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Wakeham Sawmill Municipal Heritage Building

Placentia, Newfoundland and Labrador, A0B, Canada

Formally Recognized: 2006/08/19

View of loading doors, Wakeham Sawmill, Placentia.  Photo taken 2006.; HFNL/ 2006
Wakeham Sawmill, Placentia
The first engine used in the mill, started by cranking the big fly-wheel and adding gasoline; used for 40 years.  This engine was later replaced by a diesel engine.  Photo taken during Doors Open Placentia event 2006.; HFNL/ 2006
Original Engine, Wakeham Sawmill
Historic image of Mr. Bill Wakeham tarring the roof of the sawmill while it was in its first location in Petite Forte.  Photo pre 1940.; HFNL/ 2006
Wakeham Sawmill

Other Name(s)


Links and documents

Construction Date(s)


Listed on the Canadian Register: 2006/11/08

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place

Wakeham Sawmill is a two storey, hand cut wooden sawmill originally constructed as a fishing stage in Petite Forte and relocated to Placentia where it presently sits. The building is designed in a vernacular, industrial style and has numerous windows, particularly on the second floor. It is sheathed in narrow wooden clapboard and sits next to the Orcan River which once ran under the building. The designation is confined to the footprint of the building.

Heritage Value

Wakeham Sawmill has been designated a Municipal Heritage Building because of its historic, aesthetic and cultural values. Historically, this building is valued for its age and its varied uses. Originally constructed as a fishing stage in the outport of Petite Forte by John Wakeham in 1912, it was partially dismantled and transported onboard a schooner across Placentia Bay in 1942. It was reassembled at its current location in Placentia, where it housed a carpentry and sawmill business operated by brothers Cyril and Leonard Wakeham.

The mill was the center of business for the Wakeham brothers who ran multiple operations from the building and it was crucial to the boat builders of the area. The sawmill is also associated with the American resettlement of Inner Placentia Bay and the building represents one of the earliest relocated buildings before state sponsored resettlement.

Wakeham Sawmill retains the original structural and design features specific to its intended use as a fisheries building and for this reason it is aesthetically valuable. This design is revealed in its appearance as a vernacular, painted, wooden fisheries building exhibiting features of that form, as well as features reflecting its adaptive reuse as a carpentry business with an on-site sawmill. Modifications for the building’s second function included the addition of four windows on the upper south side; inserting a trap door in the floor for disposing of sawdust into the running river below; replacing two second storey windows with a double door; and erecting steps to the new door which have since been removed. The interior of the building retains its sawmill infrastructure (benches, machinery, hardware), as well as unfinished surfaces including exposed beams, rafters, timber walls and wood floors.

The “shored up” post and beam fishing stage foundation was maintained, and was well suited to the building’s use as a sawmill. At the time that Wakeham Sawmill was erected in Placentia, Orcan River flowed under the building such that logs could float from neighbouring Southeast to the sawmill. The boundaries of Orcan River have since been altered to protect low-lying Placentia, so Wakeham Sawmill now stands on dry land.

Part of the cultural value of Wakeham Sawmill lies in its status as a traditional fishing stage adaptively reused. Wakeham Sawmill also played a significant role in the local economy at its current location, as a site for processing a natural resource for commercial purpose, producing wood products for the local market. Wood was cut downstairs, while the second floor was used for making doors, windows, furniture, caskets, boats and other wood products. Wood from the mill was also used in the renovation and construction of other buildings in the area, both commercial and domestic, and by local boatbuilders.

Wakeham Sawmill also has notable community level status as a familiar landmark, and as a reminder of the former course of Orcan River. Furthermore, Wakeham Sawmill is the only building of its type remaining in Placentia proper. Today it still draws the older men of the community to its open doors as a community gathering place, much as a fisheries building would have experienced.

Source: Town of Placentia regular council meeting, August 19, 2006.

Character-Defining Elements

All those exterior elements that are indicative of the building’s age, vernacular design and historic functions, including:
-wood post and beam foundation;
-wood frame construction with narrow horizontal clapboard siding and vertical corner boards;
-painted exterior, including trims;
-simple door and window trims;
-mid-pitch roof with felt paper roofing;
-projection and simple trim of eaves;
-number of storeys;
-type, number, size and placement of windows and wooden doors, including trap doors in the walls and floor;
-its siting along the former course of Orcan River, related to its function as a sawmill



Newfoundland and Labrador

Recognition Authority

NL Municipality

Recognition Statute

Municipalities Act

Recognition Type

Municipal Heritage Building, Structure or Land

Recognition Date


Historical Information

Significant Date(s)


Theme - Category and Type

Developing Economies
Technology and Engineering

Function - Category and Type


Wood and/or Paper Manufacturing Facility


Architect / Designer



John Wakeham

Additional Information

Location of Supporting Documentation

Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador, PO Box 5171, 1 Springdale Street, St. John's, NL, A1C 5V5.

Cross-Reference to Collection

Fed/Prov/Terr Identifier




Related Places

Wakeham Sawmill, Placentia, NL.

Wakeham Sawmill Registered Heritage Structure

Wakeham Sawmill is a two storey, wooden, painted, vernacular building originally constructed as a fishing stage in Petite Forte, Newfoundland in 1912. The building was moved to…


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