Maison Macdonell-Williamson House

The Glengarry-Prescott-Russell Region of Eastern Ontario is being discovered as a tourism venue. It is a Region rich in many agri-recreational sites, heritage attractions and industrial diversities along the historic Ottawa River. Located off highway # 417, the Region lies between the two metro areas of Ottawa and Montreal. It attracts tourists from both sides of the Quebec-Ontario border and includes towns such as Vankleek Hill, Hawkesbury, L'Orignal, Chute à Blondeau and St Eugène, Hawkesbury, Montebello, Cushing, Carillon etc. Most sites are within a one hour drive of Ottawa or Montreal.

One important and interesting tourist destination is the Macdonell-Williamson House c.1817. This National Historic Site is one of the finest early Georgian mansions built on the Ottawa River by retired North West Company fur trading partners. It was constructed in Ontario at the border of Upper and Lower Canada, adjacent to the village of Pointe-Fortune Quebec, in 1817-1819 by Montreal craftsmen for John Macdonell and his Métis wife Magdeleine Poitras and their twelve children. An elegant local adaptation of the Paladian style, the House was built in the midst of an extensive working estate with easy access to the Ottawa river and Macdonell's fowarding business. Its impressive stone exterior and exquisitely detailed interior proclaimed Macdonell's position as a major business and political figure along the Ottawa River. Some unique features are: a cooking hearth, twelve fireplaces, bed closets, and a second floor ballroom.

Upon Macdonell's death in 1850, the House was inherited by his youngest son , John Beverly Palafox Macdonell and his wife Sarah Ann Crosby. The property was purchased by William Williamson and his wife Mary Ellen Everett in 1882. It was preserved by the Williamson family and their descendants until being expropriated in 1961 for the construction of the Quebec Hydro Dam at Carillon.

In order to save it from demolition, the site was acquired by the Ontario Heritage Trust in 1978. Today, the heritage group, Friends of the Macdonell-Williamson House, is working to have the site restored as a Cultural Centre for local and early Canadian history.

The Macdonell-Williamson House is one of the most significant historic sites still standing on the Ottawa River, along the fur trade route in Canada. At times we can easily underestimate its importance--perhaps because it is at the border of Quebec and Ontario--the most eastern place in Ontario and is situated in a rural community of few residents (population of Pointe-Fortune is about 400). Due to its isolation the site needs strong publicity, promotion and community involvement to receive the recognition it deserves. The property's history covers an interesting century in the history of Canada from the fur trade era to enterprises on the Ottawa river such as the lumbering industry, the railway and military conquests.

The volunteer organization Friends of the Macdonell-Williamson House celebrated a tenth anniversary in 2005 and is to be commended for the dedication and determination of its many volunteers to bring this important 1817 mansion back to full glory for the appreciation of present and future generations. Over the past years the Ontario Heritage Trust, many family descendants and volunteers have raised funds and participated in the restoration of two parlours, the front entrance hall, second floor ballroom and several period windows, as well as many structural improvements.

Ann Peters
Maison Macdonell-Williamson House
[email protected]