In the Village of Wakefield, a short distance above the bridge that crosses the La Pêche River, on Highway 105, can be seen what’s left of the old Fairbairn flour mill and of the beautiful MacLaren House, dating back to 1860, and built in the neo-gothic style. The mill, changed into a first class Inn and Restaurant, stands close to the river bank and to the Mill Road Bridge. The MacLaren House, located on the opposite shore, is in an overhanging position, hooked on to the side of the hill that slopes gently towards the river1.
William Fairbairn built his flour mill in 1838. In 1844, two of David MacLaren’s sons, John and James, bought the property. Established in Wakefield since 1840, David had opened a general store at the junction of the La Pêche and Gatineau rivers. He seems to have been running a profitable business. This is probably why he was able to lend his sons the money they needed to purchase the flour and grist mill and to add a sawmill to the property2.
The MacLaren brothers’ decision to buy the grist mill and to build a sawmill came at the right time. The “Gatineau Privilege”, the exclusive right to cut timber on the Crown lands of the Gatineau River watershed, expired in the autumn of 1843, opening the door to new players in the lumber trade3. With their new sawmill, John and James were in a position to make money. They sawed wood on a commission basis for farmers in the immediate vicinity of Wakefield and, it is self-evident, for the benefit of their own business. They bought wood to supply their own sawmill and in the process set up a network of customers, contacts, and friends in the lumber industry4.
On the 13th of January 1848, James was married to Ann Sully. As a result, the doors of Hull Township’s well-connected families were opened up to him. His sister-in-law, Mary Sully, was married to Hull Wright, son of Philemon Wright Jr, and grandson of Philemon Wright Sr, the founder of Hull. His marriage facilitated the meshing of close links with members of the Wright family and with those who followed in their wake5. From 1853 onwards, James, more ambitious and energetic than John, started supplying saw logs to the Joseph Merrill Currier and Moss Kent Dickinson sawmill at the Rideau Falls6. His business dealings were so profitable that he was said to have bought out the shares of both R.W. Scott and Moss Dickinson in the firm controlled by Currier.7 A bit later, on July 4th 18668, John and James bought out the mills, works and water-powers of the MacKay Estate at the Rideau Falls9 In the meantime, Joseph Merrill Currier dropped out of the Rideau Falls sawmilling establishment altogether. He .turned his sights on Hull and became a partner in the new Wright, Batson and Currier steam sawmill built in 1868 on the site of today’s Canadian Museum of Civilization. And in the same year, he killed two birds with one stone by marrying Hannah Wright, daughter of Ruggles Wright and grand-daughter of Philemon Wright10. In so doing, he is draws nearer to James MacLaren who, just like him, was well-connected with Hull’s “Royal Family”.
At the beginning of the 1860s, John and James MacLaren diversified their Wakefield investments by adding a carding mill, a woollen mill and a brickyard to their enterprise. In 1877, fire destroyed the grist mill and the woollen mill, but everything was rebuilt. On May 17th 1910, however, fire struck again and destroyed all the buildings of the MacLaren family’s small Wakefield industrial nucleus. This time, the grist mill was the only one to be rebuilt, but in an enlarged version. A brick-veneer second storey was added on to the original stone wall construction11. The grist mill would be in operation until 1980.12 Nowadays, a first class Inn, Restaurant and Spa remind us in their own way of the industrial past of this historic site and of the humble beginnings of James MacLaren in the Outaouais’ forest industry.
Search the Web!
Read James MacLaren’s biography in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography online at:
Read Joseph Merrill Currier’s biography in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography online a:
Visit the web site of the Wakefield Mill and Spa at:
1 Courtney C. J. Bond, The Ottawa Country. A Historical Guide to the National Capital Region, Ottawa, The Queen’s Printer, 1968, p. 72-73.
2 Courtney C. J. Bond, Op. cit, p. 105. Also: Website
3 John W. Hughson and Courtney C. J. Bond, in Hurling Down the Pine, Chelsea, The Historical Society of the Gatineau, 1987, p. 35-36 et 38.
4 Refer to the biography of James MacLaren by Richard M. Reid at: Website
5 Patrick M. O. Evans, The Wrights: A Genealogical Study of the First Settlers in Canada’s National Capital Region, Ottawa, National Capital Commission, Second Edition, 1978, 535 p.
6 Refer to the biography of Joseph Merrill Currier by Donald Swainson at: Website
7 Lorne F. Hammond, Capital, Labour and Lumber: James MacLaren, Ottawa Valley Lumberman, 1850-1919, University of Ottawa, Ph.D. thesis in history, 1993, p. 87.
8 Lorne F. Hammond, Ibid., p. 90
9 John W. Hughson et Courtney C. J. Bond, Op. cit., p. 42, 44 and 51.
10 Lorne F. Hammond, Op. cit., p. 88.
PHOTO No 1
Source: Library and Archives Canada, C-64867. Photographer unknown.
Caption: The MacLaren mills seen from above the dam around 1870.
PHOTO No 2
Source: Pierre Louis Lapointe Collection. Photographer unknown.
Caption: Bird’s eye view of the Village of Wakefield, at the mouth of the La Pêche River, around 1876. On the opposite shore, in front of the Gatineau River, can be seen David MacLaren’s general store.
PHOTO No 3
Source: Library and Archives Canada, C-18612. Photographer unknown.
Caption: The small industrial nucleus of MacLaren’s Mills around 1890. On one of the river banks, a carding-mill, a wool spinning-mill, a gristmill and a sawmill, all powered by the hydraulic power of the waterfall; on the opposite bank, the brick-veneer exterior neo-gothic house built for James MacLaren around 1860.
PHOTO No 4
Source: Library and Archives Canada, NL 10403.
Caption: James MacLaren, around 1876
PHOTO No 5
Source: Library and Archives Canada, C-64876. Photographer unknown.
Caption: The MacLaren Mills carding-mill and wool spinning-mill staff being photographed for posterity around 1890.
PHOTO No 6
Source: Library and Archives Canada, C-64862. Photographer unknown.
Caption: The ruins of the MacLaren mills the day after the 1910 fire. The grist and spinning mills are a total loss. The grist mill is the only one to be rebuilt, and enlarged.
PHOTO No 7
Source: John W. Hughson et Courtney C. J. Bond, in Hurling Down the Pine, Chelsea, The Historical Society of the Gatineau, 1987, p. 52. Photographer: S.J. Jarvis.
Caption: The Edward’s mills and factories at the Rideau Falls around 1900, on the site of the Thomas MacKay mills built around 1848. Joseph Merrill Currier and James MacLaren will be tenants, in turn, of some of these installations.
PHOTO No 8
Source: Bank of Canada. National Currency Collection, item 1989, 0029, 00054, 000, a1, 2d0024.
Caption: Twenty-dollar bank-note issued by the Bank of Ottawa in 1903. James MacLaren’s photograph is at the centre. On the left is portrayed a log-driver at work and to the right is pictured a ship moored to a wharf with grain elevators in the background waiting to be loaded with wheat.