An interesting ensemble of heritage buildings and other points of interest is located a short walk up Mill Road in historic Wakefield. Mill Road makes for a pleasant stroll as it winds its way uphill a short distance from the village alongside the La Pêche River, which tumbles down the slope to the Gatineau River.
The centrepiece of the MacLaren site is the historic grist mill. Built by Wakefield pioneer William Fairbairn in 1838, the mill was purchased by David MacLaren in 1844. MacLaren gave the operation of the mill on to his sons, James and John.
Severely damaged by fire in 1909, the mill was rebuilt the following year to about twice its former size. It remained in the family until 1943, when it was sold off along with other MacLaren holdings. In 1960, it was purchased by the National Capital Commission, which now leases it to private business interests who run the establishment as an upscale restaurant and inn, called the Wakefield Mill Inn and Spa.
Across the river from the mill is the MacLaren House, an elegant brick home with a large gable. Dating to about 1860, this house was home to several members of the MacLaren family and managers of the mill. It too was purchased by the National Capital Commission in 1960. For a time, it housed the local library and, later (for about a decade), the historical society. It is now a part of the mill complex and serves as a conference centre and residence for the operators of the inn.
Linking the grist mill to the MacLaren House is a small bridge and a dam which controls the flow of water down the river channel to the mill. The spot offers an excellent vantage point for looking at the mill.
Across the bridge is the old miller’s house. John Edmond, who milled for the MacLarens from 1868 to 1911, lived in this little wood-frame house during that time. The house was eventually purchased by Ken Young, who, with his brother Ernie, ran a small feed milling operation in a section of the old grist mill from 1943 to 1980. The Youngs were the last millers to work the MacLaren Grist Mill as a mill.
Continuing past the MacLaren House, up the hill and around a corner a short way, is the MacLaren Cemetery, the final resting place of a number of notables, including David MacLaren (1870), photographer Malak Karsh (2001), and Nobel Peace Prize winner and Canadian Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson (1972). The cemetery is situated on a promontory with a splendid view of the surrounding countryside.
National capital Commission / Historical Society of the Gatineau, Wakefield Walking Tour, 1984.
Norma Geggie, Wakefield Revisited, 2003.