150 Years of History in the Hills
The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the January 11, 2017 issue. Reprinted with permission.
Loggers and swampers and jobbers in lumber's golden age
While we may think of the forests of the Gatineau Hills as beautiful places, it was their value as wood that brought people to settle the region. In the early and mid-1800s, when more accessible land along the Ottawa River was already taken, adventurous souls ventured up the Gatineau River to seek their fortunes. They established farms, logged the forests, and sent their lumber downriver.
From the time that Philemon Wright floated the first logs down the Gatineau River in the 1830s, logging has shaped the life and landscape of the Gatineau Valley. In the decades following, the winter logging camps drew workers to the region to earn a wage cutting timber.
It took many people to run the annual winter cut. The skill and effort of the loggers, swampers, teamsters, cooks, managers, chickadees, jobbers, and operators were all crucial to the success of a logging operation. Days were long, starting at or before dawn, and finishing after sundown.
One can only imagine what it was like living in a cabin with dozens of men for several months. The traditional meals of pork fried beans and other very fatty foods for energy every day is certainly different from what is considered 'healthy' today. Twelve-hour workdays, six days a week all winter long are unheard of now. Injuries were not uncommon, and if you were of no use to the company, you were simply sent home.
Roads were primitive, and transportation to and from the camps and depots was done entirely by horses. The camps themselves were built in early autumn the year previous to the operation. Equipment and supplies had to be moved in on the ice during the winter prior to the planned cut. From the time camp building finished until the cutting season began, the camps were used as 'keep-overs' to store the food, fodder, equipment, drugs, and 'van' goods, that had been hauled in by portage teams.
Horses were brought in to help with the timber cutting, which usually finished before Christmas. During the holiday season preparations were made for the 'loghaul' which began near the earliest date that ice was solid, usually in early January. If conditions were good, the haul was finished by the second week in March. The horses drew the saw logs to the closest drivable water, be it a creek, a river, or lake, and piled them on the ice and on the banks.
Edited excerpts from 'Gatineau from Cantley to Low' and 'Gatineau Valley North: Settled for Forests and Fortunes'.
The following pictures are scenes of shanty life, most likely at a logging camp in Western Quebec, circa 1950, as captured by Malak Karsh. Professionally known by his first name, Malak (1915-2001) was an Ottawa- and Cantley-based photographer and brother of photographer Yousuf Karsh. Photos Library and Archives Canada, copyright assigned to LAC by Malak Karsh. Mikan: 4730805, 4730812 . 4730811 4731362 4730809.