The Fairfields: A History

The Loyalists Defined

Loyalists: For the British government in Canada in the 1784, Loyalists were those people who had shown their loyalty to the Crown by coming north into Canada
  • to serve the British cause
  • or to find safety within British territory
before the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783.

These were the people eligible for provisions and relocation to new wilderness townships where the men would be assigned land as the basis for newly established lives.

A Loyalist Family Comes to Canada

Before the war, William and Abigail Fairfield were farming in Pawlet, Vermont. In July 1778, William went to Canada to avoid re-arrest for refusing to serve in the rebel army or to sign allegiance to the rebellion. He served as a pensioned volunteer associated with Jessups Corps. In his 1784 Memorial, William stated he had been "constantly employed in scouting Parties and in Cutting Wood for his Majesty's Service."

In July 1779, Abigail Fairfield with their seven children left the Vermont farm and joined three other Loyalist wives with fifteen more children to travel north to the British line. For Abigail and her children, the trip ended at the large refugee establishment at Machiche, on the St. Lawrence west of Trois Rivieres. Machiche offered shelter, provisions, and a school. Abigail and her growing family remained at Machiche for at least three and a half years.
Map locating Pawlet,Vermont,the refugee establishment at Machiche,Quebec, and the east end of Lake Ontario where Loyalists settled.

The Fairfields' Path from Pawlet, Vermont to Cataraqui Township No.2.

The Fairfields Build a New Life

After the war, the British government relocated hundreds of Loyalist families in the wilderness west of the long settled area of Quebec. Nine townships were surveyed along the St. Lawrence River and five at the eastern end of Lake Ontario. Batteaux loaded with Loyalists and supplies started moving up the St. Lawrence in June 1784. At their new townships, men were given grants of land to convert to farms.

As Loyalists, William Fairfield, Abigail, and nine Fairfield children came to Cataraqui Township No. 2, the second township on Lake Ontario west of the Cataraqui River. Cataraqui Township No. 2 was renamed Ernestown Township upon formation of Upper Canada in 1791. Among the lots William Fairfield received in 1784 was Lot 37 on the lakefront. The October 1784 muster records William as “on his land” with 2 acres cleared.

By 1793, the Fairfields had added the farmhouse that would be the homestead for the family for 180 years. The house reflects the traditional building practices of artisans from inland New England, who had learned their skills before 1775 when war interrupted civilian lives. Building materials – limestone, white oak, white pine, and cedar – were all at hand. Forest dominated Fairfield's acres. The white oak post-and-beam frame was clad with pine clapboards and the roof covered with cedar shingles.

By the 1790s, the lakefront road joining Kingston with the farms and settlements to the west passed in front of the Fairfield farmhouse. Minor modifications to the east front room of the house allowed the Fairfields to take advantage of their location to operate a licenced tavern, starting in 1802. Otherwise, the Loyalist house remained with little physical change until the 1860s.

In 1805, William gave the farm to his son Stephen. The house was the home for William, Abigail, Stephen with his wife and two children. Stephen both farmed and kept the inn. The house passed to Stephen's son, Harmon, who occupied it from the 1830s until his death in 1891.

By 1860, Harmon no longer operated an inn or tavern. The verandahs were built across the front of the house and new bedrooms added over the kitchen. Several of Harmon's children lived on the farm for their lifetimes. His son Thomas, with his wife Torie, returned to the house for retirement.

20th century artist's view of Fairfield House and barn

The Fairfield Homestead, as it was from the 1860s to the 1960s.

Into the Twentieth Century

The family eventually lived at the house on a seasonal basis, while tenant farmers used the land and barns.

In 1959, Thomas and Torie's son, Dr. William Fairfield, and his daughter, Elizabeth Fairfield, both of Lethbridge, Alberta, generously donated Fairfield House and some of the original Loyalist land grant to the Province of Ontario for preservation. The Fairfields had life use of their homestead.

Under the administration of the St Lawrence Parks Commission, Fairfield Park was formed by redirecting Hwy 33 to the north of the house in 1960. The Park was established as a day-use park and Fairfield family members continued to live in the House seasonally until 1973.

Projects for the stabilization of Fairfield House for its preservation and presentation as a heritage site began in the late 1970s. The aims were to preserve as much of the original fabric of the house as possible to reflect the work of the Loyalist builders and the changes the family made during the first 100 years of life in the house; changes made in the twentieth century would be removed.

On September 27, 1984, after officially opening the newly designated "Loyalist Parkway", the Queen became the first visitor to Fairfield House.

The St Lawrence Parks Commission operated the Park and the House through 1989. Finally, in 1999, the property was transferred from the Province to the Municipality of Loyalist Township,(formerly Ernestown Township).

Royal Visitors on Upper Veranda
Royal Visitors on Upper Veranda

For more recent history of Fairfield House, please see the "About Us" page.
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Site last updated: May 2021