Houses of the Gatineau Hills

The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the April 25, 2012 issue. Reprinted with permission.

Refurbished Fairbairn pioneer home stands as ultimate 'house of the hills'

by Lucy Scholey

Five years ago, the ledger showed a paltry $14.13 in the Fairbairn House bank account.

A co-operative had set a seemingly distant goal of $525,000 to revamp the 150-year-old original dwelling of Wakefield pioneer William Fairbairn and turn it into a heritage centre.

On April 20, that goal was more than realized.

Houses of the Gatineau Hills
Members and supporters of the Fairbairn House Solidarity Co-operative wave in celebration during a tour of the interior renovations April 20. The museum is set to open September 1. Lucy Scholey photo.

The federal government topped up the fundraising efforts with $175,000 in grants - $105,000 from Economic Development Canada and $70,000 from the Department of Canadian Heritage - allowing volunteers to finish its interior renovations.

"It's unbelievable," said John Lowden, accountant for the Fairbairn House Solidarity Co-operative, during the home's first tour April 20.

"We've maxed out."

The Fairbairn House may well be the ultimate 'House of the Hills.'

It has survived two possible demolitions: one in 1993, another in 2005 to make way for a road approaching the bridge over the river and again for condo developments. Both times, it was moved. As the saying goes, it has "stood the test of time."

"You're standing in a very lucky house," said Michael Cooper, the co-op's co-president.

Sheets of drywall, new hardwood flooring and new madeto-look-original window trim adorn the newly renovated interior, but hints of Fairbairn still peek through.

The staircase's carvings and original baseboards have been retained. A section of a door frame is exposed, revealing Fairbairn's original rafter-to-wall handiwork.

"It's a sturdy house," said Cooper, pointing to the 14-inchthick walls.

More work is needed, including bathroom finishing and electric radiant flooring in the basement.

The centre is expected to open Sept. 1.

Two rooms are slated to house permanent exhibits of the Gatineau Valley's history, while a rotating exhibit will take up a room upstairs.

A multipurpose room and a meeting room in the basement can be leased out.

Also in the plans: an outdoor stage for summer theatre or school presentations, plus an elevator for anyone with mobility issues.

That elevator will need additional funding and the co-op will still be hunting for grants towards hiring summer students. Until then, the facility will be volunteer-staffed.

"It'll be an ongoing battle, but it's a worthwhile thing to fight for," said La Peche Mayor Robert Bussiere, referring to the funding.

"My strongest wish is that we keep working together."

The municipality has contributed $60,000 and will continue pitching in cash over the next 10 years.

Marc Boily, director of the Canadian Economic Development for the Outaouais region, said it was tough finding the funding, especially in tough economic times.

"We do really feel that Wakefield has a very promising future in terms of economic development," he said.

William Fairbairn, a Scottish settler who built a stone gristmill (parts of which have now become the Wakefield Mill), constructed the historical house in the 1860s.

For more information, visit www.fairbairn.ca.

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