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Fairbairn House One Step Closer to Completion

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larger_fairbairn.3.jpg--December 13, 2010.

Thanks to the determination of a committed core of volunteers, the ambitious project to transform the historic Fairbairn House in Wakefield into a museum and heritage centre, in the works for several years now, is closer than ever to fruition.

The house, which was built around 1860 by Scottish pioneer and mill owner William Fairbairn, was badly neglected and threatened with demolition when it was acquired by the municipality and eventually moved to its present location.

larger_fairbairn.1.jpgDuring a recent visit by QAHN to Wakefield, Fairbairn's co-president, Michael Cooper, gave us a tour of the old house, now in its new setting overlooking the majestic Gatineau River.

Cooper described the various phases of the project as it has evolved over the past few years. He spoke of the efforts, still ongoing, to raise the thousands of dollars within this little community that are still needed to complete the project.

He described the preparation of the new site for the house on the east side of the river, and the pouring of a new foundation; the transportation of the building from its former location on the west side of the Gatineau River to its new home on the east side, near the covered bridge and adjacent to Hendrick Park; and the recent complete restoration of the exterior of the house.

larger_fairbairn.2.jpg"The house had about six inches of clearance when it passed under the electrical wires during the move across the river," Cooper laughed. "But it was sure something to see!"

The most recent stage of the project, Cooper explained, was the restoration by professionals of the house's exterior, completed earlier this year.

Any visitor to the house will attest to the quality of the work that has been done -- right down to the authentic decorative mouldings that adorn the wraparound balcony and the flawlessly integrated modern ell at the back of the building. In fact, all of the important features of the original building have been carefully preserved.

larger_fairbairn.4.jpgAfter a quick tour of the outside, with its fresh coat of yellow paint and its smart grey trim, Cooper showed us the inside.

The building is much larger than it appears from the front. "We're looking at about $175,000 to renovate the interior," he said. "Plus another $100,000 or so to set up the exhibits."

larger_fairbairn.5.jpgSome rooms need to be completely gutted, Cooper explained. Walls need to be rearranged to create proper exhibition space, stairwells have to be modified to allow for proper headroom, and lighting and plumbing have to be added. A room at the back will be transformed into an archive and office. And there will be plastering, woodwork, and floors to refinish, as well.

larger_fairbairn.7.jpgThroughout the restoration process, Cooper emphasized, everything that can be saved of the old house is being saved.

This includes things like the prominent decorative fan over the front upper floor window, a feature that is so striking that it has been incorporated into the Fairbairn House's logo. It includes interior woodwork, such as the carved overhead beam leading up the main stairway, and the unusual lozenges that appear on woodwork throughout the house.

The transformation of this once derelict house into the Fairbairn House Heritage Centre certainly has a way to go yet. But the committee steering the project has accomplished so much already.

larger_fairbairn.6.jpg"We've got a determined group," Cooper said. "And yes, there's still a lot of money to raise. But we're hoping to be able to get a loan through the municipality, which is, after all, the owner of the building and property. Officially, we're just the managers of the site."

For more on the Fairbairn House, or to donate to the project, click here: