The following article first appeared in The Echo of Cantley Volume 27 no 2, August 2015. This article is made available for the enjoyment of others with the express permission of the Echo of Cantley.
Have you heard this? There is a place in Wakefield where people of Cantley, and their Gatineau Valley neighbours, can visit to explore their heritage!
Your Wakefield neighbours invite you to come by and see the results of our work to retrace and preserve our Gatineau Valley history, from the early 1800s onward, now on display at the Fairbairn House Heritage Centre in Hendrick Park, at the east end of the Wakefield covered bridge.
Our search for history began in 2005, when the Municipality of La Péche agreed with the Gatineau Valley Historical Society to save the abandoned 1861 Fairbairn farmhouse as a bilingual heritage centre for the lower Gatineau region. Supporters of the idea came together and by 2010, had raised funds to repair and embellish the house exterior. This encouraged others to join in, and interior renovations were completed in 2012.
The following year, the renovated Fairbairn House opened its doors to the public with the jubilant applause of the army of volunteers who had helped make it happen. Since then, an outdoor stage and a heritage log cabin, as well as a stone-walled garden, have been added to the site. These are surrounded by green picnic and festival spaces, including a waterfall and trails. Also, the house has reserved spaces for a tourist information office, an archives room, and a fullyequipped meeting room for community use.
Now the heritage house is recognized as a symbol of earlier times and a gathering place to discover and marvel at the determination of our ancestors. Here you will find opportunities to learn more about the lives of generations of loggers and lumber workers, builders and trades people, and the community leaders and farmers who cleared and populated our rugged hills.
In its first year of operation, the centre attracted over 1240 visitors. Today, it is busier than ever with more exhibits and an expanded program of events and activities including concerts on the outdoor stage. Upcoming events include a week-long Heritage Day Camp in early August, followed by the Centre's third annual Heritage Garden Party, also in August, and the annual Great Grannies Concert in September.
Historical displays include permanent and rotating exhibits, shown in both the house and the log cabin. This year the focus is on two new exhibits: one features early oneroom schools, and the other the major contributions of Gatineau Valley women, working on the home front during the First World War. Popular among the permanent exhibits, especially for children, is the working model of a steam train wending its way through a 1930s Wakefield village.
Visitors are always surprised to see the decorative detail in the wood trim inside and outside the old farmhouse. Also of great interest are the tools and other artifacts our pioneers used in their backbreaking labours.
Guided tours can be arranged for groups from schools, seniors clubs, or anyone interested in the heritage of our region. Also, many couples choose to rent the space for their wedding, either on the covered bridge or under tents in the park, using the grounds, house kitchen and washrooms for the reception.
The well-informed bilingual staff at the Centre will be only too pleased to tell you more and to show you around. We look forward to your visits.
The Centre is open from 9 to 5, seven days a week, from June 14th to September 1st, and on week-ends from September 6th to October 13th.
Anita Rutledge, a longtime Wakefield resident, has been a volunteer and board member at the Fairbairn Centre since 2005.
(Cantley 1889 invited Anita to write this story to inform readers about this fascinating and beautiful centre of Gatineau Valley heritage.)