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Echoes from the Past

Articles on the history of the Gatineau from the Patrick Evans column "Echoes from the Past", originally printed in the "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" - reprinted with permission - and subsequently compiled by Jay Atherton and published in book form by the Gatineau Valley Historical Society (under its former name the Historical Society of the Gatineau) at Chelsea, Quebec, 1998.

The Enterprising William Fairbairn

William Fairbairn, born 1790, was from Scotland, his wife, Jean Wanless, whom he married in 1813, was of Huguenot descent.

The couple came to Canada in 1817, perhaps earlier, accompanied by their son, Archie, born in 1815. Their first stopover was at St. Andrews East in Quebec. A second son, John, was born here in 1819.

The family moved westward, stopping on the way wherever Fairbairn, he was a millwright, could find employment. As each job was completed the trek continued until they reached Caledonia Springs.

They remained at Caledonia Springs for several years. Here a daughter, Helen was born in 1821, George followed in 1823 and William in 1826. Twin Daughters, Alice (called Elsie, or Aylsie) and Frances arrived in 1829.

The Fairbairns had moved to Bytown as work was in progress on the locks of the Rideau Canal where William had found employment. Their home was where the Justice Building was erected later. Here, Mary was born in 1831.

Echoes from the Past

The Fairbairns came to Wakefield in 1834. Here William acquired a farm upon which their first house of logs was built not too far from the Gatineau River near the site of the future covered bridge.

One can imagine the scene one night in 1838, with his older sons off on their own, Jean and his oldest daughter, Helen, occupied with light chores. William junior watches as his father bends his head in the flickering light of the fire and a single candle as he addresses his petition to the Governor of Lower and Upper Canada. It is comparatively quiet as the three youngest daughters are asleep in bed.

Your petitioner... emigrated to this country 22 years ago... I, the millwright business... The area destitute of mills... nearest grist mill 24 miles away.

Here was the proposition for the construction of the Wakefield Mill; and it came about.

The grist mill was soon in operation. There were not many settlers in Wakefield at the time but it was opening up. It was not long before Fairbairn had local customers and others from Masham and north on the west bank of the river.

In 1848 Fairbairn sold his thriving mill to James Maclaren... who developed a complex by adding a woolen mill.

William retired to his farm upon which was built the second Fairbairn home almost opposite their first. This second house later used by the Stevensons and then the McNallies was moved out of the way of the Wakefield by-pass.

Both William and Jean Fairbairn died in 1867. They are buried in Hall's cemetery.


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