“The early explorers were in search of gold, but they found trees; and the earliest exports from the New World to the Old World were products of the forest. Such products have continued for more than four hundred years to be of conspicuous importance.”
This quote is taken from History of the Lumber Industry of America, Volume 2, by James Elliott Defebaugh (1906), U. of Toronto Open Library. It introduces the concept that wealth generation from natural resources lies at the core of Canada.
We are indeed “Hewers of wood and drawers of water“; meant to be workers at menial tasks, in its original context in Joshua 9:21 …Then Joshua called for them and spoke to them, saying, “Why have you deceived us, saying, ‘We are very far from you,’ when you are living within our land? “Now therefore, you are cursed, and you shall never cease being slaves, both hewers of wood and drawers of water for the house of my God.”
To the Township of Westmeath it did not mean cursed slavery but vast opportunity. You work with what you have; and the early pioneers had a land with trees, and lots of them – enough to build an economy.
Every early township family had members who participated in the lumbering industry in some manner. Two local Upper Ottawa Valley Timber Barons, Alex Fraser and George Bryson, were early big employers and their ranks were augmented by other barons from the City of Ottawa and area, who were operating in the Upper Ottawa Valley all through the river’s large drainage basin. This was extremely dangerous work and local newspapers every week had new stories of calamity.
World events far away from the affairs of Eastern Ontario, aligned in such a way that the Lumbering Industry began here and quickly grew into a major force for economic development.
Two major historic events on the world stage, led to the growth of the industry in Canada:
The beauty and promise of the developing Ottawa Valley, although not all surveyed, lead one enthralled visitor, W.H. Smith, one of the earliest of “almanac-ers” to write:
At first the timbers were usually individually driven down the tributaries of the Ottawa and then assembled into cribs of about 25 logs on the main river. Westmeath Township, surrounded on three sides by the Ottawa had its huge white pine taken out to the river and left on the ice awaiting spring breakup.
The fortunes of communities all along the Ottawa River were fastened to the lumber industry. The companies had power as the biggest employers and politicians of all stripes worked to keep the gears of industry turning.
In John D. Dunfield’s “200 Years of Lumbering in the Ottawa Valley“, he writes:
At Quebec City, the timber were sold by their owners to merchants working on behalf of British interests and in many cases rafts were left until the following year because of poor markets and low prices. Many owners went into receivership because of these conditions.
During the 1899’s most of the square timbers were loading onto sailing ships through trap doors in the bow with the aid of a block and tackle while coal burning ships later loaded the timbers over the decks into their holds. In some years there were inventories of 40 million cubic feet of squared timbers and if it were sawn into lumber of one-inch in thickness and 12 inches in width the product would circumvent the world three times or produce 75,000 miles of boards.
It is difficult to understand the scale of the enterprise the lumbering industry had grown to in those early years. Charlotte Whitton in her book for the Gillies Brothers “A Hundred Years A-Fellin’, 1842-1942″, writes:”
“The Renfrew Mercury, July 7, 1871, reported thirteen rafts of 1173 cribs (containing 1,806,950 cubic feet of timber) as running through the Chaudière slide at Ottawa, in four days at the end of June. Ottawa City’s seven ills produced lumber values at $1,564,000 with nearly 1200 men working, and the census divisions of Prescott, Lanark and Renfrew on the Ontario side and of Ottawa on the Quebec side, were in the first rank of all census divisions in Canada in one or other aspects of timber and lumber production. By 1874, the cut in the Valley was 25,000,000 cubic feet of square timber and 423,750 board feet of sawn lumber and deals.” (A deal was a plank of 2 or 3 inches in thickness.)
The raft was a coupling of many cribs and it required squared sticks of equal length – thus resulting in this being a very wasteful use of the forest resource as so much was left behind to be fuel for the next forest fire. The geometry of the raft has been well described by this excerpt from Charlotte Whitton’s book for the Gillies Brothers “A Hundred Years A-Felling’, 1842-1942, now out of print, but available in used book stores or in libraries. This writer has not seen a better description of the anatomy of a squared timber raft.
The Dominion Government applauded the role that the timber trade played in the country’s development seeing it as the avenue for a new immigrant to gain a foothold; as stated in this 1886 Government publication:
An Overview of the Logging Industry: Logging in the Ottawa Valley – The Ottawa River and the Lumber Industry.
The media of the 1800s used the honorific Timber Baron for the men who dealt in the squared timber trade – the earlier part of the lumber industry when great rafts of squared timber were floated down to the seaport at Quebec City. The last raft of squared timber was sent out to market by J.R. Booth in 1908. Later, (after 1900 ), the title Lumber King was used for those owners of companies, which brought out the logs and sent them to company mills to be turned into lumber. In some cases the Lumber Kings were the sons of the Barons.
In this 1875 Limits Map, Crown Timber Office these men’s names are shown and serves to bring home the vast resource of timberlands then in their hands.
This edited listing of Barons, (only those operating in the Ottawa Valley), comes from James Elliott Defebaugh’s 1906 book, HISTORY OF THE LUMBER INDUSTRY OF AMERICA, which because it was written at a time when this slice of history was current, presents one of the best slates of the lumbering businessmen of the Ottawa Valley. Chapter 12, Ontario-Early History, from the book, is worth a read by those who want more detail on the history of timber limits and Crown Timber Regulations. By 1906 the era of the Barons was passing and many of them were in old age or deceased. These men are included on this website because men from Westmeath Township worked on the limits licensed by these men, all over Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec. Local men worked north into the Temiskaming area and Nippissing District and as far west as the French River. Defebaugh writes:
“The Ottawa Valley includes sections of both Ontario and Quebec, the river forming, as it does, the boundary line between the two provinces. Some Ottawa lumbermen have had their chief holdings in Quebec waters, while some residing and having mills on the Quebec side of the river have had timber holdings in Ontario. From some standpoints the history of the Ottawa Valley, without regard to provincial lines, would have been more desirable.
The town of Pembroke, about one hundred and twenty miles up the river from Ottawa, was founded in 1828 by Col. Peter White, a native of Edinburgh, Scotland, who was for many years one of the principal timber merchants of the Ottawa Valley. His sons have been actively engaged in the lumber business and by their enterprise have done much to build up their native town. Hon. Peter White, born at Pembroke August 30, 1838, after receiving a business training from an Ottawa mercantile firm, entered into partnership with his brother, Andrew T. White, now deceased, as A. & P. White, and for many years carried on an extensive lumber business which is still continued under the firm name. Mr. White is known best, perhaps, as an active politician. He was elected to Parliament in the Conservative interest for North Renfrew in 1874 and, with the exception of a brief interval, represented the constituency steadily until 1896. He was chosen Speaker of the House in 1891 and held that position during a parliamentary term, until 1896, in which year he was defeated in the general election. He carried the constituency again in 1904. Mr. White is a member of the Privy Council of Canada, to which he was called in 1897. He is a director of the Pembroke Lumber Company and is prominently identified with many local commercial enterprises. His brother and business partner, Andrew T. White, was also in public life and for some time represented North Renfrew in the Ontario Legislature.
William Mohr, a prominent figure in the early lumber trade of the Ottawa Valley, died at his home in the township of Fitzroy, near Renfrew, Ontario, in May, 1903, in the ninetieth year of his age. His operations were confined to the square timber trade. He took many rafts to Quebec, his transactions sometimes reaching 750,000 cubic feet in a season. He operated on the Quyon, Bonnechere, Petawawa, Du Moine and Madawaska rivers, where year after year he regularly made his trips to the shanties.
The late Boyd Caldwell, of Lanark, Ontario, came to Canada from his native place in Renfrewshire, Scotland, in 1821 with his parents, when only three years of age. For about fifty years he was engaged in the export timber business, but in 1867 became more extensively concerned in the manufacture of woolen goods. Boyd Caldwell died in 1888. The firm of Boyd Caldwell & Co., of which he was the founder, is still extant, having recently been incorporated, with his son, Thomas Boyd Caldwell, as president. In addition to its extensive woolen mills the company operates a large planing and sawmill.
Allan Gilmour, a member of a family that in the early days was extensively engaged in the square timber trade and is today prominently represented in lumber manufacturing, was born in Lanarkshire, Scotland, August 23, 1816. In his early youth he went to Montreal, where he entered the employ of William Ritchie & Co., wholesale merchants. In 1840 he and his cousins, James, John and David Gilmour, assumed the business. Shortly afterward they engaged in the production of square timber for the Quebec market, and in 1853 Allan Gilmour took up his residence in Ottawa, which became the headquarters of Gilmour & Co. The firm acquired large sawmills on the Gatineau, Blanche and North Nation rivers, tributaries of the Ottawa, as well as steam mills at Trenton, on the Bay of Quints. Allan Gilmour retired from business in 1873 and died in 1895.
The death of Thomas Cole, of Westboro, Ontario, in 1904, removed one of the pioneer lumbermen of the Ottawa Valley. Mr. Cole was born in Devonshire, England, in 1820. He went to Canada when still young, and was attracted to the lumber business, first locating at Papineauville, Quebec, taking out square timber. Some years later he became a partner of the late James MacLaren, of Buckingham, Quebec, J. C. Edwards and Daniel Cameron in a firm which acquired the Gilmour timber and sawmill interests on the Nation River. The firm did business at the North Nation mills until 1878, when, through the death of Mr. Cameron, the firm wound up its affairs. Mr. Cole left a wife, four sons and five daughters.
The founder of the large lumbering business now carried on by McLachlin Bros, at Arnprior, Renfrew County, Ontario, was Daniel McLachlin, one of the pioneer lumbermen of the Ottawa Valley, who established it over sixty years ago. He was an important factor in the public and commercial life of his day and represented his constituency in the Canadian Parliament.
In 1853 Daniel McLachlin purchased the water powers at the mouth of the Madawaska River and the land on which the town of Arnprior now stands, and in 1857 moved up from Ottawa to Arnprior with his family. In 1866 he erected the first sawmill in that place to saw lumber for the American market. In 1869 he retired from business, leaving the work to be carried on by his three sons, Hugh, Frederick and Claude, under the style of McLachlin Bros. He died in 1872.
During the last quarter of a century McLachlin Bros, have cut an average of 60,000,000 feet per annum. The firm has operated for years on the Madawaska, Bonnechere, Petawawa, Kippewa and Black rivers and other tributaries of the Ottawa River, at present furnishing employment to about a thousand men.
Claude McLachlin died in New York April 19, 1903. He was the youngest son of Daniel McLachlin and was born at Ottawa in 1854.
William Mackey was a prominent figure for over a half century in the lumbering trade of the Ottawa Valley. He came to Ottawa, then Bytown, from his native country of Ireland in 1S42 and secured employment in the construction of the first government slide built at the Chaudiere, and was subsequently engaged in improvement work and lumbering on the Upper Ottawa under Hon. James Skead. In 1850 he went into business on his own account and about this time formed a partnership with Neil Robertson which lasted for twenty years and was terminated by Mr. Robertson’s death. Their early operations were conducted in the Madawaska country at a time when the square timber trade was at its height. They made money rapidly until the depression set in. In addition to the square timber operations they had a sawmill on a limit at Amable du Ford. When they experienced some reverses Mr. Robertson wished to withdraw from milling operations and to give up his share in the limit as an unprofitable venture. Mr. Mackey’s faith in the future of the industry, however, was unshaken, and he relieved his partner of any obligation as to this feature of their business and secured the entire control of the Amable du Ford limit. After the market recovered he took from the limit annually large quantities of timber and eventually disposed of it for $65,000. Mr. Mackey retired from active business in 1902 and sold out his limits and other lumbering property to J. R. Booth for $655,000. He died a few months afterward.
John R. Booth, of Ottawa, Ontario, went there in 1852 and leased a small mill. He now owns about 4,250 square miles of timber limits— sufficient timber land to make a strip a mile wide reaching across Canada from the Atlantic to the Pacific. In one of his mills 600,000 feet of lumber is produced daily and between 1,500 and 1,600 men are given employment directly or indirectly.
Mr. Booth built the Canada Atlantic and the Ottawa, Arnprior & Parry Sound railways, with 400 miles of main line and 100 miles of siding. He also founded a line of steamers, built car shops and created other extensive interests. In 1904 he erected a pulp mill at the Chaudiere. Mr. Booth has also a distributing yard and planing mill at Burlington, Vermont.
Alexander Fraser, of Ottawa, one of the leaders of the square timber trade, was the son of Hugh Fraser, a Highlander who served in the War of 1812 and afterward settled at a point near Ottawa, where Alexander was born in 1830. He embarked in the lumbering industry and in 1853 took out his first raft of square timber on Black River. His career was successful from the start, and his operations rapidly increased until during the ’70’s he had frequently a dozen or so rafts simultaneously on the way to market. He was known from the headwaters of the Ottawa to Quebec. He was a man of great energy and determination of character, was possessed of a keen foresight and sound business judgment and often by tacit consent was accorded a leading part in the management of large enterprises in which he was interested. He was one of the founders of the Bank of Ottawa, the Lachine Rapids Hydraulic Company and the Ottawa Trust & Deposit Company and was also heavily interested in the Upper Ottawa Improvement Company and the Keewatin Lumber Company.
Mr. Fraser sustained great reverses from time to time, but his strong financial standing enabled him to bear them easily. In 1895, upon his retirement from active business, his sons, J. B. and W. H. A. Fraser, organized the Fraser Lumber Company. Mr. Fraser died June 1, 1903, aged seventy-three years.
Hon. Erskine Henry Bronson, of Ottawa, was born at Bolton, New York, in 1844. His father, Henry Franklin Bronson, moved to Ottawa, then By town, in 1853, and built on Victoria Island, in the Ottawa River, the first sawmill which shipped lumber from Ottawa to the American market. The venture prospered and grew and many fortunes were made in the trade. At the age of twenty-one the younger Bronson entered his father’s business, familiarizing himself with all of its details. In 1867 he was given an interest in the business, which was afterward incorporated as the Bronson-Weston Lumber Company. The cut for twenty years averaged 50,000,000 feet of lumber annually and one season it amounted to 85,000,000. The mill went out of operation in 1898, but the company still owns large areas of timber lands. Mr. Bronson is president of several industrial companies. He represented Ottawa in the Provincial Legislature of Ontario between 1886 and 1898, and for some years was a member of the Liberal administration.
Robert Hurdman, of Ottawa, was the youngest and surviving member of the original Hurdman family, consisting of five brothers, William, Charles, John, George and Robert, who were prominently identified for a half century with the lumber trade of the Ottawa Valley. Their father was Charles Hurdman, who emigrated from Ireland in 1818, and settled in Hull Township.
Robert Hurdman was born in 1830, and in connection with his brothers operated extensively in the square timber trade on the Petawawa River, Ontario, their first operations being in 1866. In 1872 limits were purchased in the Kippewa district, and in 1879 they began to get out logs on contract for the mill owners, in the same year forming the partnership of Sherman, Lord & Hurdman. The firm operated the old Crannell mill in the Chaudiere district, the logs being cut by the Hurdmans on their limits. A limit was also purchased that year in the Coulonge district. Several changes and reorganizations in the personnel and style of the partnership subsequently took place. In 18S6 the name was R. Hurdman & Co., Mr. Hurdman acting as manager of the mills. The concern afterward embraced other interests and in 1891 became the Buell, Orr, Hurdman Company. Mr. Hurdman, however, had large lumbering interests outside of the company’s operations and dealt extensively in timber limits, accumulating considerable wealth. He entered into partnership with the Shepard & Morse Lumber Company, of Boston, to operate his limit in the Kippewa district. After the dissolution of this partnership he purchased limits from the Bronson Company, at Deep River, which he sold to Fraser & Co. A few years ago Mr. Hurdman bought from R. H. Flock & Co. the limits at Ross Lake in the Kippewa district which he operated with the help of his son until the time of his death. He died May 4, 1904, aged seventy-four years.
The business of Gillies Bros. Company, Limited, was founded in 1873, by James, William, John and David Gillies, sons of the late John Gillies, who at one time carried on extensive lumbering operations at Carleton Place, Ontario, in partnership with Peter MacLaren. The Gillies brothers bought a sawmill plant at Braeside, Ontario, which has been enlarged and improved until at the present time they manufacture about 40,000,000 feet of lumber yearly, in addition to their output of shingles,*lath, etc., giving employment to about a thousand men in the mills and the bush. They hold about one thousand miles of timber limits, partly in Ontario and partly in Quebec, on the Coulonge, Petawawa and Montreal rivers and Lake Temiscaming. For the last thirty-five years the greater portion of their output has found a market in the United States. James Gillies is president of the company and is also head of the John Gillies Estate Company, manufacturer of gasoline launches and sawmill machinery at Carleton Place.
George H. Perley, of Ottawa, is the son of William G. Perley, one of the pioneer lumbermen of the Ottawa Valley. His native place is Lebanon, New Hampshire, and the date of his birth September 12, 1857. His business career began with his admission to the firm of Perley & Pattee, of which his father was the senior partner. At present he is head of the firm of G. H. Perley & Co., vice president of the Hull Lumber Company, and is also actively concerned in other industrial undertakings.
Mr. Perley is a public-spirited citizen and has taken an active part in charitable enterprises. He was chairman of the relief fund which distributed nearly a million dollars to the sufferers of the Ottawa fire in 1900. In politics he is a Conservative and on three occasions was nominated as candidate of that party for the House of Commons, being returned in 1904 as member for Argenteuil, Quebec.
These lumber companies needed vast amounts of beef and brawn – all supplied by the men from the Ottawa Valley who signed on. Wages earned by a man preparing squared timber were higher than for a regular lumberjack. Teamsters and their horses also earned good wages. Ready cash was not easy to come by so the lumber camps could always find willing lads who knew how to “put their backs into it”. Alan Soucie has produced a short video: Portaging the Supplies.
What follows is a compilation of articles or photos of lumbering, all with a Westmeath Township & Area perspective.
“Lumbering was the chief industry in the early days. The big pines were hewn, squared and made into rafts to be floated down the river. The river was a hive of industry in the spring, when rafts of lumber from Pembroke and points above, were floated down the river, through the numerous rapids. The Cribs were separated to run the rapids, then put together again and towed over the calm water. The steamboat “Pembroke” towed the rafts of timber from Mellon’s Boom to the head of the small rapids at the old Fort Coulonge, where if they were separated into cribs again and floated through the swift water to the foot of Calumets Island, where they were towed by another boat, and so on, till they reached Quebec, where the timber was loaded on a boat for overseas, mostly Britain.
Letters patent issued to the old Pembroke Navigation Co. Incorporated in 1897. The document was entirely hand-written.”
The following 6 photographs are submitted by Edgar White whose father and uncle, as young Westmeath lads, were jobbers in the lumber camps.
The township still has lumbering operations, run as small businesses. Many residents own a small woodlot so they can saw their own lumber on a small scale or prepare for the coming winter by logging enough wood for the wood stove or wood furnace of the house. One small sawmill operator was John Bromley of Bromley Line. John Bromley Saw Mill
No recounting of Westmeath History is complete without reading Evelyn Moore Price’s 1984 chapter on Lumbering in History of the Corporation of Westmeath Township. Her description of the process of preparing a “stick” can’t be beat. Alex Fraser established the Fraser Farm just upriver from the Village of Westmeath, not his son W.H.A. For more detail on the Frasers, see that entry in the Family Registry or in Timber Baron Alex Fraser.