The Prime Ministers' Portrait Gallery contains twenty-one portraits of Canadian Prime Ministers who served in office between 1867 and 2006. The gallery dates back to 1890, when Canada's first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, was present for the unveiling of his own official portrait. It was not until a century later, however, that a more systematic method of commissioning these portraits was implemented.
As a result, some of the early portraits were commissioned by friends and colleagues, and were later donated to the House of Commons. Other portraits were initiated by the artists themselves. Speakers or Clerks of the House also commissioned paintings of Canada's Prime Ministers.
To this day, there is no set timeframe within which a portrait must be painted. A number of portraits - such as those of the Right Honourable Sir John A. Macdonald and the Right Honourable W. L. Mackenzie King - were installed while the Prime Minister was still in office. Others were produced after the Prime Minister's term had ended, and some were even commissioned posthumously. Two recent examples of this are the portraits of the Honourable Sir John Abbott (1891-1892) and the Honourable Sir Mackenzie Bowell (1894-1896), both of which were commissioned in 2001 and unveiled in 2002.
Since the 1990s, funds for these portraits have been allocated by Public Works and Government Services Canada. Once a portrait has been completed, an official unveiling ceremony is held, and the portrait is hung immediately. All of the portraits are on exhibit within the Centre Block of Canada's Parliament Buildings, where they are viewed by over 400,000 visitors a year.