Pioneer families come together for reunion
On Aug. 26-27, members of two of Gatineau Valley’s pioneer families — the Maxwells and Browns — gathered to celebrate their shared history. The weekend celebration was organized by Jeffrey Brown, whose paternal grandparents, George Brown and Emma Maxwell were raised in Wakefield. Since 2019, Jeff has connected the diaspora of these families through a genealogy-focused Facebook group that now numbers 172. A particularly special attendee was Eva Schmidt (nee Verweij), who travelled from the Netherlands to visit the grave of her newly found birth father, Leslie Young, at Rupert Union Cemetery. Young served in the Cape Breton Highlanders during the Second World War, and Eva was born from a brief romance during the Liberation of Holland. Young returned to Canada not knowing he would be a father, and died of tuberculosis at the military hospital in Kingston in 1948.
Eva learned of her Canadian father at age 11, but it was only recently that, with the help of researchers and DNA evidence, she identified him. As his father died when he was two, Young was raised by his stepfather Roger Brown, who lived near Brown Lake.
The weekend festivities began with a Friday “pub night” at the Wakefield community centre on Aug. 26. Located on land that was once part of pioneer Thomas Brown’s farm, the centre’s lobby hosted an evening of drinks, snacks and musical entertainment from the Fiddlaires. The next day began with a virtual hike of trails west of Wakefield. Led by Ken Bouchard of Wakefield Trails, attendees returned to the days when the trails were roads used by farmers, and the forests were farms worked by families with names like Brown, Trowsse, Kingsbury and Moffatt. After lunch at Vorlage, Marc Cockburn of the Gatineau Valley Historical Society led a village walking tour. The tour included reminiscences of past residents of Burnside Avenue, to which the keen memory of Maxwell descendant Carolyn Côté (nee McGarry) contributed greatly. No one in the village seems to have been forgotten by Carolyn!
The reunion was capped off with dinner at Le Vignoble de Chelsea, which provided an ideal setting: a large outdoor patio and a spacious and rustic indoor dining area. Guest speaker Gilbert Whiteduck shared his insights into the experience of the Anishinabeg people and their relationship with area settlers. Perhaps due to their shared interest in the land, Whiteduck said they often got along best with farmers — the groups didn’t always agree, but they often understood one another.
The first Maxwells and Browns travelled from Ireland for a better life. They would be most pleased if they knew their descendants would come together almost two centuries later to celebrate their Canadian adventure.
Jeff Brown lives in Ottawa with his wife, Isabelle Panier, their children Benjamin and Marianne, and their rescue puppy Bongo. Since retiring from law in 2019, Brown has devoted much of his time to family and local history.