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The Legend of Fairy Lake

Updated: Jul 26, 2023

The tragic tale of Ikwe, Indian Princess.

THE CURIOUS HISTORY of the Ottawa Valley is often unveiled in stories whose authors have put a particular slant in them- sometimes anachronist, sometimes geographic, sometimes revisionist - and much of the curious history that I uncover comes from north side of the Ottawa River.

One such curious slant surrounds the story of the LEGEND OF FAIRY LAKE [1], which is the tragic story of a beautiful Indian Princess named Womena* from long, long ago, who drowned in a lake situated in a small, hidden corner of the valley.

* The name Womena is obviously derivative of woman - and it translates to Ikwe in the Algonquin language.[2]

The legend of Fairy Lake was first popularized by Anson Gard in 1906, in his book entitled Pioneers of the Upper Ottawa and The Humors of the Valley[3] and it is the only known account of the legend.

The curious history comes from the re-telling of the legend by local historian, Raymond Ouimet, published in Le Droit three years ago.[4] In the article, he makes a very subtle but notable translation of the name of the Indian Princess, writing it as Ik8é and not Ikwe.

You may not recognize a word containing the numeral 8, but that's because the 8 can only be found in words written in Middle and Old French. A recognizable example was the word 8ta8ois (meaning, Ottawa), which was found in the earliest maps and texts of New-France.[5] Curious isn't it?

Why does it matter how we spell the name? Because using early French orthography for the Princess's name very subtly revises the history, which is that the legend itself and the lake's name were first spoken of in the language of the local Algonquin, who told it to the first English settlers, and much later, that legend was written down in English.

Ouimet, an exhaustive researcher, does not divulge his source for the story and could not claim any other source than Gard, so the purpose of his odd translation does not pass the smell test.

Now one might ask, why would anyone try to change the history? The purpose, of course, is to infer that the story came first from the French explorers of New-France. It's something that is done a lot in Quebec.

So, speaking to that proposed alteration of history, a quote from Kevin McAllister from the film Home Alone applies perfectly:


Windigòkwens Gama [6] (Fairy Lake)

ANYONE who knows something about the Ottawa Valley, knows that human history began some 8,000 years ago with the Algonquins populating many parts of the valley after the great Champlain Sea recedes. They lived along the rivers and lakes of the region and gave descriptive names to the places where they lived; names that described the terrain or names that were evocative of folklore, tales, and legends.

When the explorers passed through and later, when settlers arrived, they all learned the names of the places from their Indigenous neighbours.

So, what of Fairy Lake?

Because of its location and geographic insignificance, it is most unlikely that the French explorers ever saw it, and certainly, none ever reported visiting it.

From the moment the settlers first gathered around their hearths, the legend was told again and again, and then was passed down through the generations that followed, as it was to me. At some point in time, it was also passed along to Anson Gard.

Others relate that it was passed down in the families of the Algonquin, possibly through dozens or hundreds of generations. [7]

End of history lesson. And now, with no further ado, I give you ...

The Legend of Fairy Lake - as told by Anson Gard in 1906

Detail from painting by Miss Minnie McLean from Pioneers of the Upper Ottawa, Anson A. Gard, 1906

THERE IS a very pretty little lake, near the line between Hull City and South Hull, which has many names. Rev. Amos Ansley, the first rector of St. James' Episcopal Church in Hull, once lived near this lake, and by some it is known by his name, by others it is called Fairy; by others, it is called the Haunted Lake; and, still others, Wright's Lake, -which is right? Call it Fairy, and let it go at that. It's too small to bear all of them.

A beautiful legend is told of an Indian maiden who had two lovers who were both slain in battle. On hearing of their death she throws herself into this lake. Their spirits return and ever seek for her. For her fickleness in not choosing when she might, she is doomed to be ever with them without the power of making herself known to them. I asked the muse of the lake to tell me the story, and the following is the crude answer to my request: (by this, Gard is telling us that it is the muse who inspires the poem that he writes, which follows)


When this forest-covered land held a people wild and strange,

There abode among these tribesmen chieftains two,

Who were brave beyond compare - either'd entered lion's lair,

If the maiden they both loved had bid him do.

Now, this dusky maiden's sire was a chieftain brave and wise,

Who had ruled his people long with iron hand;

She to him her heart laid bare and asked him then and there

What test to name for these two braves ones of his band.

"Come, Womena, sit beside me till the story I relate

Of the wrongs done to our people long ago,

By a band of cruel fighters - a tribe of fiendish smiters,

Who fell upon our grandsires long ago.

"We were once a peaceful nation - a quiet loving nation,

And dwelt in love and peace with all around;

Till one day on us there fell this tribe of which I tell,

And drove us from our fathers' hunting ground.

''They slew our bravest men, captive took our maidens then,

And left our tribe a scattered, broken band;

From that moment we became a peace tribe but in name,

Till now we are the warriors of the land.

"The enemy are coming once again, I must marshall all my bravest men,

And drive these cruel tribesmen from our shore.

I will make your lovers leaders, make fighters of love's pleaders,

Then honored names they'll bear for evermore.

"If perchance but one return, his hand you ne'er must spurn,

But take that hand for honors it has won."

"But, oh," quoth then Womena, "if my fate like poor Lorena,

Should be to travel through this world alone.

"My heart would surely break and my life I fain would take

In this deep 'round which many happy days we've spent;

l could ne'er go on alone, for no memory could atone,

And too late for fickleness, to repent."

Just here a messenger comes hurriedly to tell the old Chieftain that the enemy are sighted, and the hordes of young warriors, in full war paint, are sweeping over the hills from the little river (the Rideau), and that they will soon reach the Great Kettle (Chaudière Falls), and unless checked must cross over into the hunting-grounds of his tribe (Hull and the Gatineau Valley).

The father leaves Womena weeping, and quickly marshals his fighting men and all rush wildly down over the hills of what is now Hull City, and then begins one of the most sanguinary battles ever fought along the Grand River (the Ottawa). But

we will let the Muse of the Lake tell the story.

By the Falls there raged the battle, 'mid the roar and angry rattle

Of the feathered arrows, winged for death -

Raged all day the fiercest fighting, each the other madly smiting,

Till a thousand braves lay dying or in death.

With the dead there lay the lovers, with the stars their only covers;

With their faces upward turned, with a smile.

They lay dead, as though but thinking (with the stars above them blinking),

Of the maiden who sat waiting all the while.

Of the maiden by the lake, who sat grieving for their sake,

As she feared to know her lovers' fate,

Who longed and yet who feared, for both lovers were endeared,

Till her heart cried out in anguish, "Oh, too late!"

When her father came at last, 'twas her waning hopes to blast,

And his words fell chill and cruel on her heart -

His words fell chill and cold, when her lovers' deeds he told,

For no words could e'er return them to her heart.

" Come, Womena, sit beside me, till the story I relate,

How your lovers fell in battle by my side:

How each fell a-fighting, their bravery inciting

Our warriors 'mid the surge of battle tide."

"Go," said she, "no words can cheer me, for - dear sire, forgive me -

My days are done. I can no longer stay,

For silent the woods - all nature's hushed for me!

Forgive! Forgive! Away! Away! Away!"

With a bound, like frightened doe, into the lake, far, far below,

She sank in its bosom and lay with a smile -

She lay as though but thinking (with the stars above her blinking)

Of her lovers two who were waiting the while.

To this day 'tis often told of two warriors brave and bold,

How around this lake their vigils keep,

How they hover 'round its bowers, each imploring fairy's powers,

To return to them Womena from the deep.

They have ever sought in vain, sought they here 'mid sleet and rain,

Sought they both for loved Womena -

For Womena - fickle maid, who in life no choice had made

Sought in vain for lost Womena.

She a Fairy hovers near, with no power left her to cheer

With a power to see and know her lovers twain,

She may know yet be unknown - all that power from her has flown,

And her love for them must ever be in vain.

Thus the fate of fickle maiden, with its train of ages laden,

With its ills of which she ne'er had thought.

Had she chosen wisely then, it were better for both men,

And she'd suffer not the ills so dearly bought.

Let the maidens of to-day stop a moment on their way,

As they pass along the banks of Fairy Lake,

Let them stop upon its brink - stop a moment just to think

Of the Fickle Maid who haunts Hull's Fairy Lake.


[1] Fairy Lake or Lac des Fées is a small lake in the Wrightville sector of Hull. More can be learned about the lake's location by clicking here.

[2] Algonquin Lexicon, Ernest McGregor for the Kitigan Zibi Education Centre, 1994, Fifth Edition.

[3] Pioneers of the Upper Ottawa and The Humors of the Valley. South Hull and Aylmer Edition. by Anson Albert Gard; Emerson Press, Ottawa; 1906. The book is online in PDF, and can be viewed by clicking here.

Gard was a historian who wrote several books in a popular, storyteller-style that is very reminiscent of Mark Twain's - there can be little doubt that Mr. Gard was well-familiar with Twain, the most prolific American writer of his time.

Gard is also author of: The Yankee in Quebec; Uncle Sam in Quebec; The Wandering Yankee; How to see Montreal; The New Canada; The Hub and the Spokes; My Friend Bill; and others.

[4] Le Droit article by Raymond Ouimet: click here.

[5] Jean-André Cuoq, (Biography, here) priest, Sulpician, missionary, publisher, linguist, philologist, and author, wrote Lexicons of the Algonquin & Iroquois languages. He wrote: Let us continue to write Ottawa, as it is pronounced, and not Outaouais, as it is not pronounced, and as it has never been pronounced. The source of the error was the substitution of “ou” for the vowel sound written as “8" (as in “huit”) in early French orthography of the word 8ta8ois. The English “w” is much closer to the actual sound." (in translation) Algonquin History in the Ottawa River Watershed. James Morrison, Legal and Historical Research for Peter Di Gangi Sicani Research & Advisory Services, pg. 6, November 28, 2005, PDF file can be accessed by clicking here.

[6] Windigòkwens Gama in the Anishinàbemowin (language of the Algonquins), translates to Fairy Lake in English, and Lac des Fées in French.

Amanisonàde Gama translates to Haunted Lake or Lac Hanté; Wright's Lake, was its name for some, coming from Benjamin Hooper Wright who was the 1st colonial owner of the lake. The least known name was Ansley Lake.

[7] An article from Pierre My Stories Are My Life, about the legend of Fairy Lake as told to him by his Algonquin Grandmother can be read by clicking here.

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