa neighbourhood and that walking tours and other programming would complement the usual line-up of open houses. The pilot project took place in New Edinburgh in 2011, with Her Excellency Sharon Johnson, wife of the Governor General, on hand to cut a special anniversary cake. The shift was successful and subsequent years have been, as much as possible, a focus on discrete areas of the City.