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The Log Drives

The “drive” has become an important piece of Canadiana. Everyone in the Ottawa Valley knows this iconic song “The Log Driver’s Waltz” by Wade Hemsworth, sung by Kate and Anna McGarrigle . Easily one of the most often-requested films in the NFB collection.  Sing along.

In the valley towns the driver’s let off steam and landlords and merchants made money. Not all the wages made it home to the family as this story from The Arnprior Chronicle in Charlotte Whitton’s “A Hundred Years A-Fellin’ 1842-1942″ describes:

Raymond Garceau’s documentary film

Some links to the Log Driver History:

“The lumbermen developed a reputation for being rough and at times troublesome.  Upon their return to Ottawa these men often became quite rowdy, and the bawls and damage to public property were common. Loggers often easily handed over much of their winter earning to merchants, barkeepers, and other shortly after their return to town. The Ottawa citizens may have viewed the loggers’ behaviour as disgraceful, but because all knew well that lumbering was then the lifeblood of the economy, they often turned a blind eye.” (Bytown Museum 1999).

The Notorious Walter Beckwith

Some Westmeath names became notorious for the mayhem and cruelty. Such was the name of Walter Beckwith (1765-1843) who bullied and fought his way into local history. He and his crew would take timber off both Crown and private land and fought any who challenged that.

“An Irish Catholic named Walter Beckwith, moved into the Township of Westmeath in the early 1830’s, intent on making his fortune in the square timber trade. Being a rather ruthless individual, he realized the rule of law in the Upper Ottawa was in reality, brute force. He decided to employ only Shiners in his operations, in deference to his close friend and ally, Peter Aylen. In return his Irish employees would fight anyone that posed a threat to Bechwith’s illegal activities. Bechwith made a practice of removing logs from public and private land without a timber license, permission of or payment. And he got away with it for more than a decade.

“During the 1830’s, Beckwith and his Shiner Employees were feared as much as Aylan’s gang in Bytown. Various lumbermen employed the toughest men they could hire to protect their interest and feed their egos. Beckwith hired a Scot named Gillespie, who was a feared brawler in the Valley, to hire his shanty crews. Before Gillespie would hire a man, the prospective employee had to fight him. Bechwith wanted only the toughest men in his employ.”

“Beckwith logged along the banks of the Muskrat River and Muskrat Lake, together with the Indian River. Legitimate Westmeath lumbermen such as David Beach and Caleb Bellows and Jason Gould and Spencer Allen of Ross had to be careful not to cross Beckwith and his ruffians.”

-From Larry Cotton’s “Whiskey & Wickedness, Vol. 4, 1825-1900, Renfrew County”.

Irish Stick Fighters from Ottawa Valley Stickfighters, believed to be Beckwith Shiners from the Foresters Falls – Roche Fendu area…. Taken from The Perth Courier, Nov.29, 1872, description & observations of the notorious “Whiskey Road” from Ottawa to Pembroke: “A lumbering village of some twenty houses eight of which are hotels. No church or meeting house but red rum in great abundance..murder is the business of the place.” and “In those days the only patent to a timber limit was a gang of fighting men, and the operator who had the most formidable men got the timber. It was in 1836 that the Shiners became the terror of all the lumbermen.”

The name Shiners is thought to have been  derivation of the French word “chêneur,” meaning cutter of Oak Trees.  The goal of the Shiners was to drive the French Canadians off the river drives and thus guarantee jobs and high wages to the Irish Canadians.

Beckwith was supposed to supply 30,000 feet of timber to Atkinson and Usborne for the navy in 1825, but actually cut 96,000 feet. Beckwith was caught and his timber was seized, but his case was exceptional only insofar as he was found out and prosecuted. For more, see Bob Serré article in The Caboose 1999.

Beginning in the spring of 1835, Beckwith’s Shiners started stopping timber rafts manned by French Canadians on the Ottawa in the Pembroke area. They would drive the raftsmen off the raft and then demolish the raft or steal it. Frustrated and angry the French Canadians fought back in June 1835 at Grand Calumet, east of Pembroke.

Cotton quotes from a

Cotton quotes from a newspaper article of the time:

“…. A boarding crew of Shiners was beaten off a raft when French Canadian reinforcements joined the raftsmen. The major example of French Canadian reaction however came in July when a raft manned by Shiners was ambushed in the channel behind Montreal Island. The Irish were seized, beaten and thrown to the shore. No Irishmen, the Canadians declared, would be allowed in the future to pass Long Sault. The threat was not idle. A raft owned by Peter Aylan was shot at and seized at the same spot.”

From Pioneer Days in and Around Cobden by  R.L. Jones, 1936:

“The shantymen on drives were always in danger of their life from log jams. All along the Ottawa, the drives were marked by general disturbances, when the lumberjacks congregated that the heads of rapids waiting for their timber to go down. If any violence broke out, there was no local power to check it. The unlicensed grog shops in the vicinity made matters worse.  At the Calumet portage at Bryson in 1846, it was said that almost every house kept and sold liquor. Lumberjacks celebrating their enforced winter’s temperance, often became reckless. It was said that at least eighty men were drowned along the Ottawa in the spring of 1845, some as the result of intoxication…”

Another well known Westmeath giant of a man named Martin Hennessy was hired by Peter Aylan to lead his gangs into fighting situations. (His descendants still live in the township – see HENNESSY entry.)

A Perth newspaper recorded the events leading to his death:

“….Martin Hennessy, who has for a number of years been the terror of the Grand River, was killed in a affray with a man named Hiram Whitey, on the Upper Les Allumette. An inquest was held on the body, before C.S. Bellows, Esq., Westmeath, when a verdict was given to the effect that Martin Hennessy came to his death by the hands of Hiram Whitney, and that he is guilty of “Wilful Murder”. The perpetrator of the offense, did not elude pursuit but willingly gave himself up. He arrived ….in charge of two constables, to be placed in gaol to await his trial”.

Into this time of violence and fighting came a man who would become legend;  Joseph Montferrand lived from 1802 to 1864.  Montferand, now known in song and story as Big Joe Mufferaw.  Recently he has inspired “Big Joe” the mascot of the CFL’s Ottawa Redblacks.

John Dunfield also devoted a chapter to River Drives – detailing what the drivers faced as they did their work and also the sorting gap at Davidson and the drives down the Coulonge River.