William Fairbairn and Jean Wanless (1790 – 1867)
Natives of Roxburghshire, Scotland, William Fairbairn and Jean Wanless immigrated to Canada with their children in 1817 and settled in Wakefield in 1834. At this time, there was no gristmill within sixty kilometers of the young community. Fairbairn, who had trained as a millwright in Scotland, saw an opportunity and built Wakefield’s first mill on a waterfall not too far from his family’s farm. The mill was the first serious piece of economic development in Wakefield and it contributed to the rapid development of the area. Not long after, William sold the mill to the MacLaren family and concentrated his efforts on carpentry. In his 70s, he built a large home for his family that now houses Wakefield’s local history museum and tourist centre “Fairbairn House.”
Jean Wanless was also a crucial member of Wakefield’s community. Having trained as a nurse she dedicated herself to helping those with medical needs. She travelled on foot and on horseback to her “scattered neighbours” who often lived many kilometers apart, in the 1830s and 1840s to provide medical attention.
Both community leaders, William and Jean’s shared headstone reads – “They builded better than they knew, who builded for posterity.”
Hans Stevenson (1853 – 1911)
Born and raised in Wakefield, Hans Stevenson was a descendant of one of the first twenty households to originally settle in Wakefield. As a young man the 1870s, Stevenson decided to leave home for McGill University to study medicine under Sir William Osler. Instead of remaining in Montreal and taking a position at a hospital, as was typical of the time, Stevenson decided to return to his community. For over 30 years he served Wakefield and the larger Gatineau Valley as their doctor, often facing incredibly harsh conditions in both transportation and practice.
Stevenson lived on chemin Burnside in “The Maples” which is now one of the more remarkable historic buildings in the village. His home also served as an office where patients could come and visit. In addition to this, it housed the switch boards for the phone lines of Wakefield. Seeing the importance of telephone communication for his practice, Stevenson was very influential in having phone lines put up in the Gatineau Valley. His involvement meant that Wakefield got telephone service in 1906, far earlier than much of Quebec, despite the village’s relative isolation at the time.
Near the end of his life, Stevenson took on Dr. Harold Geggie as his apprentice. Dr. Geggie would go on to serve Wakefield as a doctor for over 50 years and establish the Wakefield Memorial Hospital.
Dr. Stevenson passed away at the age of 58. Revered by his patients, local stories tell of “carriage after carriage” that came for his funeral at Hall Cemetery.
Annie Birdsell “Birdie” Robb (1890 – 1963)
Annie Birdsell Robb or “Birdie” was raised in Wakefield, on Burnside avenue. Her father, Jim Robb, worked as a river foreman with the Gilmour and Hughson lumber company. As a young woman, Robb initially began her own career as a school teacher. Unfortunately, she was eventually confined to a wheelchair due to her rheumatoid arthritis. Despite this, she continued teaching in other capacities, working as a private tutor for Dr. Harold Geggie’s children. In addition to this, she also took care of the doctor’s bookkeeping.
Robb made major contributions to the community of Wakefield as a writer and a historian. In 1959, she wrote the first history of Wakefield which has laid an indispensable foundation for the work of all other local historians to come. In addition to this, she was also a local correspondent for the Ottawa Journal.