Low Down Articles

How I Got Here

Article 10 of 14     

This article first appeared in the "How I got here" column in the May 02, 2018 issue of the "The Low Down to Hull and Back News". Reprinted with permission. Search complete list of Low Down Articles.

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Bill Fairbairn - but not that Bill Fairbairn

By Phil Jenkins

A gentleman by the name of Bill was in Fairbairn House Heritage Centre a while ago, and ended up in front of an old photograph of a long-deceased member of the Fairbairn clan. After some small talk, a visitor asked Bill what his name was. "Fairbairn," he replied. "No, your name, not his," she said. Bill recalled, "I told her it was my name, and that the crosseyed fellow in the photograph was my ancestor." Indeed, Bill, who is now 72, had been in the house as a boy when it was in its original location. And Bill was present when the decaying structure was moved to a piece of land near the covered bridge and converted into a historical museum.

Bill Fairbairn
The Bill Fairbairn had been in the Fairbairn house long before the property became a heritage museum. Photo courtesy Bill Fairbairn.

There have been Fairbairns in these hills for close to two centuries. When building of the Rideau Canal commenced in 1827, one of the workers was one William Fairbairn, a millwright by training, who had left Scotland for Canada. The canal completed, William and his wife, Jane, and eight children arrived in Wakefield Township in 1834. Four years later, William petitioned the governor to permit him to build a grist mill using local stone on a tributary of the Gatineau - he sold it a few years later to a Mr. McLaren and took up farming. Nowadays, that mill is making martinis rather than milling flour. And so the generations flowed on, some staying, some leaving, and some - like Bill, who is one of eleven children - remaining farmers.

Bill's and his wife Penny's own portion of the remaining Fairbairn lands comes to 230 acres. Originally breeding Herefords, he has evolved to Hereford Charolais crosses. Like most modern family farmers, he has worked off-farm most of his life, including being a foreman for 22 years at E.B. Eddy.

There was a time when Bill could honestly claim to know everybody hereabouts, and everybody knew him. As the village his ancestor helped found has grown, he knows many fewer locals. He doesn't mind. "They come and they muck in and we have a community centre."

An energetic and entertaining talker, Bill can't recall a worse winter. He burned more wood than he had in any previous year (as did many of us) but calving season has finally arrived. Last week, six calves were born - a good week. They, like Bill, are here because, in 1834, a mill worker crossed the river and found a waterfall in these hills.