The Maxwell Homestead Story1
The Maxwell Homestead was located on Chemin Maxwell, near Chemin de la Montagne, about six miles northeast of Wakefield, Quebec.
It is not known when the Maxwell homestead was built, but Maxwells lived on the property as early as 1871, when it was inhabited by Thomas Maxwell (1835-1900) and his wife Agnes Pink Maxwell (1834-1921).2 Thomas was known as “Red Tom” Maxwell, and he was the son of William Burnette Maxwell (1808-1857) and Jane McMillan (1801-1892), who were part of the first generation of “Wakefield Maxwells” to arrive, from the north of Ireland, in the Wakefield area.3
The last person in the Maxwell family to work the land was John Denton (Johnny) Maxwell (1911-1990), and before him his parents, Charles Pink Maxwell (1874- 1938) and Alice May Rogers (1878-1962). Charles, who served as mayor of Wakefield in the 1920s, died in 1938, at the age of 64, leaving Johnny (and Alice) to farm the land.
The homestead burned in the early morning of September 7, 1944, after being struck by lightning in a violent electrical storm. According to my father, Alan Brown,4 Johnny heard the crack of the lightning, then a rattle, and finally smelled smoke from the attic. No one was injured in the fire, but everything was lost other than the dining room table, chairs, and a desk (of which the table and desk survive today). At the time of the fire, the house was inhabited by Alice, Johnny and Johnny’s brother, Lloyd Rowat (Bobby) Maxwell (1917-1975).
After the fire, Johnny and Bobby lived the first winter with their first cousin, Stanley Woodburn (1899-1987), who shared a common grandparents, David Rogers (1838-1915) and Emma Birkett (1842-1885), with Johnny and Bobby, and Stanley’s wife Irene Reilly (1906-1997). The Woodburns’ farm was located on Chemin Maxwell next to the Maxwell farm, on its west side. As for Alice, it is believed that she moved into the city to live with several of her daughters (Jessie, Violet, Lola, Evelyn and Ethel, all of whom were unmarried at the time), who were living in a house apartment at 19 Spadina Avenue, in the Hintonburg neighbourhood of Ottawa.
In the spring of 1945, Johnny built and moved into a small one-room shack, which family members referred to as the “little red shack”. The shack, which was built quickly by Johnny (likely with the help of neighbours), was just that—a shack—with some tiles thrown on the roof, and no insulation, heat, or other amenities. Nevertheless, if one looks at a satellite image of the property on Google Maps, the shack continues to stand today (in 2019), located behind the small two-bedroom house that (as discussed below) Johnny later built for himself on the property. Perhaps it was because of his experience during the subsequent winter in the shack that Johnny was later known to keep his house extremely warm in the winter.
In about 1945, John Thomas (Tom) Labrick and his wife, Harriet Dinah (Dinah) Labrick (nee Easy) retired from farming and moved into the town of Wakefield. Their farm was located just behind the Maxwell farm,5 and Johnny took advantage of the opportunity to purchase it. The Labrick farmhouse would be home for Johnny until the late 1950s.
Purchasing the Labrick farm allowed Johnny to reunite there with his mother Alice and brother Bobby. Alice later broke her arm and left the farm to live with her daughter, Emma Agnes Maxwell (1904-1982), who lived in Ottawa at 32 Laurel Street with her husband, Robert George (George) Brown (1896-1969), and their children, Douglas (Dougie) (1928-1986), Ronald (Ronnie) (1930-2006), Stuart (1933-2007), Alan (1938-) and David (1940-1963),6 as well as George’s brother Lloyd (1906-1982), his wife Helen (Stevenson) (1915-1992) and their daughter Frances (now Frances Richardson) (1943-). Bobby also left the farm to live at 19 Spadina Avenue in Ottawa with his sisters, Jessie (1905-1992), Lola (1907-1998), Violet (1909-2002), Ethel (1914-1996) and Evelyn (1918-1976). They were joined by their mother, Alice, sometime after 1947, when Evelyn married Harold Frederick Attfield (1919-2000) and moved out of the Spadina Avenue house apartment. Lola and Ethel both married in 1956, to Louis David Leamy (1912-2006) and Wesley Wellington Fallis (1905-1975), respectively, and left Spadina Avenue, leaving Alice and Bobby with Jessie and Violet, who never married.
In the late 1950s, Johnny bought Jack Rutledge’s farm and sold the Labrick farm. The Rutledge farm was located on Chemin de la Montagne, just before the curve to the south of Pike Lake Road. Johnny persuaded his nephew, Douglas (Dougie), Emma’s eldest son, to move to the Rutledge farm from Osgoode Township in Ontario with his family, which at that time consisted of his wife Jessie McConnell (of Kazabazua) (1931- 2011), sons Wayne (1949-) and Brian (1950-), and daughter Ann (1953-). Douglas later bought the Rutledge farm from Johnny, and he farmed the land until his death in 1986.
When Johnny bought the Rutledge farm, he built a small two-bedroom house at the location where the original Maxwell homestead had been located. He lived in that house until he died in 1990.
By this time, Johnny’s mother, Alice, and his brother, Bobby, had moved to Ottawa to live with his sisters, first on Laurel Street (with Emma and her family) and then on Spadina Avenue (with Violet, Jessie, Ethel and Lola).7 In the late 1950s, Alice’s daughter, Emma, and her husband George, along with Emma’s sisters Jessie and Violet (who never married), bought a duplex on Grove Avenue (nos. 46 and 48, on the southwest corner of Grove Avenue and Grosvenor Avenue). Emma and her family, which included her sons Alan and David and her daughter Linda, occupied the side closest to the corner (no. 46), and Jessie and Violet occupied the other side of the house (no. 48). Alice and Bobby moved in with Jessie and Violet. By this time, Alice suffered from dementia and required care, as did Bobby, who had Down’s syndrome. Alice eventually moved in with her youngest daughter, Evelyn, and her husband Harold, who cared for Alice until she died, at home, at 2137 Lambeth Walk, Ottawa, Ontario, in 1962.
The Maxwell Homestead and surrounding farms (including especially the Rutledge farm), have played an important role in the lives of recent generations of Wakefield Maxwells and related families, including the (Wakefield) Browns. It was memorialized in a painting in the 1980s.
For the family of Emma Maxwell and her husband George Brown (whose family also farmed in Wakefield8), the importance of these farms is most obvious for their son Dougie. Dougie and his wife Jessie, like Johnny, mostly raised cattle for beef and grew corn as well as oats, although for a time they also raised cattle for dairy.
Dougie and Jessie’s oldest sons, Wayne and Brian, were active on both the farms from a young age, spending summers working with Johnny for the (then) princely sum of $20 for the summer. Among their tasks, Wayne and Brian would walk behind the hayloader to collect hay that had failed to load, and then transfer the loose hay from the wagon to the granary using a horse-powered pulley system. One year, the hay crop was so plentiful it was not possible to store the hay loose, so Johnny—who, having lived through the depression, did not like to spend money9—purchased a baler. Since Wayne and Brian were too small to lift the heavy bales onto the wagon (Wayne was “10 or 11” at the time, and Brian a year younger), Wayne drove the tractor so Johnny could lift the bales. This was not such a big deal, according to Wayne, since he had been driving the tractor since he was about six.
Farming of crops is principally a summer activity but work on the farm did not end in the winter. When Wayne was about 10, he helped Johnny clear part of the bush on his farm, which required the trees to be cut and hauled out to the road. Johnny and Wayne spent Saturday afternoons that winter rolling logs (using a cant hook) to the road, where they could be picked up and taken to the mill.
While he was a full-time farmer, Dougie had two full-time jobs.10 Every day during the week, Dougie rose at 4 a.m. and drove to Ottawa, where he delivered milk for Producer’s Dairy, which later became Sealtest Dairy. In the afternoon, he returned to Wakefield where he worked on the farm. During the summer, Wayne accompanied Dougie to Ottawa each morning to help with milk deliveries and worked the farm with him in the afternoon. Given the physical nature of his jobs, it is not surprising that Dougie was strong. At Sealtest, where he could pick up three cases to others’ one, he was known as “Little Bull”.
Dougie was unique amongst his brothers in that only he followed Johnny into farming, but Ronnie, Stuart, Alan, and David all spent time during the summers on the farm. David, the youngest, moved to Nova Scotia to join the Navy, but he still returned to Wakefield to work on the farm while on leave.11 According to my father Alan, Ronnie went to the farm “for a bit” but did not like it and stopped going, while Stuart loved the farm and even worked there for a year or so after high school. Alan liked the farm but suffered from bad hay fever at a time when allergy medications were far less effective than today. Today, he recalls the runny noses and sneezing were endless, to the point that he was unable to sleep, which he found hard. According to Wayne, Johnny was not particularly sympathetic, not because he was unkind12 but because allergies were not something he understood.13
Alan was diagnosed with dementia in late 2015, but he retains his memories of the farm. Despite having suffered hay fever there, he speaks fondly of the farm. He began going in the summer with his mother (Emma) and grandmother (Alice) when he was a young boy. He remembers the collie, Scotty (pictured above, with Dougie), which took sick and had to be put down by Johnny.
Alan’s fondness for Scotty was a foreshadowing of what we would see later when our family got a dog of our own, in 1980. Like many in the wider Brown family, Alan is a true dog lover.14 In fact, it was more than the dogs that Alan loved, he loved all animals on the farm. When asked what he and his brothers thought of the farm, he says, after Dougie, he thinks he liked it most, adding “probably because of the animals”. Alan recalls how he used to bring sugar cubes from Ottawa for the horses,15 so they were always happy to see him. “I always thought it was interesting that when the horses saw me coming they knew I had something.” Years later, he would repeat the same behaviour, slipping a treat in his pocket for our dog before coming over for a visit.
The farm is a place that I associate with my Great Uncle Bobby. As noted previously, Bobby had Down’s syndrome and, in later years, lived with his sisters in Ottawa, first on Spadina Avenue and later Grove Avenue. My “living” memories of him are from childhood visits to Ottawa when he lived with Jessie and Violet on Grove Avenue. Our interaction with Bobby at that time was minimal as we visited mainly in Emma’s side of the house and he stayed next door at the Aunts’ (Jessie and Violet’s) most of the time. Bobby was a quiet person who preferred to spend time in his room, where he would occupy himself in his own mind, using his hands to act out stories that were the product of his imagination. Visitors liked to go see Bobby, but as he did not like to leave his room they often had to go there to see him.16 According to Alan, Bobby (like Alan and his mother, Emma) had a sweet tooth, and one reliable way of getting him to leave his room was to shake a bag of candy outside his door.
On the farm, Bobby, like my father Alan, liked the animals, and according to Alan they liked him. He says that the animals “could sense” that Bobby was different. Bobby liked to be close to the chickens, and while he walked amongst them the chickens would go about their business like he was not there (while they would squawk and run about if anyone else entered the pen). This became a problem for Bobby when he was sent to the henhouse to get them out: for any other person they would leave out of fear, but they had no fear of Bobby, and he struggled to get their attention let alone get them to leave. Bobby was also sometimes tasked with getting water from the well, which had its own complications for him. Bobby was a physically expressive person, with a jump in his step, and after skipping back to the farmhouse he would wonder where the water in the bucket had gone. Regrettably, I have been unable to locate any photos of Bobby as an adult, although photos of him as a child exist (including the above group photo at the Labrick Farm).
Johnny was the last of the Maxwells to work the Maxwell farm, and the Old Rutledge Farm passed from the family after Dougie died in 1986.17 For decades before that, these farms were central to the Wakefield Maxwell and Brown families. Even as most of my generation’s parents settled in Ottawa or in more distant places, including northern and southwestern Ontario, to live their own lives, “the farm” was a place that was spoken about in our families and a place to which family returned to be together. The last large family gathering in Wakefield took place at Dougie and Jessie’s farm (the Old Rutledge Farm) in July 1979 to celebrate the 75th birthday of my grandmother, Emma.
1 Prepared by D. Jeffrey Brown, with information from Alan Brown, Wayne Brown, Ann Boland (Brown), Linda Sharkey (Brown) and Frances Richardson (Brown). Last updated July 22, 2020.
2 The 1871 (and 1881) Canada census identifies the family of Thomas and Agnes Maxwell living next to Francis Labrick, who owned the neighbouring farm. Thomas and Agnes had 11 children: William (1859-1933); Francis (Frank) (1861-1924); Margaret (Maggie) (1863-1920); Jane (1865-1925); Martha (1867-1935); James Larmour (1867-1933); Isabella (1870-1898); Sarah (1872-1925); Charles Pink (1874-1938); John Thomas Edward (1876- 1896); and Henry MacMillan (1879-1941).
3 Red Tom travelled between Wakefield and British Columbia for several years, working in BC lumber camps. He sent for Agnes, but she did not want to leave her home in Wakefield. Red Tom died in Clinton, British Columbia of pneumonia in 1900. See Alexa J. Pritchard and Mary Gail Wilson, Anselm Maxwell & his Celtic Connections 1822 (Ottawa: Intrepid Communications, 2001), at 285.
4 Son of Johnny’s sister, Emma.
5 The road on the west side of the property, running north from Chemin Maxwell, is Chemin Labrick.
6 George and Emma’s daughter, Linda (1948-), was born four years later, in 1948.
7 I believe that only Alice lived with Emma on Laurel Street. If so, then Bobby presumably lived during this time with his sisters on Spadina Avenue.
8 See Anita Rutledge, “Remembering the Farms of Wakefield” in Volume 44 of Up the Gatineau!, published by the Gatineau Valley Historical Society.
9 According to Wayne, he had amassed quite a collection of nails, some dating to the 1800s, “just in case” they might come in handy. According to his son Steven, Johnny’s nephew, Stuart Brown, had a “strong dislike” for Johnny saving nails “just in case.” Stuart’s dislike does not appear to have been based on principle: Johnny’s collection was in fact a “bucket of bent nails” pulled out of boards over the years, and it was Stuart’s job to straighten them.
10 It appears this was not unusual. Neil Richardson, who married Dougie’s cousin, Frances Brown, worked his farm, located on Fairbairn Road (a few kilometres north of the Rutledge farm), while working at the Central Experimental Farm in Ottawa for 29 years.
11 David died in car accident in October 1963, at the age of 23.
12 According to Wayne, they worked hard but Johnny was good to them. He and Brian played ice hockey on a team in Wakefield one year, which proved to be too much, but Johnny continued to take them to the outdoor rink to play on Friday nights. In the 1980s, when Dougie got sick, Johnny—who was then in his 70s—helped on Dougie’s farm, with Wayne and Brian reciprocating by helping Johnny. Wayne recalled arriving at Johnny’s farm for lunch, for which Johnny served baloney sandwiches. This was a change from the usual routine, which Wayne appreciated and told Johnny so. Wayne was rewarded with baloney sandwiches for the rest of the summer.
13 Johnny’s lack of sympathy extended to himself: he once broke his nose and, rather than going to the doctor, he went inside, looked in the mirror, straightened his nose and went back to work.
14 When he was young (about 10) living on Laurel Street, they had a dog for a short period of time. Alan returned home one day to find that the dog was gone. When he asked what happened, his mother offered the improbable explanation that the dog had jumped on a bus and disappeared. 10-year old Alan rode his bicycle around the neighbourhood for two days looking for the dog, but he never found him. While he does not know for certain what happened to the dog, he believes that his mother probably gave it to somebody on a farm. Could this childhood event be the genesis of Alan’s attachment to dogs (and animals)?
15 Alan remembers the horses by name, including Lorna, “who was the boss”; Lorna’s son Turk, who was the youngest; Lady, who was “quiet”; Queenie; and Barney, who was “a bit jumpy” but his favourite.
16 Bobby could be stubborn, which on one occasion created a real challenge for Jessie, Violet and Emma. After a bath, Bobby refused to get out of the bathtub. Given the relative size and strength of Bobby to his sisters, they were unable to get him out.
17 Dougie was a councillor of La Peche Municipality when the rebuilding on the Gendron Bridge was planned, and as a tribute to his work the Brown-Fournier Bridge bears his name (as well as the name of Cleo Fournier, who was mayor of the municipality).