OTTAWA - A body has been found in the Parliament Hill office of NDP Leader Tom Mulcair.
Authorities say identification has been difficult because of the deteriorated condition of the corpse, which resembled broccoli.
OK, the "body" is just an artist's rendering of a fallen knight, uncovered during restoration work on the magnificent murals that adorn the upper walls of the official Opposition leader's office.
But it's nevertheless a finding of historic significance that adds to the mystique of an office already known for other peculiarities — most of which can be traced to its original occupant, William Lyon Mackenzie King, Canada's longest-serving and most eccentric prime minister.
The dead knight has lain hidden for more than 70 years, his body obscured by salts leaching from the plaster into the paint. It was further disfigured by a sloppy effort in the late 1930s to restore the murals to their original glory.
"It looked like a mound of (green), a blob, or, as I call it, a broccoli head," said Wendy Baker, a conservator with Canadian Heritage's Canadian Conservation Institute who uncovered the body several weeks ago.
"I didn't know what it was. It was just bizarre."
The mural in question depicts a medieval, armoured knight wielding a sword. It had been so badly touched up that it was impossible to see that he was standing over the body of another knight — until Baker uncovered it.
"The figure lying prone was painted largely in green paint and was really impossible to interpret as anything," she said.
"When the over-paint came off, it became very evident immediately that it wasn't a stick of broccoli, it was actually a helmet (of a fallen knight). ... He's lying on his shield but even the shield was heavily over-painted.
"I had a colleague with me and I asked him over. I said, 'Ian, does that look like a body to you?' and he said, 'Yes, that's definitely a body.' So there we are. We have recovered a body in the leader of the Opposition's room."
Mulcair has been dining out on the story ever since, telling a lawyer friend recently that he'd been banished from his ornate, fourth-floor office, which sits directly above the prime minister's office in Parliament's Centre Block.
"It's all covered in polyethylene because they found a body," he told his suitably shocked friend.
Mulcair's desk and the office's intricately carved oak woodwork are in fact covered by protective plastic sheets while Baker and her colleagues are conducting the painstaking restoration work. However, the work, which began in 2008, is only carried out when the House of Commons is in recess so as not to unduly disturb the NDP leader.
Mulcair has enthusiastically steeped himself in the heritage of the room and "thought it was amazing" when the body was uncovered. If it crossed his mind initially that the corpse might be that of a recent Liberal occupant of the office, dispatched by a knife in the back, he's not saying.
"I'll just take that as a cue that we do have to show a lot of courage in these jobs," was all Mulcair would say on that subject.
David Monaghan, curator of the House of Commons, says the murals in the Opposition leader's office are the only genuine frescoes in Parliament, painted directly onto the wet plaster by Italian artist Attilio Pusterla when Centre Block was rebuilt after a fire destroyed the original building in 1916. Other murals in the building were painted on canvas and then affixed to the walls.
King moved into the office as Liberal leader in 1920, and was so taken with his new digs that he refused to move out even after becoming prime minister. He became keenly interested in the murals and was consulted by architect John A. Pearson on the themes to be portrayed.
According to King's diary, each mural, most involving Camelot-like scenes of knighthood, is meant to depict an attribute needed by a leader of the official Opposition: struggle, integrity, justice, fidelity, conciliation, watchfulness, fearlessness, vision and wisdom.
Fearlessness is the characteristic portrayed in the mural with the newly discovered body.
The sword-wielding knight "is defending either a fallen comrade or he has just dispatched someone and is facing another foe," speculated Baker.
Monaghan said the first interpretation is generally regarded as most likely.
The "vision" mural, Baker's latest restoration project, features what could be the homeliest angel ever painted. The angel vaguely resembles Canada's first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, in drag.
"I was really hoping she was over-painted so that she would improve her appearance (after restoration). But, no, unfortunately that's what it is," said Baker.
Historical references suggest the model for the angel was King's dead mother, with whom the leader famously communed through seances.
"King actually recommended that the face of his mother be used for the angel," said Monaghan, adding that the artist "apparently" acquiesced.
Commons historians have long wondered whether the visage of King's mother may also have been used as a model for the queen featured in the "justice" mural, but Monaghan said no historical evidence for that has been found. The queen is considerably more attractive than the angel.
Until now, the office's most famous feature was its secret door, which Monaghan said was installed at King's request to provide him an escape route from "unwanted visitors." A carved oak panel on one side of the office's enormous marble fireplace is actually a door that leads into a tiny chamber and another door to the outer corridor, conveniently located next to a staircase.
Since moving into the office last spring, Mulcair has found everyone is "fascinated" by the secret door.
"It's a great conversation piece," he said.
But that was before the body was found.
The office has fallen victim to political correctness over the years. Carved wooden plaques originally installed under each of the murals to identify the various leadership traits being depicted were removed in the 1960s, at John Diefenbaker's request, because they were inscribed only in English, according to Monaghan.
Two traits — moderation and toleration, which are painted directly onto the walls without any accompanying murals — were left since the words are the same in both French and English. Or in the case of toleration, arguably not a real word in either language. ("Artistic licence," says Monaghan.)
Fortunately, Diefenbaker did not see fit to ask that the British coat of arms, carved in wood over the main door of the office at time when Canada had no coat of arms of its own, also be removed. Mulcair noted that the motto under the coat of arms is also unilingual — entirely in French.
New plaques — bilingual ones, this time — are to eventually be installed under the murals. The objective, said Monaghan, is to return the ornate office as much as possible to its original state.
Public Works, which is overseeing the project, regards the work on the frescoes as a template for the massive renovation planned for the entire Centre Block, Monaghan said — ensuring not only that the crumbling building will continue to stand for years to come but will do so in all its historic glory, dead bodies and all.
Related on HuffPost:
Little-Known Mulcair Facts
Here are some facts you may not have known about NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair. (CP)
10. He Used To Be A Liberal
<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Mulcair" target="_hplink">Mulcair was Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks</a> in Jean Charest's Liberal government in Quebec. He served in the role from 2003-2006. (CP)
8. He's French (Kind Of)
Mulcair married Catherine Pinhas in 1976. She was born in France to a Turkish family of Sephardic Jewish descent. <a href="http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/politics/article/1158289--thomas-mulcair-s-wife-catherine-a-psychologist-and-political-confidante?bn=1" target="_hplink">Mulcair has French citizenship through his marriage</a>, as do the couple's two sons. (KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)
7. They Used To Be Friends
<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Mulcair" target="_hplink">Mulcair left Charest's Liberal government in Quebec </a>after he was offered the position of Minister of Government Services in 2006, an apparent demotion from Minister of the Environment. Mulcair has said his ouster was related to his opposition to a government plan to transfer land in the Mont Orford provincial park to condo developers. (CP)
6. Ancestor Was Premier Of Quebec
Mulcair's great-great-grandfather on his mother's side was <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honor%C3%A9_Mercier" target="_hplink">Honoré Mercier, the ninth premier of Quebec</a>. (Public Domain/Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec)
<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Mulcair" target="_hplink">Mulcair was the first New Democrat to win a riding in Quebec during a federal election</a>. He held the riding of Outremont during the 2008 election after first winning the seat in a 2007 by-election. Phil Edmonston was the first New Democrat to win a seat in Quebec, but his win came in a 1990 by-election. Robert Toupin was the very first to bring a Quebec seat to the NDP, but he did it in 1986 by crossing the floor. (Alamy)
4. He's Half Irish.
<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Mulcair" target="_hplink">Mulcair's father Harry Donnelly Mulcair was Irish-Canadian</a> and his mother Jeanne French-Canadian. His father spoke to him in English and his mother in French -- explaining his fluency in both official languages. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
3. He Votes In France
Muclair has voted in past French elections, but after becoming leader of the Official Opposition <a href="http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/politics/article/1157191" target="_hplink">he said he would not cast a ballot in the French presidential vote</a>. (Thinkstock)
2. Young Love At First Sight
<a href="http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/politics/article/1158289--thomas-mulcair-s-wife-catherine-a-psychologist-and-political-confidante?bn=1" target="_hplink">Mulcair met his future wife at a wedding when they were both teenagers</a>. Catherine was visiting from France. They married two years later when they were both 21. (CP)
1. Mr. Angry
<a href="http://www2.macleans.ca/2012/03/16/thomas-mulcair-is-mr-angry/" target="_hplink">Mulcair was given the moniker in a Maclean's headline</a>, but the new leader of the NDP has long been known for his short fuse. In 2005, he was fined $95,000 for defamatory comments he made about former PQ minister Yves Duhaime on TV. The comments included French vulgarity and an accusation that alleged influence peddling would land Duhaime in prison.
UP NEXT: Canadian Politicians Who Have Tried Marijuana
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford says he has had his <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/08/28/rob-ford-marijuana-wynne_n_3831389.html" target="_blank">fair share of marijuana</a>. "Oh, yeah. I've smoked a lot of it."
The federal Liberal leader opened up to HuffPost about his experience with marijuana in August. "Sometimes, I guess, I have gotten a buzz, but other times no. I’m not really crazy about it.”
The Opposition leader's office told HuffPost this summer that Mulcair <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/08/22/justin-trudeau-marijuana-peter-mackay_n_3797481.html" target="_blank">has smoked in the past</a> but not since he was elected to office. Mulcair was elected to the National Assembly of Quebec in 1994.
Said the <a href="http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v02/n506/a09.html" target="_blank">Tory finance minister</a>: "Yeah, in my teenage years... a couple of times, I have to admit: I didn’t like it."
The Liberal MP and Canada's first astronaut said he tried marijuana as a <a href="http://www.cbc.ca/player/News/Politics/Power+%26+Politics/ID/2402495133/" target="_blank">student in the 1970s in England. </a> "It's not my thing. I stopped because it wasn't doing anything for me."
The premier of Ontario said she <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/08/28/kathleen-wynne-marijuana-pot_n_3830736.html?utm_hp_ref=canada-politics" target="_blank">smoked pot decades ago</a>. "I have smoked marijuana but not for the last 35 years."
Said the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/08/29/darrell-dexter-marijuana-pot_n_3837009.html?utm_hp_ref=canada-politics" target="_blank">premier of Nova Scotia</a>: "Like every other person I knew back in the '70s when I went to university, some of whom are actually in this room, I would have tried it, the same as other people at that time."
Said the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/05/01/christy-clark-marijuana-use-pot_n_1469321.html" target="_blank">premier of British Columbia</a>: "I graduated from Burnaby South Senior Secondary in 1983 and there was a lot of that going on when I was in high school and I didn't avoid it all together."
The leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario admitted he's <a href="http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2011/08/18/hudak_admits_to_smoking_pot.html" target="_blank">puffed in the past.</a> "I was a normal kid, I had a normal upbringing, a normal life in university. I experimented from time to time with marijuana. It’s a long time ago in the past and in the grand scheme of things."
The former prime minister of Canada <a href="http://www.ctvnews.ca/" target="_blank">told CTV News</a>: "The answer is: I never smoked. I never smoked anything, but there was an earlier time, years ago, when (my wife) made some brownies and they did have a strange taste."
The former prime minister admitted while running for the leadership of the Progressive Conservatives that <a href="http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2013/08/22/chris-selley-trudeau-pot-revelation-underscores-one-of-his-few-actual-policy-positions/" target="_blank">she tried weed.</a> "And I inhaled the smoke."
Said the former NDP leader: "Yes, and some might say I never exhaled."
The former premier of Ontario said he <a href="http://www.cfdp.ca/cita99.htm" target="_blank">experimented in his teens</a>, but only twice.
The premier of Saskatchewan said he was an <a href="http://www.canada.com/topics/news/politics/story.html?id=f23471e8-be96-46cf-9c1f-b43d5c497cdd" target="_blank">"infrequent" user back in university.</a> "It didn't really do anything for me, luckily, because for some, it does lead to other things."