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This article first appeared in the May 17, 2017 issue of the The Low Down to Hull and Back News.External Link Reprinted with permission. Search complete list of Low Down Articles.

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Shining a light on the women of the Hills

By Mary Fahey

History textbooks are woefully bereft of the accomplishments of women through the centuries, and the Fairbairn House Heritage Centre wants to help correct that by shining a light on the stories of the many heroines of the Hills.

Fairbairn's exhibit, 'Notable Women of the Gatineau Valley', opens to the public on June 3 and runs all summer. The heritage centre chose ten women in the area to showcase, and the public will soon be able to learn the stories of these oft-forgotten movers and shakers.

Alice Cross-Wilson
Alice Cross-Wilson (1870-1948) is one of ten women who have been included in an exhibit on notable women in the history of the Gatineau Hills at the Fairbairn House Heritage Centre. Cross-Wilson, picture here with her husband Ernest Wilson on their wedding day in1893, ran the Peerless Hotel with her husband. The hotel also housed the post office, telephone exchange, and general store. She also raised 10 children and played the organ at church for over 40 years. Photo courtesy Fairbairn House.

"History books have not been focused on women in the past," said Helen MacKinnon, parttime coordinator at Fairbairn. "We tried to choose a spectrum of women who've contributed in a variety of different ways - everything from pioneer women to teachers to...other notable women who've done a lot in the community."

The Fairbairn House teamed up with the Gatineau Valley Historical Society and Cantley 1889 to solicit nominees from the public for the project. The list of nominees was so long - and rightfully so, said MacKinnon - that they developed criteria the women had to meet to be included in the exhibit. Namely, the women to be featured couldn't be alive today, they had to have made a demonstrable contribution to their community that affected change, and they had to have taken initiative. The final list brought together historical figures from nearly 200 years ago through to 2015.

"[The women] altered both the physical and social landscape of the Gatineau Valley in ways that continue to shape our community today," said MacKinnon. "They contributed in many ways based on the times that they lived in."

The exhibit runs until Oct. 15 at the Fairbairn House, but after that, MacKinnon said the show will hit the road: it heads to the Bibliothèque de Chelsea Library from October to January and then to the Cantley municipal offices.

Since the exhibit is designed to travel, it can easily be broken down and transported. Seven stand-up banners will tell the stories of the women and a handful of artifacts will help bring the stories to life, said MacKinnon. The exhibit will also feature a touch screen with six original video capsules featuring performers from the Wakefield Players who act out stories from the women's lives, and two more videos on the more modern figures.

Some of the research that will be showcased was undertaken specifically for this project, said MacKinnon. Even that research was done mainly by local women, she said, who are accomplished amateur historians in their own right.

"For some, we had to start the research because nothing had been written... I don't think these stories have even been told," said MacKinnon.

For more information, go to fairbairn.ca.