Fairbairn House Heritage Centre: Witness to the Story of the Gatineau Valley and the Hills Beyond

The Fairbairn House Heritage Centre, after extensive renovations to the exterior of the building in 2010. The house had served as the home for four different farm families before it was threatened with demolition to make way for new roads and modern housing. On two different occasions it was saved by people who believed that its history and heritage were too important to lose. With help from community leaders and later the Municipality of La Pêche, the house now sits safely in its seven-acre park near the The Builder. William Fairbairn, a Scotsman, emigrated to Canada with his wife and son in 1817. After working as a stonemason in Bytown (Ottawa) he followed river routes travelled by Indigenous hunters and fur traders to become one of the earliest settlers in the lower Gatineau Valley. He built a log home on the river in Wakefield township. He was a farmer, carpenter and millwright, and, in 1838, built Wakefield's stone grist mill. This picture shows William in the early 1860s as the builder of his second A Moving Moment in History. Saving our historical properties takes strong community interest and efforts. After historians raised awareness and campaigned to save the historic Fairbairn house from demolition in 1991, a local businessman assumed the costs for moving the house to his own property. In this picture, the old house is almost ready to vacate the farm where it had been a landmark beside the main Gatineau road for 130 years. 
(Photo - GVHS #009/01260) Hendrick Park. The seven-acre park that surrounds Fairbairn House offers the centre a natural opportunity for holding heritage events, and it is already a focal point for organizing tours of the valley's historic places. A heritage paddle organized by Friends of the Gatineau River left from the house this summer to explore historic landmarks along the river on the way to Chelsea. The Scot piper shown in this picture attended a community event in the park to celebrate the start of renovations on the house. Fairbairn House and Youth. Young people are of special interest to the heritage centre. Students attending a local summer 2010 film camp wrote the script for a play centred on the Fairbairn home and its history, and they selected the house as the locale for shooting the movie. A local theatre group gave advice and Rooney Productions, professional film-makers, provided equipment. A few weeks later, their short movie was among those presented at a red-carpet gala in the village. Here, the young thespians are 19th Century Skein Winder. Local history buffs have been very generous in sharing their artifacts with Fairbairn House. This six-wheeled skein winder for wool yarn came from a local family collection to help us show some of the tools our pioneers used to make their lives a bit easier. After spinning the sheep's wool and making a two-ply yarn suitable for knitting or weaving, it needed to be wound into skeins for either washing or dyeing. This was done with a winder by attaching an end of the fibre to one Phonograph Player. This wind-up Victrola was sold in 1925 by the Victor Talking Machine Company of Canada. It displays the well known "His Master's Voice" logo inside the top cover. The local distributor for this popular model was the John Raper Piano Co. of  Ottawa. In this era the wind-up cabinet-model Victrolas were priced from $110 to $250. This prized artifact was received from an out-of-province supporter of Fairbairn House, and a descendant of prominent early settlers in the Gatineau hills. 
( Archives and Research. Fairbairn House has inherited a good selection of historical photographs and records for deposit in its small archive and research unit. An excellent example is this old portrait from the 1800s. This elaborately posed picture came to us as part of a family album from that period sent by a descendant of the builder of the house, William Fairbairn, Sr. 
(Photo - Janis Ulstein) Sawmills. Timber was the key to survival in the early years of settlement. It provided jobs and a source of building materials, as well as an income to buy farm and home necessities. An important part of this industry were the local sawmills set up to transform the logs into lumber, and these sprang up all along the Gatineau Valley. One of the larger sawmills in the region in the last half of the 19th century was the one shown here, located at Masham village, near Wakefield. 
(Photo - Anita Rutledge) Log Drive on the River. Until 1991, logs booms were a regular sight on the Gatineau River. Traditionally, the logs were cut from forested hills in communities all along the valley and moved to the river's banks to be floated down to the sorting gaps where they were retrieved according to each company's identification stamp. The arduous drives and dangerous log jams, looked after by heroic log drivers, or draveurs, were a colourful part of Gatineau Valley life for over a hundred years, and the theme for Horses. Each year the Gatineau Valley Horse Association still holds its fall fair in Rupert, a village near Wakefield. Horses have always been an important part of life here. In stories handed down from early settlers we learn that work horses were vital to survival on the farms. Men and teams worked together in the logging camps in winter doing the heavy skidding and sledding work. And, at home, horses provided transportation, and helped to harvest the crops and move farm produce and supplies. Indeed, hors Dairy Cattle. The cattle industry continues to be a mainstay of farming in the Gatineau Hills. In pioneer days, the mixed farming operations in most Gatineau Valley districts included a small herd of milk cows. This 1951 grazing scene is on the Shouldice farm, now part of the Vorlage Ski area in Wakefield. The milk, cream and butter the cows produced was used for the family's table but also to sell and bring in cash to help sustain the household. Add some eggs and pork, and the owners of a small farm coul Grain Crops. The Gatineau Hills abound with stunning rural views. This field of harvested oats near Rupert, Quebec, in 1928 was obviously stooked by hand with pride and precision. Farm fields can be displayed to advantage, like works of art, on the soft rolling hills found in many parts of the central valley. When the community threshing machine became available for a day or two the grain would be bagged and taken to the nearby mill at Wakefield to be made into flour and meal for the family, or grist and pr River Crossings. The river has always been the backbone of the Gatineau Hills. The swiftly flowing waterway was a boon to Indigenous hunters, fur traders and logging companies, but at one time in history it was a huge impediment to farmers and other residents, delaying progress for decades. Until 1914, there were no bridges in the central Gatineau Valley and all crossings had to be made by scow or small boat in spring and summer, and by ice bridges in winter. This photograph shows farmer Levi Reid from the

From the earliest times, nomadic Algonquin families canoed the Gatineau River, and in the 17th century fur traders arrived to do business with the Indigenous hunters. More permanent settlements began with the logging boom in the early 1800s, bringing both employment and development, and soon immigrant families moved in to take up land grants offered by the government.

French-Canadians needed land and migrated to the Gatineau valley and distraught Irish and Scottish settlers came looking for homes. As the population increased, a railway line was built allowing new industries and communities to spring up. We believe the stories and songs of these times and the lives of our early settlers deserve to be told, understood and appreciated by new generations of Canadians.

Situated on the east shore of the Gatineau River at Wakefield, in the Municipality of La Pêche, the new Fairbairn House Heritage Centre is well poised to be the venue for telling these stories. It is located in a 150- year-old family home built by pioneer William Fairbairn, who also built the area's first flour mill in 1838.

The story of the house is itself a story of transformation. Moved twice -- once to make way for a highway and again later to avoid demolition -- the house now sits in the seven-acre Hendrick Municipal Park at the east end of the Wakefield Covered Bridge. It is currently in a period of restoration. Work on the exterior of the house was completed in the summer of 2010, and renovation of the interior is planned for 2011, with the official opening of the Centre projected for 2012.

larger_3.jpgThe concept of the Centre is to provide a bilingual focal point for preserving and sharing the area’s colourful history. Exhibits of a permanent, temporary, and shared nature, a period kitchen, and a heritage garden are planned. A small research centre with archive will be another window on the past. The surrounding parkland opens the way for living history through workshops, demonstrations, a period bandshell, and rustic amphitheatre, and as a focal point for special community events.

The Fairbairn House became the property of the Municipality of La Pêche in 2005, and, with the assistance of the Gatineau Valley Historical Society, was moved to its present location. The Maison Fairbairn House Solidarity Co-operative was formed as the legal structure of the Centre, as established with the Municipality. This structure allows residents and specialists to be temporary members of the board of directors in order to provide special advice or services to the project. Exterior renovations to return the house to its 1860s Victorian splendour were completed in September 2010 through donations from individuals and financial assistance from the Municipality of La Pêche, CLD des Collines de l'Outaouais, and the Caisse Populaire Desjardins de Masham-Luskville.

Hendrick Park is a rest stop on the Trans-Canada Trail, and the Centre is beginning to be the starting point for heritage tours of the area.

Janet Long