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Philemon Wright and the group of settlers who accompanied him to Hull Township in 1800 intended to farm. Like early colonists in many parts of North America, they believed that once the trees were removed, the land would prove to be excellent for farming. Such hopes were unduly optimistic. Crop yields, satisfactory on freshly cleared fields, soon declined as essential soil nutrients were depleted. Wright surveyed the township into lots and came upon the edge of the Canadian Shield in the third range from the Ottawa River. With this discovery, he acknowledged the limitations of the area to which he had come with high hopes. Although farming resources were limited, timber was abundant and it was this latter resource which rapidly became the economic mainstay of the new settlement.

Throughout the eighteenth century, Britain had relied upon timber imports from New England and the Baltic countries. The American Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, however, eliminated these sources. British North America then assumed a privileged position and the Ottawa Valley became one of the principal sources of the squared timber needed to keep the Royal Navy master of the seas. The white and red pine growing in bountiful virgin stands in the Ottawa Basin was the basis of the timber trade in the first half of the nineteenth century. To be considered suitable for felling, the pine had to have a straight branchless trunk and to be three to five feet in diameter. Finished sticks, when squared, were twelve to twenty-four inches on a side and forty to fifty feet in length.

In the Gatineau Valley, the economic potential of the pineries was quickly exploited. In 1806, the Wrights took the first raft of squared timber from the mouth of the Gatineau River down the Ottawa and St. Lawrence Rivers to market in Quebec City. From this beginning, the enterprise grew rapidly and other lumber merchants were soon showing interest in the Gatineau resources. By the 1830s, lumbering had spread throughout the Gatineau Valley, although between 1832 and 1843, the “Gatineau Privilege” controlled forest operations in this area.

The “Gatineau Privilege” established definite limits and cut quotas for each of several timber merchants. The purpose of the arrangement, granted by the Crown Timber Office, was to prevent trouble among the various contenders for Gatineau resources. Ruggles Wright, Tiberius Wright, Christopher Columbus Wright, Peter Aylen, and Thomas McGoey were each allowed to take 2,000 sticks of red pine per year from the Gatineau, while George Hamilton and C. A. Low, Hawkesbury sawmill partners, were allowed 12,000 saw logs a year (changed in 1835 to 14,000 saw logs and 2,000 red pine sticks) for each partner.

Lumbering on the Gatineau was, therefore, monopolized by the “Gatineau Privilege” partners for over a decade. During these years, the partners were instrumental in opening up the area. By 1833, they had built rough roads ninety-three miles up the valley to approximately the present site of Maniwaki. The partners were responsible for the introduction of agriculture into the middle and upper Gatineau Valley.

After the granting of the “Gatineau Privilege” in 1832, they established depots throughout the valley. The depots were to serve as initial assembly points for crews heading into the bush and as distribution centres for supplies. Farms to produce feed and to provide summer homes for the draught animals used in the lumber camps (shanties) were usually operated in connection with the depots. The establishment of such farms reflected the transportation difficulties of the time. Lumbermen, spared the need to bring in expensive supplies from a distance, provided a ready market for all locally grown produce.

The peak of the Canadian square timber trade was reached in 1845 when Britain imported 800,000 loads (48 million board feet) of Canadian timber. In 1846, however, Britain shifted toward free trade, and by 1860, the last colonial preference had been terminated. During the 1850s, the Canadian lumber industry experienced considerable internal adjustment as the American market, seeking sawn lumber, replaced the British which had wanted square timber.

The monopoly of the “Gatineau Privilege” ended in 1843 with the passing of the Crown Timber Act. This act authorized the issuing of licenses for the cutting of timber on ungranted land. After 1843, limits in the Gatineau were sold at the Crown Timber Office in Bytown.

With the relaxation of regulations, the number of companies working the Gatineau forests multiplied manyfold during the second half of the nineteenth century. The harvesting of the Gatineau woods at this time was highly organized and the areas to be worked were selected at least a year ahead by a timber cruiser. At the end of each September, the lumbermen began the difficult journey by canoe and portage upriver to the season’s locations. The men gathered first at the depots before spreading out in groups of between 30 and 120 to the individual shanties. The shanties were located so that the men would not have more than three miles to walk to work in the bush and so that the teamsters would not have to haul logs more than four miles to a river or lake. Cutting was done during the winter months and the wood was driven or rafted to the mills starting with the spring break-up.

During the winter months, it was possible to take supplies up the valley using the rough roads along the river. The usual day’s travel for loaded sleighs was about twelve miles, and hostels, often operated on franchises from the lumber companies, came into being about twelve miles apart. Today’s Gatineau Valley settlements reflect this twelve-mile interval between nineteenth century stopping places. Hull, Chelsea, Wakefield, Low, Kazabazua, and Gracefield are spaced consecutively at twelve to thirteen mile intervals along the river.