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Staff behind the counter of MacLaren’s General Store, c.1900. (Photo - GVHS / Wakefield Revisited)Possibly one of the first enterprises of the MacLaren family on acquiring land from [pioneer] Joseph Irwin was the establishment of a general store. This stood facing the Gatineau River, downstream from the [MacLaren] mill complex. It started as “a small log building, where the owners rolled up their blankets when the day was done, and slept on the floor.” All roads led to its door, situated as it was at the junction of the main route leading to northern settlements and the road to the grist mill a few metres further up-river. It was equally popular with the loggers heading up to the lumber camps as it was with the farmers on their way to have their corn ground.

The store flourished; it was the place where farmers brought their freshly churned butter and their eggs to be bartered for other goods.

View of MacLaren’s Store and duplex residence for employees, c.1930. (Photo - GVHS / Wakefield Revisited)

The MacLaren General Store became the centre of all activity. From 1848 until 1912, it was the post office and also provided banking services. The store sold dry goods and groceries, fresh farm produce, and men’s clothing, boots, and shoes; in time it added the services of a tailor, a milliner, and a seamstress. In the 1890s, two young women from Kemptville, Ontario, came to fill these two latter prestigious positions. Miss Mildred Allen was head milliner, and a little later, on the retirement of Miss Jessie McKillop (who was marrying Foster Earle), Miss Edith Allen came to join her sister and fill the position of head seamstress. Their workshops were on the third floor of the store. Women came great distances to have their season’s wardrobes designed and made by the Misses Allen and their several assistants. Both young women married Wakefield men – Mildred became Mrs. George Earle and Edith, Mrs. Alex Austin – and they remained in the Village all their lives. MacLaren’s General Store was destroyed in a fire in 1941, after almost 100 years of business. It was not rebuilt.

To learn more about Wakefield village, read Wakefield Revisited, by Norma Geggie, available in local bookstores.