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Valley Lives - Anita Rutledge

The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the September 05, 2018 issue. Reprinted with permission.

Modest historian made big impact on the Gatineau Hills

By Nicole McCormick

From the rebuilding of the Wakefield covered bridge to the archives of the Gatineau Valley Historical Society (GVHS), the contributions of Anita Rutledge are one of Wakefield's longest and best-kept secrets - which is exactly how she wanted it to be.

"She was very quiet about the many things she did," said friend and fellow covered bridge volunteer Neil Faulkner.

Anita Rutledge
Wakefield covered bridge committee. Neil Faulkner, Norma E. Walmsley, Anita Rutledge, Ivan Hale. Missing from photo are Ann Chudleigh and Jay Atherton. 1996. Photo courtesy Linda Bardell.

Like many community builders and volunteers, Rutledge left a permanent mark on the village but never sought out praise or recognition for the work that she did. It just wasn't her style.

"Anita was the type of person that didn't want the spotlight, but boy, did she ever work for things," said close friend of over 50 years, Joan Garnett.

Described by friends as the best editor in Gatineau Hills, Rutledge had a penchant for accuracy and a deep-rooted love for her community and its history and spent several decades volunteering her exceptional editing and research skills to various local heritage projects and organizations. The extensive list includes, but is not limited to, the Fairbairn House Heritage Centre Steering Committee and its board of directors, the GVHS, the Wakefield Covered Bridge Committee, the Wakefield Cemeteries Pioneer Monument Committee, and the Wakefield Cenotaph Restoration Committee.

"She was our unofficial historian for the Gatineau Valley," said Fairbairn House president and long-time collaborator Michael Cooper.

Besides editing other people's work, Rutledge was also an accomplished writer herself having written four stories for GVHS's annual Up the Gatineau! publication. She had just recently finished writing the text for a series of eight signs installed along the village's waterfront explaining the history of Wakefield and the Gatineau River. She even wrote her own obituary prior to her death.

"We've lost a tremendous researcher with what she had in her head," said Garnett.

Born in 1926, Rutledge was raised on a farm just outside Shawville and spent many Saturday nights as a child window shopping and giggling over local boys with fellow future Wakefield community leader Shirley Shouldice. The two became inseparable after first meeting as young girls at the "Saturday Night in Shawville" shopping event in 1938 and remained close friends for over 80 years until Shouldice's death in December 2017.

They parted ways after high school when Rutledge became a civil servant in Ottawa and Shouldice moved to the Wakefield area to teach in a one-room schoolhouse on a special permit from the Department of Education.

However, the two remained close and Rutledge would come to visit Shouldice during her time as a teacher. It was during one of these visits that Rutledge met future husband Reginald Rutledge. The couple eventually wed in 1951, seven years after that first meeting. They were married until Reginald's death in 1977.

Around the time she was married, Rutledge was recruited to teach at the Fairbairn School and taught grades one through seven from 1951 to 1953.

According to former student Emilie Moodie (née Fairbairn) who studied grades one and two under Rutledge, she was an exceptional teacher and her calm and patient demeanour made students more relaxed and comfortable in the classroom.

"She made school interesting," said Moodie.

Some particularly fond memories Moodie recalls are when Rutledge attended her seventh birthday party and gifted her with a necklace, and also when she greeted her at school one particularly cold winter morning with a thermos of hot chocolate after the young girl had completed a mile-long trek through the snow.

"I'll never forget that," said Moodie. "It's a memory that a child keeps in her heart."

After teaching for three years, Rutledge went back to work for the federal government and eventually retired from her career in communications in 1985.

But even before retiring, Rutledge was very involved in community life.

It was in 1982 that Cooper recalls his first encounter with Rutledge after moving to the Wakefield area. Cooper explains that right off the bat, Rutledge recruited him to join Wakefield's recreation committee. Then, a few years later, after the Wakefield covered bridge was set ablaze, Rutledge again recruited Cooper to volunteer with the reconstruction project.

"She was a great recruiter for our community," said Cooper.

The original covered bridge was first built back in 1914 but was destroyed 70 years later when an arsonist set fire to the structure in 1984. Three years after it burnt down, the official Wakefield Covered Bridge Committee formed in 1987 and spent the next 11 years working to rebuild the iconic red bridge.

According to fellow committee members Garnett and Faulkner, Rutledge, who was the designated secretary of the group, was key to the project's success. She was highly organized and kept thorough records of all the work being done, who did what, and how money was spent.

"She kept that project on course with her detailed work," said Garnett. "She was so thorough in keeping details."

"She was always there when you wanted to check a fact or get some help on anything that you needed in terms of information or support," added Faulkner.

Even after the bridge's completion in 1998, Rutledge would continue working alongside Cooper, helping to select artifacts and photographs and edit display materials for Fairbairn up until a few weeks prior to her death.

"She was the classic researcher, the classic person to see that all of the details had been taken into consideration," said Cooper. "I always valued her advice."

And she always made herself available - not only to Cooper, but to the entire community. Whether it was giving advice, helping someone write or edit a piece, or just lending an ear, she could always be counted on.

"She just had an open door," said Garnett. "Anita has just been so available to everyone and so enjoyable."


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