Inside Harrington Lake, Canada’s official cottage

The main cottage at Harrington Lake, Que. The main cottage at Harrington Lake, Que. Courtesy National Capital Commission

The Maple Leaf debuted here. William and Kate enjoyed some private time here. Rob Ford went fishing here with Stephen Harper. Who knew Canada’s official cottage at Harrington Lake, Que., had been the scene of so many curious events?

Origin Story
When the cottage was built, in 1925, it “shared a casual, rustic impression with many other cottages.” By mid-century, two open porches were removed and it was painted white with green trim, giving it “an impression of 1950s suburban development,” said a 1986 assessment.

Welcome to the Diefenbunkie
The government bought the property in ’51 (to preserve forested lands around the capital), but the cottage didn’t become the official summer residence until the country chose its first Western Canadian prime minister, in 1957. John Diefenbaker came from Prince Albert, Sask., and didn’t have his own cottage near Ottawa where he could spend some downtime.

Flying Colours
Fall 1964. Canada was choosing a new flag, and it was down to three designs. PM Lester B. Pearson wanted to see them all flying, so prototypes were quickly made (a bureaucrat’s 20-year-old daughter gave up her Friday night to do the sewing) and whisked up to the lake on Saturday morning. Pearson gave his approval to the Maple Leaf, which looked the best waving from the top of the Harrington flagpole, and that design won the day later that fall after a contentious debate in the House of Commons.

All the Single Ladies
Pierre Trudeau, before he married, would occasionally bring a date to Harrington. In the spring of 1970, his guest was Barbra Streisand. According to one account, “he impressed her by diving expertly into the chill of the lake.” (Way to woo the ladies, P.E.T.) Another date was Margaret Sinclair, his future wife. They ventured into the woods to escape scrutiny and got lost. The security detail panicked, and one officer stood in the lake, held up an umbrella, and fired off a rifle shot to guide them back to safety. (This was way before texting was a thing.)

Justin Trudeau reflects on his lifelong love affair with the canoe

All the First Ministers
Canada’s premiers met with PM Brian Mulroney in August 1992 to discuss what would become the Charlottetown Accord, the constitutional package that was defeated in a referendum later that year.

That Certain Summer
Kim Campbell lived at Harrington Lake for the entire time that she was prime minister, from June 25 to November 3, 1993.

Wills ♡ Kate
July 2011. Not long after they were married, William and Kate rowed across the lake to a rustic log cabin and spent four hours alone. The Queen has also been to Harrington Lake, while on her Silver Jubilee visit to Canada, in 1977.

No Comment
According to reports, Stephen Harper’s fishing expedition with Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, in 2012, was perhaps not the most harmonious of Harrington Lake affairs. “I stand up in the boat all the time,” Ford is quoted as saying, “and he says, ‘Sit down.’ I say, ‘No, no.’ ”

Also On The Guest List
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, Australian Prime Minister John Howard, Mexican President Felipe Calderón, U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson, Farley Mowat, Gordon Lightfoot, Liona Boyd (she went skinny-dipping with her boyfriend, Pierre Trudeau)

Fast Facts
• Built by the Ottawa lumber baron Cameron Macpherson Edwards in 1925
• Recognized as a Federal Heritage Building
• Designed in the Colonial Revival style, common in the 1920s
• Has 16 rooms, including seven bedrooms
• The property is 5.4 hectares, with nine other buildings, including a staff cottage and several guest cabins
• Harrington Lake is known as Lac Mousseau in French

Note: Harrington Lake is not open to the public.

This story originally appeared in the Early Summer 2017 issue of Cottage Life magazine as “Estate of the Nation.”

Featured Video