It offers the head of the Canadian government a tranquil place to rest, reflect and confer in a secure, secluded and informal setting. The main house at Harrington Lake is a recognized federal heritage building.
One lake, two names
The history of Harrington Lake has its origins in the 19th century era of settlement. Several families came to settle in the area, including the Harringtons and the Mousseau family. The lake eventually became known as “Harrington Lake” in English and “Lac Mousseau” in French.
The lumber industry
The Mousseau family had built a farm on the shores of the lake, and the property remained in the family for several decades. The harsh terrain of the Gatineau Hills was not well suited to farming, and the lumber industry soon replaced farming as the main economic activity. In the early 20th century, two Americans, W. A. Drum and W. L. Donnelly, built a sawmill at Harrington Lake to take advantage of the wealth of the region’s forests.
The country house
In the 1920s, Cameron Macpherson Edwards, a member of an important lumbering family in Ottawa, inherited part of the property. He recognized the value of the land for recreation, as well as for lumber. He purchased more land around the lake, expanding his total holdings to some 1,200 hectares (3,000 acres). He also ordered the demolition of the mill buildings at Harrington Lake, and replaced them with the house that now serves as a country residence for Canada’s prime minister. The 16-room house was designed in the Colonial Revival style, very common in the 1920s, but with the addition of large fieldstone chimneys.
In 1951, the federal government purchased the Edwards property, along with those of William Duncan Herridge and the Healey family. Stanley Healey became the first government caretaker at Harrington Lake. The government did not act immediately on the idea of using part of the property to create a secluded retreat for Canada’s prime minister. The arrival of John Diefenbaker as prime minister in 1958 was the deciding factor.
Diefenbaker was the first Canadian prime minister from Western Canada. Unlike previous political leaders, he had no home of his own or cottage in central Canada to which he could retreat. Caretaker Stanley Healey is said to have taken Diefenbaker fishing at Harrington Lake, and won his support for the creation of an official country residence.
In the late 1950s, a group of buildings at Harrington Lake were designated as a secure, secluded country residence for Canada’s prime ministers.
The NCC has managed this 5.4-hectare (13-acre) property since 1988. Like most official residences, Harrington Lake is closed to the public. It is used for both official and private functions, and includes buildings that can accommodate official business, as well as state guests.
The property includes a few ancillary structures and two principal buildings: the main cottage and the farmhouse.
Our work at Harrington Lake is part of a broader long-term program to preserve, maintain and restore all the official residences under NCC management.
Our Official Residences of Canada: Asset Portfolio Condition Report, released in October 2018, provides a detailed, residence-by-residence analysis of the investment required to restore Canada’s official residences to good condition. The report deemed both the main cottage and the caretaker’s cottage to be in critical condition, and estimated that a capital investment of $17.8 million is required for the rehabilitation of the Harrington Lake property.
The rehabilitation of the property is under way and ongoing, with $8.6 million committed since 2018 to the rehabilitation of both the farmhouse and the main cottage.
Built in 1850, the former caretaker’s cottage was dismantled, relocated and rebuilt on a larger footprint close to the main cottage to improve its practicality and use. This $2.5-million rehabilitation project was completed in June 2019. This renamed farmhouse features the following:
- universal accessibility on the main floor
- increased floor space to 450 square metres
- energy-efficient building components
- increased functionality appropriate for official 21st century government business
- heritage character elements from the original 1850 cottage.
Main cottage rehabilitation
The ongoing rehabilitation of the main cottage will address the critical condition detailed in the 2018 Official Residences of Canada: Asset Portfolio Condition Report. This $6.1-million rehabilitation project includes important maintenance and life cycle renewal requirements, as well as the following work:
- address lead paint on existing exterior wood components of the building envelope
- repair exterior wall framing, and install insulation, air barrier, vapour barrier, sheathing, rain screen and new clapboard
- install modern hot water system and HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) system
- install fire suppression system rehabilitation for code compliance
- install underground water reservoir system to support firefighting apparatus for the main cottage and farmhouse
- replace exterior doors, frames and hardware, restore window sashes and glazing, and install new exterior windows
- insulate the walls that were previously uninsulated, and insulate the attic
- dismantle and rebuild two stone chimneys, and repair interior stone masonry
- repair and install membrane on foundations, as well as parging, insulation and drainage at foundations
- undertake functional improvements, including expanding and improving the service area
The project has been delayed due to COVID-19, and is expected to be complete in late 2020.