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John D. Dunfield’s Lumbering in the Ottawa Valley

John Dunfield spent a great deal of his adult life in the study of the Canadian Forests. In his later years, starting  in 1993, he began to set out his thoughts, knowledge, accumulated research and large collection of photos on the lumbering industry of the Ottawa Valley.  This huge undertaking resulted in 6 volumes, all self-published. Dunfield moved to Westmeath Township and helped build a family retreat in its pine and mixed forests along the river’s shoreline. The 188 acre property, co-owned with in-laws and friends, became known as CADS and is on the southern shore of the Ottawa River at Lake Colounge, adjacent to Malloy Bay. With his love of all things wood; of course he built, along with other members of the CADS family, the buildings all of logs cut from trees on the CADS property. Over his lifetime John built and lived in a number of log homes.

John’s son Tommy Dunfield, also a Westmeath resident, has generously allowed the use of his father’s books in this website. An attempt has been made to extract sections and photographs, with an eye towards the history and evolution of lumbering, both in Westmeath Township, and its Ottawa Valley neighboring jurisdictions, such as Western Quebec. This does not do justice to the volume of information that John Dunfield has brought together; but might encourage you to ask at your Upper Ottawa Valley library  or museum to take a fuller look at a volume or two. An extensive collection of Dunfield’s publications and research  material has been donated to the Pembroke Library.

About the Author (taken from the book cover)

John Davidson Dunfield

John Davidson Dunfield was born in Ottawa, Ontario after the First World War and spent his youth in Ottawa, Ont. and Davidson, Quebec. Enlisted in the Canadian Army in 1939 as a Sapper in the Engineers and discharged as a Lieutenant in the Infantry in 1945.

Married Caroline Cory of Ottawa and have a family of one girl and two boys, four grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

Attended the University of New Brunswick under the Veteran’s Act and graduated with a degree in Forestry in 1950. Worked 10 years with pulp and paper and lumber companies in New Brunswick, Ontario and Quebec, seven years with Dept. of Indian Affairs in Northern Ontario and completed a career with the Department of Forestry in Ottawa in the field of forest management and research.

Main hobbies have been building log cottages for the family property 120 km. northwest of Ottawa in Renfrew County adjacent to the Ottawa River. After retirement have written books on log building, family genealogy and an overview of 200 years of lumbering in the Ottawa Valley .

The Prosperity of Westmeath Township Tied to Lumber

To set the stage: Historic Westmeath Township’s side roads still feature large red brick homes, some now in derelict ruin or completely torn down, some beautifully maintained and others showing their age. They are the remnants of the “Glory Days” of the local farming period; roughly 1885 to 1915.  The farmers of Westmeath had a seller’s market – hay was a cash crop – oats as well; because so much fuel was needed to power the horse teams working in the lumbering industry. The farmers were the OPEC of the times. They were in the enviable position of being able to demand top prices for these commodities to fuel the horses and the lumbermen had no alternative but to comply. But like so many other economic bubbles; the prosperity the local farmers were enjoying while supplying the camps, would pass. The lumber was being depleted and teams of horses would be replaced by steam and later combustion engines.

The insatiable need for hay and fodder for the horsepower, (or the horses themselves), and the need for hauling into remote areas over trails often only passable in winter, meant that some of the operators set up their own farms and maintained some teams of their own. This is well apparent in the Alex Fraser’s Arklan Farm section.

Larry Cotton in his “Whiskey & Wickedness No.4, Renfrew County, 1825-1900” states: “Even as early as 1830, the lumbermen operating on the Bonnechere, Madawaska, Muskrat and other Upper Ottawa streams used two thousand sleigh loads of supplies a year. By 1850 is was not uncommon for fifty to seventy-five sleighs a day to pass a point on one of the colonization roads.”

Cotton goes on: “By 1841 a Perth newspaper describing Westmeath Township area noted that “many extensive lumberers raise a great portion of the produce consumed by the trade, from their own land, with hundreds of acres cleared in a block and under cultivation.”

Charlotte Whitton writes in the “A Hundred Years A-Fellin’, 1842-1942”:  “Hay in the “eighties” and “nineties”, in some of the up-country, ran to $40 per ton and instances were recorded where, with roads impassable and teams in, in the autumn, settlers collected as high as $100 for one ton.”

Charlotte Whitton’s “A Hundred Years A-Fellin’, 1842-1942.

To man and fuel such an industry was a formidable task. From hay to maple syrup, tools to barrels, countless provisions were needed and the farmers and craftsmen of the township and Valley found a ready market. This in addition to wages from the actual jobs of the industry resulted in prosperity in many quarters. Ambitious newcomers to the Valley used this as a huge stepping stone to being set-up in the new life.  But it was all staked on a diminishing resource.

With lumbering’s economic impact strongly felt by residents in the Valley, we turn to Dunfield’s 2nd volume Where have all the sawmills gone?, where he gives us a good overview of the sheer volume of lumber going out to market. One table in particular shows that in 1846 the Upper Ottawa River Area produced in White Pine the same as the whole St. Lawrence and Lake Ontario region. And in Red Pine it produced well above all other areas combined. Table from Great Britain’s Woodyard by A.R.M. Lower, 1973.

Dunfield’s review of the changes and innovations that have happened in the lumbering industry is set out in Chapter 3 in his 4th volume: “Forest Management”.

John Dunfield researched and wrote about all sides and areas of the Ottawa’s watershed. Here, from “Forest Management in the Ottawa Valley, Past & Present, Vol. IV, 2007″, he gives an overview of Pontiac County, in Western Quebec, lumbering and those areas further afield into the Upper Ottawa Regions. Westmeath Township men worked all over these areas. Dunfield knew the area well as Davidson, Quebec, was his mother’s childhood home and he spent his summers with his grandmother at Davidson. As a adult, the land he bought was located right across the river on the Ontario side.

John Davidson Dunfield’s Books on the Lumbering Industry in the Ottawa Valley:

Cover picture: Square timber raft below the Parliament Buildings. The red and white pine rafts were floated down the Ottawa and St. Lawrence Rivers from 1806 to 1906. Volume I, 1996, reprinted in 2004.
Cover picture: One of the last log drives on the Gatineau River by the Gatineau Boom Company. Pierre St. Jacques. Vol. III published 2002, updated 2008.
Cover picture: “Brag” Load of white pine. Vol. IV published 2007.
Cover picture: River drivers at the foot of Les Chutes on the Coulonge River before safety clothing was worn. Published 2001.