Since moving to Ottawa last year, my husband and I have explored Old Hull, Chelsea and other nearby places in Quebec. Our new favourite destination? Wakefield, Quebec. Just 30 minutes from downtown Ottawa, this village’s iconic Canadian experiences—from paddling in marshes to eating poutine on the banks of the Gatineau River—are the perfect respite from city life.
Must-see places in Wakefield
“What should I do in Wakefield?” I asked several local friends. Given the town’s small size, I was surprised by the long list of recommendations. The most popular must-sees were the mill and the covered bridge.
The Wakefield Mill Hotel and Spa is at an exquisitely renovated early 1800s flour mill. A romantic getaway to their eco-lodge and spa is on our to-do list but going just for Sunday brunch was worth the drive. Sitting by the window in the solarium of this heritage stone building offered a postcard-perfect panorama of MacLaren Falls.
Afterwards, we strolled up the pretty country road to MacLaren Cemetery to find the grave of Lester B. Pearson, Canada’s 14th Prime Minister. After several minutes wandering amongst settlers’ headstones from the mid 1800s, we found it near the bottom of a gentle hill. Visitors have left dimes, quarters and loonies on the headstone as a sign of respect.
At the other end of the village is the covered bridge, impossible to miss because of its distinctive character. The original 1915 bridge burnt down years ago but has been lovingly reconstructed. My husband and I strolled across and back, admiring the intricate lattice work above and gazing up and down the river.
Across the street from the bridge, is another must-see—the Fairbairn House and Heritage Centre. This 1860s farmhouse of William Fairbairn (founder of the old flour mill) is a trip back in time. Old family portraits line the walls, and the 1905 wedding picture of one of the Fairbairn children sits atop their cutter (a horse-drawn sled for winter travel). The massive 1875 family Bible is displayed along with other historic artifacts. The log cabin outside is a replica of the more modest dwelling the Fairbairns lived in after arriving from Scotland in 1834.
Wandering the Village
My favourite thing to do in Wakefield was to wander along chemin Riverside from End of the Line Boutique to the old Anglican church. The distance is roughly only a kilometre but packed with art galleries, boutiques, restaurants, pubs and historic churches.
There are too many unique places to mention but I was particularly drawn to Khewa, a boutique whose mission is to preserve the culture of Indigenous people, with its wonderful assortment of moccasins, silver bracelets, Indigenous art and so much more.
Galerie d’art Riverside is a new addition to the strip. The two separate times I visited, local artists were painting on the front porch. Painter Colleen Grey invited me to paint a bookmark. My artwork looked like a toddler’s but we joked about doing an art exhibit together in the future. This two-story gallery also has an art-filled backyard where you can enjoy a coffee and biscotti from their café.
So far, we’ve only scratched the surface on the food scene. At Nikosi, my husband and I ate the best poutine (and trust me, we’ve eaten a lot of poutine) as we watched people canoe, paddleboard, and swim across the water.
This one had dried cranberries and a substantial leg of duck, in addition to the traditional fries, cheese curds and gravy!
Another time, a friend and I ate at Café Pot-Au-Feu, on the pretty terrace of the renovated train station. As I tucked into my perfectly crisp latkes with sour cream and lox, groups of people cycled or walked by on the old railway line, now a recreational trail.
Adventure for all levels in Wakefield
Cycling and walking are popular in Wakefield and no wonder. The area attracts braver souls too. I rejected a friend’s suggestion to zipline at Great Canadian Bungee—the highest bungee jump in North America—even though the turquoise-coloured beach at this quarry does look pretty.
A friend and I rented a pedalo at Éco-Odyssée (more our speed) to explore the marsh instead. Manager Olivier Rocheleau-Leclair showed us an aerial view of the water and walking mazes in the hundreds of acres of fields, forests and marsh before we took off in our pedalo.
The mazes are in the shape of a raven, one of the seventy bird species here. During our adventure, we were so captivated by the six wood turtles sunbathing on a log and a trio of playful red-winged blackbirds that we veered off course. It was a lucky mistake. Around the corner was a ruby-throated hummingbird perched on a cattail.
More Wakefield “Must-Sees” in our Future
There is still much to explore in future visits to Wakefield like the hiking trails that will soon be bursting with fall colours. There are also popular ski hills nearby and a vibrant night life—I hear The Black Sheep Inn and Kaffe 1870 have awesome live music. Our exploration has only just begun.
Header photo credit: Myriam Baril-Tessier (Photo received from Tourism Outaouais)