The William Fairbairn House: A Witness to Change Along the Gatineau

Creator(s): Gatineau Valley Historical Society

The rippling, tumultuous Gatineau River, running through the Gatineau Valley, served for centuries as an important traveling route for First Nations people. In the early 1800s, its shores also drew European pioneers, such as Scottish millwright William Fairbairn, attracted by the region's beauty and promise. Fairbairn built a house with a grist mill there, later selling the mill to David Maclaren and his family who arrived in the 1840s. Maclaren then built several other mills, turning the area into an important industrial complex.

The Maclarens went on to become major actors in a newly booming lumber industry that was pulling in American, Irish, Scottish and French Canadian settlers throughout the nineteenth century. Communities began to spring up as the Gatineau River inspired even more major enterprise with the construction of dams and powerhouses in the 1920s. As well, visitors began arriving from the nation's capital to take in the area's natural splendour, which led to the development of recreational facilities and tourism.

William Fairbairn's house and mill, which heralded the development of Wakefield and surroundings, saw several new owners in the twentieth century and was even moved twice to avoid destruction. Today it sits in Hendrick Park near Wakefield's picturesque covered bridge. Soon, the house will be transformed into a regional museum, where it will stand along the banks of the Gatineau River, sharing with visitors the many changes it has witnessed to the history of the Gatineau Valley.

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