Oral Histories

Oral Histories

The Association has collected a number of oral histories about the lake and cottage life that go back many decades. Please let us know if there are people you think we should interview. We can post stories, audio and video clips, pictures books, you name it! Both official languages are supported.

Please get in touch with history@lacbernard.ca 


Age: 93and ½
DOB: June 25th 1919

Interviewed on November 11, 2012
Still drives, and served me tea and homemade cookies
Her favorite expression is that she “would rather die living than die dying.”

Eileen’s great grandfather Samuel Mitchell emigrated by boat to Canada from Country Cavan in Ireland in 1840, leaving behind  four other brothers  and sisters and their parents William and Jane (Stuart) Mitchell.

Samuel’s sister Jane and her husband Henry Higgins and their infant son named William, along with his brother William and his wife Catherine Higgins (sister of Henry) and their infant daughter named Jane, were with him. They were granted a large piece of property that included farmland and shoreline of Lake Bernard and Deep and Mud Lake, Quebec. 

This was land that needed to be worked by the immigrants before they were allowed to own the property. The very first homestead in the first winter was dug into the hill side facing Mud Lake. The Mitchell homestead property was valuable because it had farmland, woods, a marsh area, and water (three lakes and a creek and a fresh water spring). Samuel Mitchell married Elizabeth Rice in 1846. Imagine: living in a cave, with your husband, children, brothers and sisters in their first cold winter of being in Canada.

Together the Mitchell brothers and sisters and their husbands and children settled on adjoining land in the Gatineau Valley where they farmed and raised their combined families of 26 children. The Mitchell descendants are now numbered over 3000-plus people all over the world.
Eileen’s great-grandfather, Samuel Mitchell, had twelve children. One son, Nobel, who married Elizabeth Moore from Lascelles, was left the Mitchell farm property after Samuel’s death. The Mitchell farm was on the main Lac Bernard Road in from Lascelles, Quebec.

(Samuel Mitchell sold a piece of Lake Bernard shoreline frontage at the southern most end of Mitchell Bay to Samuel Moffett, great-great-grandfather of Gaye Moffett and Roslyn Butler (nee Moffett) in the late 1880s for the grand sum of $50.00.)

Noble Mitchell worked the farm with his sons Percy, Charlie and Gordon. After Nobel’s wife Elizabeth died, he, Percy and Gordon moved into the kitchen area of the small farmhouse and ignored the rest of the farmhouse.

The farm and lakefront property were left to Percy by Noble. But Percy’s brother Charlie Mitchell (Eileen McMillian’s father) was not happy with this decision so he contested the will and, through the courts, was awarded the lakefront property on Lake Bernard.

When Percy died, he left the farm property to his son Gordon Mitchell. After this legal matter occurred, Charlie Mitchell, the son who had wrangled the Lac Bernard property, was considered the black sheep of the Mitchell family.

In the 1950s Charlie Mitchell built a cottage on the western shoreline of Mitchell’s Bay. He had also built a workman’s cabin to accommodate the workmen he hired to build his cottage and other cottages on the shoreline (which he sold to new cottagers). Charlie was considered one of the developers of the lake.

Charlie Mitchell married Jessie Louise Adelaide Colbert of Alcove. They had 12 children. There were six boys and six girls. Eileen was the oldest of the six girls.  A baby daughter, Evelyn died in infancy at nine months of age.  And son Kenny (Kenneth) drowned in Deep Lake (now known as Mitchell Lake) at 19 years of age. Eileen recalls that at the time her brother drowned in Deep Lake, he did not know how to swim. Ross Moffett, Gaye and Roslyn Butler (nee Moffett)’s father and his brother Bower, dragged the lake with rope and fish hooks and found his body. When the body was recovered they realized that when he jumped in the lake, his clothes caught on submerged tree roots which had held him down. Eileen said swimming at Deep Lake was dangerous for the unskilled swimmer: there was no sloping shoreline to ease one’s self into the lack, just rocks and trees.

Charlie Mitchell and Jessie separated in 1939 and divorced in 1949. After the separation, Jessie survived by running a rooming house for young girls at 167 Arlington Ave. Her tenants were largely young women who came to look for work during the war. She later had enough money to buy her first house on Waverly Street.  All ‘her girls’ moved with her to her new house, Eileen said. When Jessie retired from running the rooming house she made enough money to purchase her own house on Primrose Avenue.  Charlie Mitchell died in 1973 at the age of 83 and his former wife Jessie died in 1977 at the age of 82.

Charlie Mitchell worked as milk and bread delivery man and he had his own carpentry business, building houses in Rockcliffe Park, Westboro and Island Park areas.  After he had a stroke in 1971, his daughter Eileen rekindled her relationship with her father, well before his death. Charlie’s estate went to Eileen. She decided to give a piece of the Turtle Bay property to her brother Stanley Mitchell, who worked and helped her father as a young man, missing a lot of school in the process. This property is now owned by Ken and Pam Mitchell.

Eileen and her husband Donald MacMillian managed to stay at the small cabin her father’s workman used in the 1950s and 1960s. During that time, with her father’s help, they built a new cottage with behind her father’s on the knoll overlooking the maple grove. 

Eileen and Donald had five children: Brian, Gary, Ruth Sandra and Lois Marion. The family enjoyed life at Lac Bernard during the summers, and weekends in the spring and fall. They ate their lunch meal on the wooden platform at large picnic table in the front of Charlie’s cottage.  Today none of the MacMillian children remain on the lake. Gary did stay in his grandfather’s cottage for many years, however, and eventually sold the property to his brother Brian’s ex-wife’s brother.  

After Donald retired from Crane Printing Eileen and her husband enjoyed their cottage life for many years.  They tapped their maple trees on the knoll and produced maple syrup. They called it “Mitchell Bay” syrup. They would give gallons of syrup to friends and family as gifts. They were planning on building a permanent home on the property but changed their minds when they thought of the cold winter.

After Donald died in 1995, Eileen decided to sell her property. She did so in 1996, selling to Marilyn French St -George and her husband Richard Stoker. Marilyn and her husband continued the maple syrup making tradition calling their product Turtle Bay Syrup.  They have since sold the property to Brent (Chico) Ward.  Marilyn and Richard continue to live in a house on Duncan Road.

A day in the life?

Eileen remembers that when the family would go up to the farmhouse for the summer (including her brothers and sisters) she and her sisters and mother would have to clean the house so they could stay in it for the summer.

They all had daily chores to do:  the family had no running water, and obtained water from the well where they would have to use a stick to get the pail and pull up the water bucket. They had to chop wood; the wood stove cooked meals all day long, and there was always a pot for soup, or stew simmering on the stove; they picked buckets of wild berries every morning and her mother would “put up the preserves for the winter”; they had no electricity and used out houses.

When they had play time they walked to the cottage on the lake side and played in the water at the beach at the Moffett cottage. They made forts; they had scavenger hunts and played “run –sheep –run.”

Their mother would not let them to be outside from 11:30-2:30PM every afternoon. Eileen credits having no wrinkles at her age to the fact that she was kept out of the sun by her mother.
During that indoor time the girls had to do mending. All the family’s clothes were handmade and each of them sewed one another’s clothes.

Eileen says they were very poor but they were taught good manners.  And they knew what hard work was all about. 

Describe some significant events

At the top of the “C” (now chemin Frank Rowe) and the main road (chemin Lac Bernard) the Mitchell farm had a gate which needed to be open so the cottagers could go through to their properties.

On the weekends Eileen and her brothers and sisters would wait to see which cottagers would be driving up to their cottage for the weekend. They would have a contest to see who could run the fastest and get to the gate to open it for the cottagers. When they opened the gate for arriving cottagers, they would receive a 5 cent “tip.”  The children all knew who the best tipper was: Brigadier Topp. Mr. Topp used to stop in Wakefield at the local hotel on his way up to the lake, and on his way back to the cottage, he was pleased to have a Mitchell child open up the gate, and was just as pleased to give a very generous 25 cent tip, which was a great thrill for the child who was lucky enough to receive it.

Eileen remembers a story where her sister Lois would save all her money so she could spend it at the Central Canada Exhibition the end of August. The rest of her brothers and sisters would go to the local kiosk, on the main road, run by the Hamiltons, and buy candy.  Eileen said all manner of things were available for sale at this kiosk. Items such as safety pins, hardware supplies, and newspapers were to be had. One could also pick up one’s mail.

What was your favorite thing to do at the lake?

Eileen says the happiest time of her life was when her family would leave the city and drive up to the cottage. As they arrived up to the top of the hill on the “C” road, they were allowed to get out of the family car. The children would all run down the hill at the Moffett cottage to their sandy beach and straight into Lake Bernard to have a welcomed swim. They had arrived at the cottage, and were happy.