Lake Life – A Rideau Ferry Love Story

big rideau lake

They were a couple of crazy kids from Kirkland Lake – outdoorsy-types, loved to ski and ride ski-doos, and most of all, they loved each other. After high school, they enrolled at Carleton U. , married in 1982, settled down in Orleans, and raised a couple of kids.

Twenty years ago they went for a drive, and that was the first time they laid eyes on the Rideau Lakes. They’d never seen anything so blue, so peaceful, and so perfect. He looked at her and said, “This place feels like home.” And at that precise moment, they decided that someday they would build a house on that very spot.

At first, they bought a trailer, and a plot of land near the shoreline, and every season, without fail, they returned to the Big Rideau.

Their kids grew up, and they knew that it was time –  time to sell the house in the suburbs and build their dream along the water’s edge. The Big Rideau had been calling their names for years, and they were finally able to answer.

ken and carol ann

Mornings begin now with pink skies at sunrise, and waves gently lapping the shores. Evenings wind down to the sound of the loons as the sun dips low along the horizon and eventually disappears into the lake.

Ken on the boat

A bumper crop of apples, along with a perennial Perth Fair prize-winning recipe for Applesauce Loaf from “Recipes & Recollections”, filled their lake house with the warm scents of home baking.

applesauce bowl and bookapple sauce loaf in the pan 5

applesauce loaf in the ovenapplesauce bread finished

Time is spent lovingly restoring a 1961 classic boat to her former glory, and day-trips to Perth or Brockville, along the scenic Rideau waterway.

ferry bridge

lake life with ken and carol ann


You never know who might stop by for a visit in Rideau Ferry!

deer at Rideau Ferry

Pull up a chair on the deck, and soak up the warm summer sun…

dog 2

Make some new friends at the annual Rock the Dock…

life at the lake

or dance the night away at the yearly corn roast, along the shores of the Big Rideau

night scene

Grab a cold drink, and sit outside at the fire pit.

fire pit

Whether you feel like socializing, or would prefer a quiet evening listening to the sounds of the loons, there’s always something to do at the lake!


The beguiling charm of Rideau Ferry has been capturing the hearts of visitors and residents alike going back as far as the days of the pioneer settlers.

“One of the most notorious characters that passed his leisure time along the Rideau waterways was none other than Alphonse Gabriel “Al” Capone.  Al Capone was a mobster based out of Chicago, and he made his fortune as a bootlegger, during prohibition.

Al Capone

He is said to have been a frequent visitor to a grand home in Kemptville, that was once owned by John Harris.  Harris was a local who became a pharmacist, and worked in Chicago.

Al Capone's house

It has been suggested, that because of his background in chemistry and science, he was possibly cooking up quantities of moonshine in his home, and as you can imagine, this was of great interest to Capone.

In 1927 Harris built the beautiful, stone mansion that still stands today on Oxford Street in Kemptville.  Locals say that the house was built with a state of the art security system, and series of underground passages.  The grand home features leaded glass, a main switch to control all of the lights in the house, and a panic button wired directly to the local police station. It has yet to be confirmed that there are two tunnels leading from the house; one that links the home to the Kemptville Hotel, and the other which connects the house to the river.

Some of the stories have suggested that Capone himself hid a quarter of a million dollars, between the walls.  Whether fact or fiction, witnesses, some of them lifelong residents of Kemptville, who were around in the 1930s and 40s, claim they saw many long, black limousines and the infamous black Cadillac parked at the home.  Coincidentally or not, Harris sold the house, and moved away within a few weeks after Capone’s death.”

On a lighter note, one of the popular dance halls of the 1950s – 70s was known as the Rideau Ferry Inn. It was built on the site of what was originally a family home known as ‘Coutts House’.

After 1905, the building was rented to a series of business men. During the 1920s and 30s regattas became popular and Coutts House held canoe races and rowboats races. They also sponsored events for sailboats and it was the site of many grand daytime celebrations and intimate evening affairs for the wealthy travelers visiting in the summer.


In 1947 Doug Wallace, native of Osgoode, bought Coutts House, tore it down, and built a new structure, with wood framing and grey granite blocks. It was a two storey building and the second floor featured a large dance area with seating on three sides.

By the 1960s the building had become known as the Rideau Ferry Inn, and during this time became licensed for liquor sales. Up until that time people smuggled in their own booze, particularly in the roaring twenties when rum-running along the Rideau had its hey-day.”

Rideau Ferry Inn

Whether you’re a visitor to the Rideau Lakes region, or living the ‘Lake Life’ like residents Ken and Carol-Ann McDougall, Rideau Ferry and its majestic, pristine waterways offers something for everyone.

With a rich history, and its striking beauty, the lakes are a wonderful place to pull up a chair and enjoy the view.


If you spend time around Rideau Ferry, you may hear these surnames that go back in the history of the area since the early days of the settlement:





















































Excerpts on Coutts House, Rideau Ferry, and Al Capone’s heyday, taken from:
“Lanark County Chronicle – Double Back to the Third Line”    ISBN 978-0-9877026-26

LC Chronicle

Recipe for the prize-winning Applesauce Loaf, may be found in –
“Recipes & Recollections: Treats and Tales from our Mother’s Kitchen”  ISBN 978-0-9877026-09
recipes & recollections cover 1
Available in local book stores, and online:

Arlene Stafford-Wilson

15 comments on “Lake Life – A Rideau Ferry Love Story

  1. Jackie says:

    An interesting story – love the photo with the pink sunrise – no wonder they moved there. Sounds like paradise. I’m assuming this is the gal from your office who brought the infamous Applesauce Loaf in to work.??

    • Hi Jackie – Carol-Ann bakes quite regularly and she brought in some of the Applesauce Loaf for everyone to try. It was a real hit!

      • Mary Warren says:

        Hi. I’m Carol-Ann’s cousin and I know for a fact that she got her cooking skills from her mom. Her mom could put a Christmas dinner together for both the Hamilton and Chouinard families and do it all by herself. Never wanted anyone to help her and would feed close to 3 dozen people at one time

      • Hi Mary – Thanks for sharing your story about Carol-Ann’s mom. I have also heard stories about her, and she sounds like a very special lady. I know Carol-Ann loves to entertain big crowds at her lake house, so she comes by it honestly! She did a wonderful job of making my Mother’s prize-winning Applesauce Bread and she brought some from home for all of us to share. I think her mom would be very proud of her!

  2. I was born in Perth, moved to Kemptville when I was 3, and I remember hearing the tales of Capone and that mansion.

    • Hi Susan – yes, there are many stories around this area about Capone and his days on the Rideau Lakes. It must have seemed quite unusual to see his big black limousine driving through the small towns and country roads so long ago. I would love to tour the mansion and see if the old tunnels are still accessible today!

  3. Hi Arlene……when I was teen, we went to the Inn every Saturday night. Illegal drinking was our sport ! We only got caught once ! LOL The live music was great……there was a band from Smiths Falls ( can’t remember the name) that was great. Kids from Smiths Falls and Perth jammed the place to the rafters ! Great memories. Thanks. Rick

    • Hi Rick – I think we all loved the Rideau Ferry Inn, and you’re right, we saw some great live bands that we likely wouldn’t have seen otherwise. We likely didn’t appreciate it at the time, but the beauty of the Rideau Lakes area is a real gem in Lanark County.

  4. Mrs Davies. says:

    Just beginning to delve into my husband’s maternal grandparents – Gallaghers of Lanark/Perth area. In doing his DNA it seems the surname Wallace is connected but I’m having troubles finding information on these early folks. Francis Wallace and Sarah Alexander born in Ulster Ireland had a daughter Susannah Wallace who married a Lorenzo Wesley Roundy. She left Perth when her father forbid her to seek another religion (what was to become the Mormons). I have found some Wallace family names and Gallaghers in the Perth Courier Index and Abstract, and I was pleased to see these surnames listed above on this page. Perhaps I will in time find a link. Perhaps a Gallagher married a Wallace? Time will tell. Thanks for the stories. I’ll explore more. Mrs. Davies. Kingston. Ontario.

    • Hello Mrs. Davies – A good place to start for your Lanark/Perth search is by either sending a query to the Lanark County Genealogical Society, or by contacting Archives Lanark to see what they might have. Good luck with your search!

  5. Sheldon Beveridge says:

    This is great to read and remember, as well as your other books ,a number of the names are family. The family tree on both sides is an amazing story.

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