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Wakefielders were on fire in the 2010s

September 20th,2023 | Opinion

If there is one thing I remember from reporting in the Hills during the 2010s, it was just how fired up everyone was about local affairs, in particular those in La Peche, where I was just getting my start by covering local politics.

It seemed like every week there was a protest, a rally or a fiery council meeting where police were called in to supervise as residents shouted at then La Pêche mayor Robert Bussière. 

I was on the La Pêche beat and I must admit that this was a dream for a young, hungry reporter. There was so much to write about — from civic issues to features of lively Hills characters, sports and anything “newsworthy” I could get my hands on. Living in Wakefield, I didn’t have to go far to find these stories. 

The 2010s were peak Bussière in La Pêche, when the mayor who vowed to “run this municipality like a business” also treated his elected position as as if he were the president of Wakefield. Bussière became the unofficial CEO of La Pêche by his own accord and began ramming his ideas down the throats of residents —  residents who pushed back hard. 

First it was the much-loved Gatineau River, which Bussière wanted to dump the region’s sewage into. Residents said “No way” and fought the mayor at several intense council meetings. These meetings were always so much fun to cover. I remember one meeting where Bussière dished out one of his insulting quips at Wakefield residents and they collectively chorused “Shame!” back at him in a theatrical performance that could have been written for TV. (I was sometimes referred to as simply “Low Down” at these meetings.) 

Bussière then took aim at the environmental campus Eco Echo, wanting to expropriate the pristine farm land to build his light industrial park. Residents – and then Wakefield councillor, the late Louis Rompré –  fought that move tooth and nail and won. Bussière may have got his StyroRail factory, but his idea for a light industrial park at the entrance to Wakefield was axed by residents. 

But it wasn’t just Bussière who threatened the way of life in the village. The extension of Hwy 5 between 2012 and 2014 saw dynamite crews blow up the hills across from Giant Tiger, which caused a decade of water issues for those living nearby. But the group Save Our Spring (SOS) Wakefield stepped up and put serious pressure on the province’s transport ministry — digging up environmental studies and calling out the government for its lack of transparency. A decade later, MTQ was fined $2 million for hiding crucial information about the threat to the nearby water table.

Back then, Wakefield really had a flair for the dramatic and it showed when residents did things like climb old-growth trees to protest the highway expansion or when they held a mock funeral for the Wakefield spring in 2012, when they were worried that nearby digging in a sandpit would contaminate their pristine water. 

Wakefield surely would be a different place these days if it weren’t for the many outspoken, courageous and proud residents who took a stand to preserve the things they love. 

Council meetings in La Pêche may not be as lively, but perhaps that’s a good sign. 

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