The Gatineau Park Chronicles

From The Gatineau Park Chronicle Fall 2009 issue.

The Wakefield Mill: Interpreting the Industrial History of Gatineau Park

by Denis Messier

For more than a century, the Wakefield Mill remained in the hands of the Maclaren family, who used it mainly to produce flour. However, by the start of the Second World War, the mill was sold and partially dismantled. It later changed hands several times.

The Gatineau Park Chronicles
Model of the Wakefield Mill, as restored in 2008 - Jiliam Tompkins.

In the early 1960s, the National Capital Commission (NCC), which had begun an extensive program to protect the heritage of Canada's Capital Region, purchased the Wakefield Mill to rescue it from demolition and maintain its vocation.The NCC continued to lease the mill to brothers Kenneth and Ernest Young, who, since 1950, had been operating a small manufacturing plant that produced animal feed. The mill ceased operations when the Youngs retired in 1980.

At that time, the NCC decided to restore a portion of the building, and convert it into an interpretation centre about the industrial history of this part of the Gatineau Valley. In partnership with the Gatineau Valley Historical Society, the mill helped to recount nearly 150 years of history in the region. The NCC even managed to reinstate the building's vocation as a gristmill, much to the delight of its visitors.

Since a considerable portion of the machinery and equipment had been dismantled, a model was commissioned to demonstrate how the mill operated. The NCC called upon one of its employees, Keith Rideout, an extremely talented architectural technician, who built the model of the Wakefield Mill that, for nearly 10 years, fascinated students and visitors taking part in the interpretive activities.

The Gatineau Park Chronicles
Model of the Wakefield Mill - Keith Rideout.

The mill interpretation program concluded in 1990. Both the building and the model remained in limbo for several years. A decade later, the venerable building found a new vocation, when the NCC entered a public-private partnership to rehabilitate the Wakefield gristmill. The building underwent a major transformation. The structure that had witnessed more than a century and a half of the industrial history of the Gatineau Hills and Gatineau Valley stepped firmly into the age of leisure. The mill became an inn, which very quickly gained an enviable reputation among high-quality accommodations facilities.

The model remained in storage and gradually deteriorated. However, in 2008, in cooperation with the Friends of Gatineau Park and the operators of the Wakefield Mill Inn and Spa, a fundraising campaign was organized to help the NCC finance the restoration of the model. Once again, the NCC called upon Keith Rideout, the same employee who had built the mill model nearly 30 years before. Rideout performed the delicate process of cleaning, repairing and rebuilding the reproductions of the land- scape design around the building model. The water supply mechanism - which had so well illustrated how the mill operated on water power - was removed, since the moisture it produced had caused the model to deteriorate. After several months of detailed work, the model was returned to Gatineau Park, renewed, resized and adapted to the needs of various types of users. For many years to come, it will reflect a page of history of the Gatineau Hills and Gatineau Valley.

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