Up the Gatineau! Selected Articles

The following article was first published in Up the Gatineau! Volume 42.

A Lake with Two Names:
The Harrington Lake (Lac Mousseau) Toponymy Controversy

by Michael Lait

When we questioned Richard Mulvihill [1878–1972, a long-time resident of Old Chelsea] about the alternative names for the lake—Mousseau and Harrington: “Well, it was Harrington first of all, then Moosaw, and now Harrington again. We called it Moosaw, but Moosaw, he didn’t live there very long.”

From Sheila Thomson’s
Recollections of Early Days in the Gatineau Hills

What is the correct name for the lake in Gatineau Park where the prime minister’s summer residence is? Is it Harrington Lake or Lac Mousseau? And if you picked Harrington, you should know that “Harrington” is merely a combined mispronunciation and misspelling of the family name “Hetherington.” Blame it on Philemon Wright. More on that soon.

The lake’s toponymy issue has existed for decades, and it has been linked to the issue of the lake’s use. Should the lake be used only by the prime minister of the day and carefully guarded by Mounties, or should it be incorporated into Gatineau Park for the use and enjoyment of all Canadians?

Early settlement and use

A Lake with Two Names
William Cameron Edwards (1844–1921), one of Ottawa’s first lumber barons, who established W. C. Edwards & Company and at one time owned property at Harrington Lake. He was also a five-time Liberal MP and was later appointed to the Senate. 1883. Photo credit: William James Topley. Library and Archives Canada reference PA-025642.

Having escaped as a prisoner of war from the Americans in the War of 1812, Joseph Hetherington settled in the Gatineau Hills in the 1820s. In 1827, the founder and mayor of Wrightstown (later Hull), Philemon Wright, granted Hetherington 200 acres. But owing to the name’s local pronunciation (“Hernton”), Wright misspelled the family name as “Harrington” in his petition to the government of Lower Canada. The land granted to Hetherington (Lot 19, Range 6, Township of Hull) was located six miles from the lake that came to bear the family name. One of Hetherington’s sons, John, cemented the lake’s association with the family name by clearing and farming land at the south end of the lake, near the future site of the prime minister’s residence. The spelling error was perpetuated by the surveyor Driscoll in his 1850 map of the Eardley Township, and succeeding federal and provincial maps carried the name “Harrington Lake” forward.1

A Lake with Two Names
Lieutenant-Colonel Cameron Macpherson Edwards (1881–1959) wearing the full dress uniform of the Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa (Duke of Edinburgh’s Own). This was his namesake regiment, with which he had 55 years of service, eventually serving as the regiment’s Honorary Colonel. Edwards was a successful lumberman and rose to become President of W. C. Edwards & Company, his uncle’s lumber firm. After inheriting property at Harringon Lake from his uncle, he built the mansion there that would later become the prime minister’s summer residence. Circa 1950. Photo courtesy of the Regimental Museum of the Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa.

In 1850, Louis Mousseau rented a 100-acre lot at the lake’s northwest end from the MacLaren brothers of Wakefield. As recorded by local historian Thomson, “here he lived in a log cabin (which he likely erected himself ) and farmed with his wife. Some of his twelve children, at least the younger ones, were born here….”2 Mousseau purchased the farm from the MacLarens in 1867, but poor farming conditions forced the family to leave in 1905. Among francophones, the lake came to be known by the name “Mousseau.”

Though the land surrounding the lake was not suited for farming, it was abundant in timber. In 1902, two American half-brothers, W. A. Drum and W. L. Donnelly, purchased lands around the lake to operate a sawmill. In 1911, Ottawa lumber baron Senator William Cameron Edwards acquired the lumber operation but, only four years later, a forest fire destroyed the sawmill. It is notable that Senator Edwards also owned 24 Sussex Drive, which was later expropriated by the federal government to become the official residence of the prime minister. None at the time could have predicted the connections that the Edwards family would have with Canada’s official residences.

On his death in 1921, Senator Edwards bequeathed his Harrington Lake property to a nephew, Lieutenant-Colonel Cameron Macpherson Edwards. Although involved in the family’s lumber business, Lieutenant-Colonel Edwards chose instead to develop the lands into a working farm, with a farmhouse, dairy, hay barn, carriage shed, ice house and, in the 1930s, a fox-fur farm. Despite considerable investment, the farm was not self-supporting.3 In 1925, Edwards built the isolated country mansion that would eventually become the prime minister’s country residence. The twoand-a-half storey cottage reportedly “enjoys a magnificent view of the lake and the hills beyond.”4

Apart from Lieutenant-Colonel Edwards’ mansion, the only other property on the four-mile-long lake belonged to the Honourable William Duncan Herridge, former Canadian ambassador to the United States (1931–1935). Herridge’s summer cottage and boathouse on the lake are now used by guests of the prime minister. And Herridge’s log cabin located a mile from the lake has since been remodelled by the National Capital Commission for Gatineau Park users.

Creation of Gatineau Park

Concerns about clear-cutting in the scenic Gatineau Hills, which are visible from Parliament Hill, led to the formation of the Federal Woodlands Preservation League in 1934. The League’s membership comprised cottagers from Meech and Kingsmere lakes, which included prime ministers R. B. Bennett (prime minister up to 1935) and William Lyon Mackenzie King (re-elected in 1935). For three years, the League lobbied the federal government to preserve the Gatineau Hills for present and future generations. Following the initiative of League President Roderick Percy Sparks, Parliament approved the project and, in 1938, the federal government acquired, through negotiated purchase and expropriation, the first 12,000 acres of parkland adjacent to Harrington and Meech lakes.5 As noted by graduate student Alisa Apostle, it was unclear whether funds were being set aside toward the creation of a national park or the “Gatineau Parkway.” Nevertheless, Gatineau Park never became a national park, since land was allowed to be held privately inside it, and it came under the jurisdiction of the Federal District Commission (FDC). Tasked with the beautification of the capital and its environs, the FDC was the precursor of the National Capital Commission, which currently administers the park.

Gatineau Park was growing in size (to 26,000 acres) and importance, especially after Prime Minister Mackenzie King bequeathed his 600-acre estate at Kingsmere Lake to the Canadian people on his death in 1950. Having taken an active interest in the development of Gatineau Park, King willed that his Kingsmere estate be the official summer residence of future prime ministers. Unlike so many of his other ambitions for the capital, this desire was never realized; instead, King’s estate is now a major tourist destination in the park.

A Lake with Two Names
Excerpt from a Federal District Commission map showing land ownership around Harrington Lake, circa 1950. Library Archives Canada, RG34M 81203/53, item264A.

Toponymy controversy

In 1951, the Federal District Commission (FDC) purchased the Edwards mansion and lands for $157,000. According to the Ottawa Journal, “Acquisition for Gatineau Park of the 4,800 acres, comprising the former Edwards and Herridge properties at Harrington Lake (sometimes known as Lake Mousseau) is one of the most significant developments of this great Summer and Winter playground.” Perhaps given the lake’s increasing importance, a member of the Women’s Canadian Historical Society of Ottawa (now the Historical Society of Ottawa) requested that the Commission officially recognize the lake’s francophone name. As the Commission did not have the authority to alter geographic names, it forwarded the request to the Canadian Board on Geographical Names. A resident of Meech Lake opined to the Board, “There is, I believe, an agitation under way to have the name of Harrington Lake changed to Lake Mousseau which agitation emanates from certain people who know very little concerning the past history of the district in which the lake is situated.”6

With no written records documenting the origins of the lake’s name, the Board decided to further examine the issue and contacted a local history expert, Ethel Penman Hope. The Board consulted “Early Settlement of Meech Lake” by this 30-year resident of Meech Lake, but the document made only a passing reference to Harrington Lake.7 In a letter requesting Hope’s assistance, Board Secretary L. B. Skinner wrote:

It would appear the claim that Mr. Mousseau was the original settler on the lake is open to question but from the correspondence received there is no doubt the lake has also been called Mousseau by quite a number of people and over a considerable period of time.

The Canadian Board on Geographical Names hesitates to alter a name so firmly established by map usage unless the demand represents a clear majority of the local people and others directly concerned. At the Board meeting a week ago it was decided to report the facts to you and ask your opinion on this controversial subject and for any additional evidence you may have.8

In an attempt to gauge local opinion, Hope interviewed other Meech Lake residents and later informed the Board, “Many have heard the Lake in question called Mousseau and just as many Harrington, many know the both names and use them both. A great many people are unaware of the real history of Harrington Lake and after hearing it have no special leaning toward Mousseau, and think that the Historical name should be continued.”

Her letter concluded this way:

I think Mr. Skinner, that the Government would need to have some very powerful influence brought to bear before the names on the map of our country could be changed, indeed much more than that of the few among so many who idly express that wish.

And in the days to come when visitors from many parts will visit our wonderful Gatineau Park, the wish of the few today will seem swallowed up and forgotten.9

The Canadian Board on Geographical Names endorsed the “Historical” name.10 The lake’s toponymy issue seemed to have been resolved.

Plans for the lake

Actually, FDC officials were less concerned about the lake’s proper name than with what to do with their acquisition. The 1950 Plan for the National Capital, popularly known as “the Gréber Plan” for its lead author, town-planner Jacques Gréber, called for the lake’s preservation:

Harrington Lake, which is approximately 15 miles from the Peace Tower, is entirely undeveloped and reserved for the exclusive enjoyment of two or three owners. The road following its shores is impassable for vehicles, and to reach Philippe Lake, from the central area, cars must make a detour of some 40 miles. As such conditions are decidedly inconvenient to the public, and, as this lake will undoubtedly be ultimately integrated in the park system, its natural scenic beauty should be made available under proper policies of preservation and enhancement.

There was widespread consensus among federal officials that the soon-to-beconstructed Gatineau Parkway would pass near the lake, so modest possibilities of erecting public beaches, picnic grounds, and campsites were contemplated. But there were more ambitious development proposals for the lake as well.

The Gatineau Park Advisory Committee recommended in its 1952 Report on Master Plan for the Development of Gatineau Park that the Edwards mansion be temporarily made into a chalet, one to host dignitaries visiting the national capital. The Report proceeded to indicate that

a new building of a different type of architecture built of log or native stone or a combination of both, would be much more suitable.

What we have in mind is a showplace. The same arguments might be given for utilizing Gatineau Park as a location for such an institution as were given to justify the use of Major [sic] Hill Park for the Chateau Laurier.

A Lake with Two Names
An illustration of the 1954 downhill ski development proposal for Harrington Lake, as put forward by developer/operators John Clifford and Steven Saunders to the Federal District Commission (forerunner to the National Capital Commission). Library and Archives Canada, RG34 Vol.275.190-Q.

A skiing complex was supposed to complement this chalet. Thus, the Advisory Committee suggested that a second chalet be built at the lake, as the FDC would establish “a magnificent ski hill with trails connecting with the present ski trails in the Gatineau [e.g., to Camp Fortune].” As it turns out, none of the Report’s major recommendations, including those for Harrington Lake, were ever acted on—apart from construction of the Gatineau Parkway.

In an attempt to fill the lake’s policy void, FDC Commissioner (and founder of the Canadian Geographical Society) Dr. Charles Camsell submitted, in July 1953, A Policy for Harrington Lake, Gatineau Park. Acknowledging that private lands at Meech and Philippe lakes had hindered the park’s development, Dr. Camsell regarded Harrington Lake as unique because it was a completely undisturbed environment:

The policy suggested for Harrington Lake is to block out an area embracing the whole of the lake and extending back from the shore line a sufficient distance to allow for the preservation of scenic values and proper administration of the lake and its environments. This would constitute the “heartland” of Gatineau Park and in it no developments would be allowed except those that are under the complete control of the Commission and in conformity with the policy of the Commission.

The nine provisions of Dr. Camsell’s policy would ensure that no “undesirable exploitation” occurred on the lake, while providing limited and controlled public access. Viewing construction of the Gatineau Parkway as imminent, Dr. Camsell foresaw pressures to open the area to “cottages and other facilities.” If the Commission allowed any private development whatsoever, he predicted that “Harrington Lake will then go the way of Meach Lake and advantage will be taken of its unique facilities mainly by those who can afford to lease land and build cottages on it, and where the general public will have few privileges.”

The first test of this preservation policy came only a few months after the FDC adopted it.11 Ski tow operators John Clifford and Steven Saunders wanted to develop the lake for downhill skiing. Along with several others, they were prepared to invest $200,000 in the construction of a ski tow, lodge and parking lot; in exchange, the FDC would issue a long-term lease for the lands, and grant Clifford and Saunders an operating licence.12 The preservation policy was upheld, however, and the Commission rejected the ski-development proposal.13

Establishment as prime minister’s cottage

While Dr. Camsell sought regulated public access to Harrington Lake as the centre of a wilderness park, the FDC maintained it as a private enclave; boating was prohibited, and a gate to block road access to the Edwards estate was erected.14 Public swimming was tolerated, but FDC officials never actively encouraged public use of the lake. Meanwhile, the Commission improved the mansion by installing, at a cost of $5,500, a mile-long telephone-power line from Meech Lake.15

A Lake with Two Names
A Lake with Two Names
Exterior shots of the prime minister’s main residence at Harrington Lake, a two-and-a-half-storey wood-frame building. According to the Heritage Character Statement, recent changes to the exterior have undermined the original 1920s cottage rusticity. During the Pearson government, the interior of the residence was renovated to provide 10 bedrooms and 6 bathrooms. Circa 1980. Library and Archives Canada. Ted Grant fonds, R11502-0-1-E. CF40-1 Row 1, Column 1 and Row 2, Column 1.

This improvement was made because officials increasingly came to see the Edwards mansion as best suited for the prime minister’s summer cottage, and suggestions continued to be made to that effect. However, during Louis St. Laurent’s tenure as prime minister (1948–1957), he refused the Commission’s offer of the Edwards mansion. St. Laurent spent summers with his family at “les Rochers” in Rivière-du-Loup, Quebec.16 So the problem could be put off, and the Edwards mansion was rented to William Herridge, who sublet it to partners in his law firm.

The situation changed when John Diefenbaker was elected prime minister and the question of a summer cottage for the prime minister became relevant again. But Diefenbaker claimed to dislike leisure and rejected the Commission’s offer of the Edwards mansion. The following year it hosted Princess Margaret for two days, with newspapers mistakenly reporting that “Harrington Lake Lodge” was “maintained for Canadian prime ministers.17 Having stayed there for two weeks that summer to go fishing, Diefenbaker had courted such speculation (so much for his dislike of leisure). Only a few days after the newspaper article about the Princess’s visit, Diefenbaker told the House of Commons, “It [Harrington Lake] has not been and will not be established as the Prime Minister’s country residence as far as I am concerned.18

Commission officials were becoming nervous that their plans for the lake would be derailed. The use of the Edwards mansion had become a “headache problem.” Journalist Charles Lynch noted in the Ottawa Citizen of August 12, 1958:

Possible alternative use for Harrington Lodge (other than a prime minister’s summer residence) has not been considered by the FDC. Officials said, however, that the lodge, built by a wealthy man for his enjoyment and entertainment, is too big for the FDC to rent for ordinary summer cottage purposes. It would be regrettable, officials remarked, if the lodge had to be closed up or torn down.

Parliamentarians came to the rescue of the ailing Commission by tabling a bill to amend the Prime Minister’s Residence Act. Given that the lands in question were already owned by the government, Harrington Lake simply had to be inserted into the bill’s description. The bill passed quickly, and with a rare unanimous vote.19

The only snag in the bill’s passage turned out to be lake’s name. Parliamentarians were surprised to learn of their cultural differences, with the MP representing Hull requesting that “Mousseau” be declared the official name.20 The Minister of Public Works cited the authority of the Canadian Board on Geographical Names and indicated that the bill would consequently have no effect on the lake’s name. Parliamentarians reached a compromise, amending the bill to read “Harrington (Mousseau) Lake” in the English text and “Lac Mousseau (Harrington Lake)” in the French text.

Pressures to have “Mousseau” officially recognized did not subside; in December 1962, the Quebec Geographic Board requested that the Canadian Board on Geographical Names designate Mousseau (Harrington) as the lake’s official name, and the change was approved.21 Nevertheless, use of the “historical” name continued, with francophones periodically protesting to their MPs as a result. Thus, the question of the lake’s name was brought before Parliament in 1965 and 1967.22

A lake with two issues

In 1970, National Capital Commission (NCC) Chairman Douglas H. Fullerton suggested locating the prime minister’s summer residence outside Gatineau Park, so as to create a Canadian version of Camp David (a reference to the country retreat of the US president). The NCC Chair urged the relocation, not only as a means of opening the lake to the public, but also to ease pressures on existing park facilities at Lac Philippe. Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, who frequently stayed at Harrington Lake with his family, rejected the proposal (and Fullerton later reversed his position, claiming that barring public access was beneficial to the lake’s environment).23

In 1986, the lake’s use for the prime ministers and VIPs was reinforced when the Edwards mansion was designated as a Recognized Federal Heritage Building. By then, it had hosted several US presidents and Queen Elizabeth II. As explained in the Heritage Character Statement: “Despite the fact that the building will never be seen directly by the vast majority of Canadians, it is and will remain a conspicuous symbol of the Prime Minister’s Office.”24 Local historian and writer Katharine Fletcher observed that having the prime minister’s cottage “within the boundary of a public park is highly contentious since access to the residence is banned to park visitors and guarded to the east and west by RCMP.” As shown above, although the lake’s natural surroundings have been preserved by the federal government since the 1950s, the Canadian public, for whom Gatineau Park was originally set aside, has never really been given access to it.

Thus, newspapers have not only covered disputes about the lake’s proper name, they have also aired the occasional protest against the prime minister’s exclusive use of the lake. One disgruntled taxpayer, N. D. Porter, wrote a complaining letter to the Ottawa Citizen in November 1980:

When I was growing up around here, a canoe trip from Meech to Philippe was possible. The PM’s summer residence now prohibits this.

Isn’t the O’Brien home at Meech Lake enough? Or—why not limit the PM to a few private acres on Mousseau? But a whole lake? No way!

From undisturbed wilderness to farm, to sawmill, back to farm, to official residence: the lake’s use has changed as much as its name. It’s debatable whether either issue has been permanently settled.


Apostle, Alisa, The View From The Hill: National Park Culture and Gatineau Park. Unpublished Master of arts thesis, Queen’s University, Kingston, 1997.

Camsell, Charles, A Policy for Harrington Lake, July 1953. Library and Archives Canada, RG34 Vol. 275.190Q1.

Fletcher, Katharine, “Pioneer Spirits: Meech, Pink, Harrington, Fortune, Willson: Their names are familiar, but their stories are not,” Ottawa Citizen, September 21, 1997.

Gatineau Park Advisory Committee, Report on Master Plan for the Development of the Gatineau Park. Ottawa: Federal District Commission, 1952.

Gréber, Jacques, Plan for the National Capital. Ottawa: King’s Printer, 1950.

Martin, Carol, “The Old Fox Farm in Gatineau Park,” in Dennis Messier, ed., The Gatineau Park Chronicle. Ottawa: National Capital Commission, 2009.

McTeer, Maureen, Residences: Homes of Canada’s Leaders. Scarborough: Prentice- Hall Canada Inc., 1982.

Messier, Denis, “Gatineau Hills Forest Industry 1800 to 1938: Myth or Reality?” in Denis Messier, ed., The Gatineau Park Chronicle. Ottawa: National Capital Commission, 2009.

Thomson, Sheila, Recollections of Early Days in the Gatineau Hills, Parts I & II. Unpublished document, 1966.

1. Michael Reford, “The Hetherington Farm,” Up the Gatineau!, Vol. 19, 1999, p. 31.
2. Sheila Thomson, Recollections of Early Days in the Gatineau Hills, Part II. Unpublished document, 1966, p. 76.
3. Sheila Thomson, Recollections of Early Days in the Gatineau Hills, Part II. Unpublished document, 1966, p. 76.
4. Canada’s Historic Places, Prime Minister’s Cottage, Chelsea, Quebec, Canada. www.historicplaces.ca/en/rep-reg/place-lieu.aspx?id=11352">www.historicplaces.ca/en/rep-reg/place-lieu.aspx?id=11352
5. On Sparks’ role in the creation of Gatineau Park, see Jean-Paul Murray, “Roderick Percy Sparks: Gatineau Park’s Forgotten Founder,” Up the Gatineau!, Vol. 30, 2004.
6. Letter from Corlis G. Keyes to L. B. Skinner, October 26, 1951. Library and Archives Canada, RG34 Vol. 267.190(15).
7. Ethel Penman Hope, “Early Settlement of Meech Lake,” Up the Gatineau!, Vol. 10, 1984.
8. Letter from L. B. Skinner to E. P. Hope, September 12, 1951. Library and Archives Canada. RG34 Vol. 267.190(15).
9. Letter from E. P. Hope to L. B. Skinner, October 25, 1951. Library and Archives Canada. RG34 Vol. 267.190(15).
10. Letter from E. P. Hope to L. B. Skinner, October 25, 1951. Library and Archives Canada. RG34 Vol. 267.190(15).
11. Federal District Commission, Annual Report, 1953, p. 21.
12. Bob Buchanan, “A Plan Without Equal: Harrington Lake Proposed to FDC As Skiing Mecca,” Ottawa Citizen, February 16, 1954.
13. “Marking Time At Harrington Lake,”Ottawa Citizen, April 22, 1954.
14. E. S. Richards, Memorandum to Federal District Commission, June 2, 1954. Library and Archives Canada. RG34 Vol. 268.190(18).
15. Letter to His Excellency the Governor General in Council from President of the Privy Council, September 13, 1954. Library and Archives Canada. RG34 Vol. 268.190(18).
16. Canada’s Historic Places, Sir John A. Macdonald’s Summer Residence National Historic Site of Canada. www.historicplaces.ca/en/rep-reg/place-lieu.aspx?id=20368.
17. Associated Press, “Princess Relaxes At Lake Lodge Near Ottawa.”Ocala Star-Banner, August 4, 1958.
18. Charles Lynch, “Diefenbaker Rejects Plan For Harrington ‘Hideaway,’” Ottawa Citizen, August 12, 1958.
19. “PM Summer Home Voted While Diefenbaker Away,”Ottawa Citizen, June 17, 1959.
20. “Prime Minister’s Residence Act” in Hansard. House of Commons Debates, June 16, 1959.
21. Question No. 254—Mr. Isabelle, Name of Lake at Kingsmere, Que. Hansard, House of Commons Debates, September 25, 1967, p. 2405.
22. Question No. 2324—Mr. Pigeon, Change of Name of Harrington Lake. Hansard, House of Commons Debates, February 17, 1965, p. 11412; Question No. 254—Mr. Isabelle, Name of Lake at Kingsmere, Que. Hansard, House of Commons Debates, September 25, 1967, p. 2405.
23. Douglas Fullerton, “Protect Gatineau Park from the people—Fullerton,” Ottawa Citizen, September 29, 1976.
24. FHBRO 85-40, “Prime Minister’s Cottage, Harrington Lake, Hull Ouest, Québec.” Heritage Character Statement, May 28, 1986.

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