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 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.
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.
Since 1986, the 5.4-hectare (13-acre) property at Harrington Lake has been managed by the NCC. The property includes four recreational buildings: the main house, the staff cottage, the upper guest cottage and the lower guest cottage. The land, which formerly consisted of cultivated fields, has reverted to secondary forest. The main house has maintained its fine view over the lake.
The property is closed to the public.