The village of Wakefield in Quebec was founded in 1830 along the western bank of the Gatineau River, about 35 kilometres north of Ottawa. The village was originally settled by Irish, Scottish and English immigrants, who named the area after the town of Wakefield in west Yorkshire, England. This heritage continues to this day, with the village remaining primarily anglophone.
The economy of Wakefield was built around a stone mill, constructed by Scottish settler William Fairbairn, for the purpose of milling grains harvested by local farmers in the river valley. The flour mill was established in 1838, predating the famous Watson’s Mill in Manotick by 20 years. By the 1840s the mill came under the ownership of James Maclaren, who expanded the industry to include a sawmill, woolen mill and general store. The mighty rush of water that once powered the mill still bears his name today, MacLaren Falls.
In today’s Wakefield, located in the municipality of La Pêche, the old mill has gone silent and the hard-labouring lumberjacks and farmers have been replaced by modern-day bohemians, hipsters, artists and musicians.
With a population of just around 2,000 people, the feeling of a small, rural village remains intact. The town’s economy revolves around hospitality and tourism, providing an easy-going sanctuary away from the bustle of city life, while still being only a half-hour drive from Ottawa.
A stunning example of Wakefield’s past and present coming together is found at the Wakefield Mill Inn and Spa. The same mill that anchored the town now welcomes travellers looking to be pampered, well fed and well rested. Husband and wife team, Robert Milling and Lynn Berthiaume, purchased the historic property in 2000 and set about removing the ancient machinery to fill the space with modern luxuries, all while maintaining the mill’s historic integrity.
Of course, the Wakefield covered bridge is an iconic town landmark. Sadly the original bridge, built in 1915 to link the two shores of the Gatineau River, was destroyed in a fire in 1984. The village raised the funds to have the bridge rebuilt atop the original stone pillars; yet another example of the strength of the community and their commitment to preserving the town’s heritage.
AN ARTIST’S PARADISE
The residents of Wakefield boast that they have a bigger art scene per capita than New York, Paris or any other major centre of culture—and that’s not hard to believe.
The nearby Farrellton Artists’ Space is a non-profit, artist-run cooperative that provides studio space for around 20 members involved in the development of local arts and culture. In the heart of the village you’ll find hand-crafted, ceramic pottery by two resident potters at McKenzie Marcotte Galerie Poterie, and Wakefield Artisans Galerie offers an array of local creations that includes paintings, crafts, jewellery and sculpture, all curated from fine artisans.
Live music has been drawing people to Wakefield, courtesy of The Blacksheep Inn, for over two decades. The modest pub and relatively small stage at the Blacksheep has become a favourite for many of Canada’s top indie rock, folk, blues and jazz acts. The vibe of a Wakefield concert is a hard departure from the rowdy, downtown night clubs—here you sit down, mellow out and enjoy the tunes.
With Canadian and international entertainers appearing at the Inn every weekend, open-mic Wednesday nights at Kaffe 1870, and free-music Thursdays at Le Hibou, fun evenings and award-winning food are always on the menu in Wakefield.
While Wakefield is a very small town, it has its own elementary school and hospital, so it’s a livable village for families.
The real estate market around Wakefield abounds with opportunities. A vacant lot on or around the waterfront in the La Pêche area can be had for a very reasonable price to build a dream home or cottage. The housing market offers up everything from shacks to farm houses to mansions, so no matter your price point, there is a home to be found.
For those looking for a short-term stay, the rental opportunities are excellent. A bit of time spent online can land you a beautiful cottage, cabin or even a houseboat to call your own.