A story of two families

Four generations of the Williamson family

"We wanted the house to become a living space where visitors would be encouraged to participate in whatever was being planned during the summer – workshops, tours, quilting, music, the tea room and general store, plus so much more. We also initiated our archival collection and our photograph collection, which are invaluable today, plus a library relating to the two families, the property itself, the Ottawa River and surroundings as they all relate to Canadian history. Early on, we conducted the all-important search for descendants of the two families who had owned and lived in Macdonell-Williamson House … We found them scattered across Canada – from British Columbia to Halifax, the Prairies, Ontario, Quebec, even some in the United States. These descendants became longtime members of the Friends, sometimes life members, and contributed to the site’s preservation."

John D. Redfern (Quebec). Acting Co-President of the Friends of the Macdonell-Williamson House and direct descendant of William Williamson and Mary Ellen Everett


Valerie Verity

Buildings and architecture, Community

Published Date:05 Dec 2014

Photo: Four generations of the Williamson family

What a story the Macdonell-Williamson House and property can tell! Its location – with a commanding view overlooking the Ottawa River (where goods and people have travelled for centuries) as well as its strategic site between Montreal and Ottawa – has ensured that Macdonell-Williamson House has contributed for generations to the fascinating story of Canada.

But what prompted Macdonell to build it in the first place? And what enticed Williamson later to purchase the house?

Both John Macdonell and William Williamson were self-made men and entrepreneurs. Macdonell, as a partner in the North West Company, travelled by canoe up the Ottawa River to the western territories. He married a Métis woman (Magdeleine Poitras) and, in later years, helped fund the development of Manitoba’s Red River Settlement. As a successful partner in the North West Company, he was able to finance the construction of a house (in 1817) and establish his business enterprises.

Macdonell’s endeavours were varied – store owner, militia officer, justice of the peace, lock operator, potash supplier, judge, farmer, road commissioner, financier and member of the Upper Canada House of Assembly. He died at Pointe Fortune in 1850.

Williamson’s story was similar. In 1882, he bought the house, which remained in the family until the early 1960s. Williamson was a farmer’s son who left the farm to pursue business activities. He chose the lucrative lumber industry to make his mark. Operating from his Pointe Fortune base and the Laurentian Lumber Company’s St. James Street office in Montreal, he was active domestically and internationally in the lumber trade.

Williamson’s business efforts, too, quickly became an integral part of the local infrastructure. By 1902, with abundant water power and wood products, he was able to assist in the acquisition, construction and operation of waterworks, electric works, tramways and steamboats; to manufacture and sell pulp and paper; and to build and operate telephone and telegraph lines.

As with Macdonell, Williamson was also involved in regional agencies and services as a captain in the Argenteuil Militia and as justice of the peace. He was also politically active at the local and federal levels.

The house played a unique role in both men’s marriages. Macdonell built the house for his wife and their 12 children at a time when North West Company partners seldom brought their country wives back east. Williamson, too, made his wife – Mary Ellen Everett, a descendant of Cotton Mather, one of the founders of Harvard College – part owner of the house and its contents. This status was achieved in the year that Britain passed the Married Woman’s Property Act, which finally allowed women to buy or own property.

The stories this house could tell? Come visit to learn all the details, view the exhibits and maybe talk to a descendant or two.

A family reunion in 1994. On the left, Macdonell descendants. On the right, Williamson descendants.

In their book, Friends of the Macdonell-Williamson House Inc., A Developmental History (1991-2011), authors Elizabeth Muir and Valerie Verity have documented the 20-year history of the Friends’ involvement with the revitalization of this unique site. The 178-page volume acknowledges the effort that has gone into rehabilitating the house and keeping its stories alive.

The authors wish to thank the Ontario Heritage Trust, as well as the members, volunteers, staff and family descendants who have devoted countless hours to stewarding the house and ensuring that visitors can experience its grandeur.

Price: $25 plus postage. For information, call 613-399-3570 or email: or