On Saturday, July 2, visitors returned to the historic Macdonell-Williamson House in Pointe-Fortune. The Friends of Macdonell-Williamson House, which operates the national historic site, had kept the house closed to visitors in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the house and museum are open again on Saturdays and Sundays in July and August. 

“I’m pleased there are so many visitors coming in,” said Friends of the Macdonell-Williamson House Co-President Sue Tessier on Saturday. 

Volunteer Stuart Robertson welcomes Claudia Rosebery of Barriefield and Nancy Sproule of Kingston to the Macdonell-Williamson House. Photo: James Morgan

High on the bank overlooking the Ottawa River, the house was built in 1817 by John Macdonell, a fur trader and partner in the North West Company, district court judge, and entrepreneur. He lived there with his Saskatchewan-born Métis wife Magdeleine Poitras, and their 12 children.  William Williamson and his wife Mary Ellen Everett purchased the home in 1882 and their descendants lived in it until 1961, when the property was expropriated for the adjacent Carillon hydroelectric dam. The Ontario Heritage Trust took ownership of the property in 1978, but the house was boarded up until 1997, when the Friends of Macdonell-Williamson House began operating it as a museum. 

The Ontario Heritage Trust provides funding for much of the work required to preserve the 205-year-old house. However, the efforts of the Friends ensure there is enough money available to get the work done. 

“Most of the upkeep of the house is funded by what we do through our events,” Tessier said. 

In recent years, restoration work on the Macdonell-Williamson House has included new shutters and floors. Tessier said window frames and door sills need restoration. In addition to revenue from fundraising and donations, the Friends also apply for grants from various agencies and organizations for restoration projects, and some revenue is received in return for volunteering at Delta Bingo in Hawkesbury.

The Friends of the Macdonell-Williamson House has 15 different events planned at the historic site during July and August, along with the regular opening hours for the house and museum. The next one is on Saturday, July 9 with The Mindbender Experiments by Majinx.

Window to history. Looking from one of the second floor windows of the Macdonell-Williamson House National Historic Site across the Ottawa River to Carillon, which is also home to the Carillon Barracks and Canal National Historic Sites, the Battle of the Long Sault memorial, and the modern significance of the hydroelectric dam. Photo: James Morgan

On July 16, there will be a baked bean lunch and strawberry social, and a Victorian High Tea is planned for July 23. For the complete schedule of events and related information, go to www.mwhouse.ca, email [email protected], or call 613-676-2228.  

“We’re looking forward to a really exciting year,” said Tessier. 

Tourists from far away had already made the trip from highways 417 and 40 into Pointe-Fortune on July 2. Charles Uzzel and Jody Forehand had travelled from Raleigh, North Carolina. 

“I’m glad to be at this home and learn about portage around the rapids,” Uzzel remarked, referring to how a portage was once necessary for those travelling by boat on the Ottawa River when its waters were once raging rapids beside where the Macdonell-Williamson House now stands. Those rapids disappeared when the Carillon hydroelectric dam was built in the 1960’s. Uzzel and Forehand enjoyed tea and scones in the tearoom, where they were fortunate to meet and share a conversation with Roberta Histed, who has volunteered at the Macdonell-Williamson House for 20 years. 

“We were so thrilled to meet Roberta and have tea,” Uzzel said.

The Macdonell-Williamson House is located at 25 route des Outaouais in Pointe-Fortune and is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays during July and August. Group tours and tours during the week are also available by appointment.

The Macdonell-Williamson House. Photo: James Morgan