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PREPARING A LOGGING CAMP

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Exploring for New Limits. Engraving from Picturesque Canada, 1882. (Source - Private collection)The original logging camps would start a cut by sending out bush rangers – like Cézar Paul for J. R. Booth on the Coulonge – who would determine the cut. Many former loggers give vivid accounts of their experiences in the bush. One of these was Henry Richard of Otter Lake:“Before the gang could go in to the cut wood, the lumber companies had to set up an office and build a keepover (a storehouse). This they did the winter before they planned to cut. They drew hay the year before because there were no roads and you had to get in when the swamps were frozen and the lakes were froze over. They stocked the hay, oats, prunes, raisins, flour, sugar and all the provisions. They had a man to mind the keepover. He had to turn the flour once a month. Perhaps there would be fifty to one hundred bags of flour and four to five thousand bushels of oats which they had to shovel from one end of the long bin to the other every three weeks to keep it from musting.

In the summer, an official and an agent would come up and they would walk the next winter’s bush where they were going to cut. Then the improvement gang would go in to do the construction work on the river – making the dam and clear the river so the logs could flow down to the mills… I would go up early in the fall to help build the camps. I used to work for Dan O’Leary quite a few runs… I was kind of a bush cat before I went there because I was learnt how to work in the bush from I was twelve years old. We could rig up our own axes and file our own saws… Dan O’Leary was a pure Irishman. He told me one day: ‘You know when I can’t get the Otter lake gang to come up and shanty with me, I’ll quit… I was forty years in different places but I never saw such a gang of men that knows how to do their work. I show them where to work and I have no more troubles.’”(1)Andy Brennan from Brennan’s Hill on the Gatineau also started working in lumbercamps when he was only thirteen, beginning as a skidder:“It took five days to go up to the camp with a team. The camp was about eighty miles north of Maniwaki. You had places to stay the night at first, but the last day was a long one: from five in the morning till seven at night, walking and walking with your team. And you had to work the next day. You had to produce your hundred logs a day or you didn’t last long. I still remember my first day coming up there, walking past piles and piles of logs all of three miles, from the river to the shanty.”(2)

The shanties were not only very isolated, but life there could be harsh and uncomfortable, as described in the song “Lake of the Cayamant” (a lake west of Gracefield on the Gatineau). Sometimes the discomforts were too great. There was a MacLaren camp on the northern part of the Lièvre River, to which Jack Plunkett, Ray Daly and Lloyd Spallin, all of Farrellton, walked with their teams. They were appalled with the working conditions of this camp, turned around and walked their teams back home. It took them another week to get back to Farrellton.

End Notes:
1. Harry Richard, Interview with V. Crawford. Vibert Pavillon Tales, 1983.
2. Andrew Brennan, Interview with G. Lambton, July 1983.