Reduce text size Increase text size
Reduce text size

Whimsical Wakefield

by Susan Campbell

I am thrilled to be aboard the H.C.W. Steam Train enroute to Wakefield from the old region of Hull in the city of Gatineau. My travelling companion and I are seated in our very own first-class fancy compartment car about to dig into a continental breakfast served with real china on crisp white linens. It’s like a scene from Orient Express. My grandmother Viola Fairbairn used to tell me about riding the steam train up to visit the family farm where she grew up. I am sure she’d be happy that I got to experience the billowing smoke, the haunting whistle, the rollicking motion – it was delightful. Soon we arrive to enthusiastic welcoming waves coming from the townspeople, but before heading off to explore, everyone stops to watch the engineers turn the massive engine around by hand via an ingenious giant turnstile.

(Note: Unfortunately, at press time the steam train was no longer operating this year due to track damage caused by heavy rains, but will resume operations in spring 2012.)
The once sleepy little farm town has become a hip, bohemian enclave attracting artists, musicians and nature lovers to its markets, craft shops and stunning natural surroundings

An eco-friendly, bohemian vibe

Though I had spent many summers as a child up in Wakefield at my great aunt Reta Fairbairn’s cottage across the river from town, I had not been back for over 20 years and was anxious to see how it had changed. I was pleasantly surprised at how much I recognized.

Most of the original heritage buildings had been beautifully restored and the bakery where we always stopped for hot homemade raisin buns was still there. The German inn where I tasted my first tiger tail ice cream (orange ice cream swirled with black licorice) was also still in business. The general store where I used to stock up on penny candy was still in its original location, but now remodelled into a full service grocery store with the addition of an eatery and scenic lookout on top. And now there’s also a “confiserie” offering homemade sweets of every ilk, and a little outdoor mall that houses the community water cooler café, called L’Hibou.

The vibe all around town is very bohemian – aging hippies and new age eco-geeks will love it as the community is into fair trade and farmer’s markets, art, pottery, and photography workshops, live theatre, and fitness. Organic food stores and recycling depots abound. Quaint little shops are stocked with artisanal gifts and crafts (think batik and macramé) and funky boutiques like the Burro Borracho (meaning drunken donkey) draw customers from as far away as Ottawa for their unique offerings.