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This article first appeared in the March 27, 2013 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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Wakefield Fire Department lights candles on 60th birthday

By Norma Geggie

Foreword: A timely decision, on the part of concerned and endangered residents six decades ago, brought fire protection to the Village of Wakefield at long last. The volunteer fire department marks 60 years of service this year.

The blaze which occurred on March 15, 1953 proved to be a turning point in the long, sad history of fires in the village of Wakefield.

The most noteworthy conflagration had come in 1904, when the centre of the village had been destroyed. Starting in the adjoining Riverside and Union hotels immediately south of the Presbyterian church, it went on to destroy Patterson's General Store and residence, several other homes, and finally the brick church.

Wakefield Fire
Home of Wilkinson family (originally Philip Trowsse home) and Trowsse blacksmith shop on south bank of La Peche River, taken from north bank of the river at the Manor House (circa 1940s). Photo courtesy Hector Vaillancourt.

This fire was fought by every able-bodied resident; they carried water from the river and soaked blankets which they hoped, in vain, would prevent the flying sparks from one burning building igniting the roof next door.

Just six years later, a fire which started in the carding room of MacLaren's woollen mill raced through the threestorey woollen mill and the flour mill, before destroying several residences of employees. In fact, the destruction of the whole flourishing and prosperous enterprise on the La Peche River brought fire engines from Ottawa. The fire burned well into the night.

But the community was to suffer two further conflagrations. One, at the south end of the village in 1933, destroyed I.B.York's store, Fred Hamilton's garage, and several residences, before stopping at the Earle House. The second, a fire at MacLaren's handsome threestorey general store at the corner of Mill Road in 1941 brought to an end this family's business association with Wakefield.

On March 15, 1953, a blaze broke out in an old residence originally belonging to Phil Trowsse, on the south bank of the La Peche River and threatened the village once more.

The building next door, the Depot, housed equipment used by Fire Warden Leger Vaillancourt. As District Warden for Quebec Lands and Forests, Leger, who had helped with many fires apart from forest blazes, used the Depot for fire equipment and gasoline.

The ensuing explosion shattered windows in the new Gatineau Memorial Hospital on the opposite bank of the La Peche River. Elzeor Vaillancourt's barber shop stood next door to his brother's building and it also fell victim. People tried to break through the ice in an effort to fight it, until apparatus and a crew from Saint-Cecile-de-Masham came to the rescue.

fire, which disrupted the tranquility of a Sunday afternoon, was being witnessed in horror by a group of women in the nurses' residence opposite. My friend and I, who had joined the staff of the hospital only two months previously, were entertaining Ruth Geggie and Ainslie Gnaedinger, both of whom were active in the Women's Institute.

These women soon organized a meeting of the group, and a delegation was sent to the next meeting of the council of Wakefield Village to lobby for a village fire department. Very readily, it was agreed to levy taxes and move to establish this necessary service.

By August of that year, the municipality had purchased equipment, and the ranks of the new Volunteer Fire Department were filled eagerly by males, young and old.

At their first meeting, with Coun. John (Jack) McGarry in the Chair, and Frank Welock, Secretary, the following members were appointed: John Mc- Garry (Fire chief), A. Giroux (Deputy), Roy Morrison (chief mechanic), and Arthur Trowsse (deputy chief mechanic);

Lyle Daugherty and R. Vaillancourt were appointed drivers, with Charlie Chamberlin and A. Giroux to be assistant drivers. A list of all of these men was to be placed at the local Bell Telephone Office (run by Harvey and Thelma Ryan.)

To accommodate the possibility of some roads being inaccessible in winter, A. Giroux volunteered the use of a jeep, free of charge, to tow the necessary equipment. Council was to be presented with a request for firemen's axes, pickaxes, a 32-foot aluminum extension ladder and a 16-foot roof ladder. As well, they were to request that a man be employed in the winter to cut and keep holes in the ice of the river in winter months.

Surprisingly enough all of this was put into use sooner than they might have expected, when later that same August, a grass fire above the hospital threatened the nurses' residence and the club house, resulting in the evacuation of some of the 17 patients in the Gatineau Memorial Hospital.

We tend to take for granted this remarkable service which has been supplied by fellow residents for sixty years, demanding much dedication, courage and skill. Thanks to our firefighters past and present.

Ed. note: Norma Geggie, who has been witness to decades of Gatineau Hills history, is a Wakefield, Quebec resident.