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Clock ticks for Wakefield heritage home
By Mike Caesar
The nineteenth-century home of Wakefield pioneer William Fairbairn has dodged bulldozers once before, but time is running out for a repeat.
Built sometime in the 1860s or 1870s, the former Fairbairn home likely has until late spring to move from its present location amid the $20 million Wakefield Harbour condominium development. The home stands directly on the site of four future condos - all of which have been pre-sold - and developer Dan Bedard is preparing to build.
"It's sitting right where there's a condo planned," he said. "It was one of the first locations sold...and the people are waiting to move in."
Bedard has offered the building free to anyone willing to foot the hefty bill for moving it off the property. Alternatively, if more than one person or group is interested, the developer says he'll auction the home and donate the proceeds to charity.
Numerous individuals and groups have shown interest in moving the historic building, but so far all have balked at the cost of doing so. Area businessman Bill Brown is said to be interested, while the La Peche Hertage Committee recommended to council the house be moved to municipal property next to the tourist centre.
Coouncil nixed the idea at its March 21 meeting. Secretary-treasurer Charles Ricard said council is content to stay out of the matter while there are private individuals interested in saving the house. Council also expressed concern it would set a costly precedent for saving other threatened buildings in future.
But Heritage Committee member and historian Norma Geggie said there is no other building of such significance in Wakefield.
"That is the most significant heritage building," Geggie said. "There isn't another one. (Fairbairn) was one of the original settlers, he was the person who built the mill which is part of the reason why the village developed the way it did."
Geggie also said the house would better serve the area as a public building rather than a private one, pointing to its potential as a heritage museum and tourist attraction. To that end, she said there's a new effort in the works to explore the possibility of moving it to the municipal Hendrick Park, located on the east side of the Gatineau River next to the covered bridge.
"The bridge is a destination anyway: People go there, but once there what do they do?" she added, noting the park already has parking and toilet facilities. "I would think that with the future of tourism here and the fairly energetic committees working in different directions to increase tourism...the idea would have community support."
Bedard, meanwhile, said he is willing to share some costs with the municipality in saving the building. He said he hasn't yet decided what will happen to the building if no takers are found, but demolition is an option.
Originally located on the site of the present-day Wakefield bypass, the building was moved to its present location in the mid-1990s by Andy Tommy. Bedard and The Heafey Group have since used it as a sales office for the condo project.
Besides building Wakefield's first grist mill on the La Peche River, Fairbairn worked on the construction of the Rideau Canal in Ottawa.