Only 50 or so men in the 1800s could be called Timber Barons. Two were local to the Upper Ottawa River Valley; Alexander Fraser of Westmeath Township on the Eastern Ontario side of the river, and George Bryson of Fort Coulonge, Pontiac County, in Western Quebec. Men like Bryson and Fraser were not to be confused with the Robber Barons of American history, wealthy men seen to profit off the exploitation of the working classes and who set themselves up as a new Aristocracy.
No – these Timber Barons and their peers lived among the workers, had come up through their own hard work in the lumber industry and became solid supporters of the towns and villages of the Valley; bringing employment and prosperity. The locals even were proud of these entrepreneurs and their achievements. George Bryson’s earlier wood-frame home and out-buildings and he and his sons’ later beautiful stone homes -such as Spruceholme – are all well maintained and are loved landmarks of Fort Coulonge.
Charlotte Whitton, (later to be Mayor of Ottawa), in her book for the Gillies Brothers “One Hundred Years A-Fellin’, 1842-1942”, includes Fraser with his timber merchant peers as these men began the trade in the Ottawa Valley. She categorizes the Fraser company’s impact on the industry as one of the largest timber enterprises in the Upper Ottawa Valley; yet the Fraser story has not been told to any great extent and remains largely unknown. This online effort will hopefully give Alex his due.
The era of the large squared timbers started in the early 1800s, was at its peak of production 1850s to 1880s and by 1900 was almost over. The wealth it generated was substantial.
The logging industry from the early to the mid‐19th century experienced rocket‐like growth. A raft containing from 2,000 to 2,400 timbers would be worth roughly $12,000 in the middle of the century.
Although some red pine was usually included, most of the wood harvested was the more valuable white pine. As supplies of timber diminished, its price rose.
By the turn of the century, that same raft would be worth over $100,000.
By the time the last timber‐raft departed in 1908 under the direction of J.R. Booth, the industry had prospered to such an extent that rafts typically transported 80,000 to 120,000 cubic feet of material.
Taken from 2.7 Logging in the Ottawa Valley – The Ottawa River and the Lumber Industry. A part of the documented Background Study for Nomination of the Ottawa River
Under the Canadian Heritage Rivers System – 2005.
Alexander Fraser (1830-1903), always known as Alex, and his achievements and local homes are not as well documented as are George Bryson’s. Fraser’s Westmeath home has been taken down and his farms subdivided and sold. Fraser’s Landing, where the Woods Offices of the Fraser Lumber Company were located at one time, on the Quebec side of the Ottawa River opposite Point Alexander & north of Deep River, Ontario, was erected in 1870 and destroyed by fire in 1983.
Fraser was the second generation of the family in the lumber business which began with his father “Highland Hugh” Fraser (1788-1861), the head of the seventh family to settle in the newly surveyed Pembroke Township.
For more detail on the Fraser family, see FRASER entry.
Highland Hugh had five sons and two daughters. Two sons took up farms from the Crown and logged them – quickly realizing the wealth that lumbering could bring. An older son Thomas Fraser operated a sawmill at Westmeath and was civic-minded and served on the municipal council.
Highland Hugh’s youngest son Alex went to work with a Pembroke merchant, a decision that would help his career climb. Young Alex was taken under the wing of Pembroke businessman Hiram Chamberlain and through his own hard work ethic, honesty and his intelligence he quickly rose in the business community.
He would become Chamberlain’s son-in-law and at a very young age took over the business when Chamberlain suddenly died of cholera. See CHAMBERLAIN entry.
One map “1863 W.H. Walling” clearly shows the two Alex Fraser farm properties on the Ottawa River north of the Village of Westmeath.
The 1869 Battle of Black River, as recounted in an Ottawa Journal newspaper article of 1941 by Harry Walker, doesn’t really hide the identities of the protagonists all that well. It is easy to recognize that the “Sandy” is another oft-used pseudonym for “Alexander”.
Although a fair man in his business conduct, Alex Fraser was not about to be dealt with unfairly. When contracts were not lived up to, Fraser would take decisive action and then settle by negotiation, not bloodshed. But he also took the hard-line that full payment was to be made; even when the year had brought no profit to the operator.
Alex Fraser (1830-1903)
Alex Fraser’s career as a timber baron is well set out in his 1903 front page obituary in the Ottawa Evening Journal newspaper. It also lists the wide variety of other business interests in which Alex Fraser and his two sons JB and WHA were involved.
CROWN TIMBER LIMITS ON THE OTTAWA & ITS TRIBUTARIES
Key to the Fraser timber fortune was the ability to gain forest “limits” from the government – the right (or the license), to take the timber off large swaths of virgin forests.
The governments of the 1800s were happy to get the income generated by the granting of the limits on its Crown Lands and also saw it as a service for the incoming farmers, who were wanting land already cleared and ready for cultivation. Many fortunes, including Fraser’s, were made by land speculation during this time.
Such Westmeath Township locals as Adams, Bellows, Tucker, Beach and Buchanan were buying and then clearing acreages. An early land owner would make money twice over: once by cutting and marketing the timber and then a second fortune from the sale of the newly prepared land to the homesteaders.
Holding the limits also would see the price going up over time. As logging went on, the better farmland was already cleared and only more marginal land was licensed to the lumber companies. The main wood sent to market was squared red and white pine.
The licensing agency was The Crown Timber Office. This correspondence shows timber limits, or berths, in Waltham and Mansfield Townships, as well as in Nipissing E. District and Himsworth Township, Quebec. 1899-1900 Crown Timber Office.
Fraser Limits shown on this 1875 Timber Limits Map above:
1. North of Waltham, and the east end of Allumette Island, Quebec;
2. North of “Deep River” stretch of the Ottawa on south-eastern watershed of Schyan River;
3. In partnership with Bryson on Black River Basin;
4. East & west shore of Coulonge River basin;
5. Two limits on northern reaches of Black River, Quebec.
In the next decades, new white and red pine territory was opened in Nipissing and Temiskaming Districts, in which Fraser had a large interest.
Fraser spread the risk and wealth by making it known to men he respected that if they were to locate a limit for lumbering he would buy the license and the man would oversee the limit. The profits would be shared. This method made for loyal workers are they would have “skin” in the game.
Squaring timber was an extremely wasteful process. About thirty percent of the wood of each squared tree was lost, and the entire tree was left to rot if it was discovered that the last side to be squared had too many knots. The technique used only the best trees, and left much debris in the forest, causing a risk of fire. Despite these disadvantages, the squared‐timber industry rushed to satisfy consumer demand, with a timber‐squarer receiving twice the wages of the regular lumberjack who simply felled and trimmed the trees. Taken from 2.7 Logging in the Ottawa Valley – The Ottawa River and the Lumber Industry.
This series of undated photos of a man, believed to be JB Fraser, standing at a huge white pine and then the cutting down and limbing of the tree, are from the Fraser Family Photo Collection. Note the amount of waste left behind on the forest floor.
Lumbering rights were costly and Fraser’s FRASER & COMPANY had to have sufficient money up-front to license the limits and hire men and horses each fall, buy required winter supplies and equipment for the lumber camps and stake everything on getting a good price at market the next summer in Montreal or Quebec City. It could take a long as two years from the time the limits were purchased until the product of squared timber was sold.
The risk was always high – the market could drop – the weather might prevent a successful year – rafts could break up and timbers lost – and the workers might be in difficulty of some type or unavailable. Luckily the banks were good at supplying credit, as were the buyers at the markets at Quebec City.
In Simple Technology in the Regulation of a Frontier Industry by Beth Doucet and Bessel VandenHazel the timber identification marks for the Fraser Company are set out. Likened to the cowboy’s branding of cattle; each timber company had distinct marks made on each end of each squared timber to claim ownership as the timbers were floated out in the spring high waters and mixed with others.
The companies in the lumber business kept a sense of collegiality and would often have dealings one with another as shown in this collection of correspondence from the turn of the twentieth century: 1899-1902 Correspondance other lumber businesses. From the Fraser Family Collection. Companies named: McLachlin Bros., Arnprior; Bryson, Fort Coulonge; A & P White, Pembroke; Coulonge & Crow River Boom Co., Hull; E.H. LeMay, Ottawa.
Fraser and other timber barons became wealthy enough to raise or supply the elusive up-front money themselves. In fact, both Fraser and Bryson were officers of the Bank of Ottawa, formed to raise such needed capital – a branch of which was in Westmeath Village. This bank would later be taken over by the Bank of Nova Scotia and Fraser men continued as Board members.
To save on buying the supplies needed in the lumber camps Fraser used his own farm, north of Westmeath Village to become his own supplier. ARKLAN FARM became famous in the area for growing the produce needed in the shanties during the winter months.
It was located on a beautiful stretch of Ottawa River where the channel narrows at the bottom of Lower Allumette Lake just to the north of Westmeath Village. It was on the portage road, (an 8 km. portage needed to avoid the Paquette Rapids), much used by the teamsters and workmen coming and going to cross at Spotswood’s Ferry to Waltham and the forests of the Black River and beyond into the Laurentian Hills of Quebec.
Not only did the Fraser farm provide a beautiful summer home to the Fraser family, it also created summer work for some of the men of the winter lumber camps. His workforce would stay loyal to him because they had year-round employment.
His cousin (also named Alexander Fraser but was known as “Red Alex”), and his partner owned the village Fraser & Paterson store where other commodities needed were purchased. It all stayed in the family.
Solomom Jones, from a Pembroke Township family long-known to the Fraser’s, was hired to be the ARKLAN FARM Manager. His grand-daughter Laureen Horricks Blackwell has generously submitted the photos of the farm shown in this entry. In addition she has allowed the use of pages photographed from her Grandfather Solomon Jones’ Ledger from 1911 to 1915. The entries are in his hand and give a glimpse of life at Arklan Farm. Only a few of the pages are included here. The listing of who was employed by the Frasers and who supplied the farm is meticulously set out. 1911-1915 Ledger Book, Arklan Farm.
The summer farmhands/winter shanty-men spent their summers growing the basics – potatoes, cabbage, beets, beans, onions – all the vegetables that the shanty cooks would need were pickled and preserved or dried or stored in root cellars. Arkland Farm’s orchard yielded plums and apples and the fruits were also dried or preserved.
Field crops of hay, oats, barley, rye were harvested to feed the teams of oxen or horses who would provide the heavy draft in the winter camps. Fraser-Paterson store would supply the other things not grown but needed in the camps – sugar, tea, etc.
Pigs, poultry and cattle were all either raised on the farm or purchased from local farmers. Cattle were driven to the shanty “on hoof” and then slaughtered on site for the cook to dress and use. Every winter a supply chain of teams and sleighs went back and forth to the camps. A sleigh could carry a bigger load than a wagon and using the frozen ice of rivers as roads, was more direct that overland through very rough terrain.
This demand for supplies for the shanties brought huge prosperity to the farmers of the Upper Ottawa Valley. WHA Fraser and his cousin Red Alex and many other buyers from the various lumbering companies would scour the countryside looking to buy and the savvy farmers could set the prices ever higher as demand grew.
Many large brick “Victorian” styled homes began to appear on the farmsteads of the Westmeath Peninsula and beyond. All farm produce from oats to hay to salt pork to honey, (and the list goes on), were all needed in the camps. When the lumbering industry started to gear down, as the forest stands had been exploited, so the farmers were losing their ready market.
Alex Fraser had had a solid fifty years of sending thousands of them to market at the seaports of Quebec. Next came the age of the “Lumber Kings” – the men who brought logs out to be sawn into lumber at the various mills along the Ottawa basin. It was still a very lucrative venture. This 1904 tally sheet from the Fraser Family collection shows the amount of lumber being processed that one summer month. 1904 FraserLumberCo.Stock Sheet August
The 1937 visit to Arklan Farm by Lady Tweedsmuir, the wife of the then Governor General John Buchan, the Lord Tweedsmuir, was one special occasion that the greater community savoured.
The ladies of the area who were Women’s Institute members had tea with the dignitary and the topic discussed was the wish of Lady Tweedsmuir for the Women’s Institute members to compile history books for their community. Thus the genesis of the W.I. Tweedsmuir Books, which have been used extensively throughout this website. The tea was held at the village Methodist Church, still in use as St. Andrew’s United Church. The Fraser’s helped fund the building of the church and the adjacent manse, and Mrs. Alex Fraser laid the cornerstone.
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. From History of the Lumber History of America.
Alex Fraser’s two sons JB (John Burns) and WHA (William Henry Alexander) would be called “Lumber Kings” when the era of wide-scaled lumbering was underway. They built ever-larger sawmills and were two of the fathers of the modern lumbering business in eastern Canada.
Alex had died in 1903 and his two sons W.H.A. Fraser and J.B. Fraser took over Arklan Farm, the timber limits and the business empire. They formed the FRASER LUMBER COMPANY. The two brother’s families wintered in Ottawa, with their children attending the best private schools and joined in the social aristocracy of the city as their father and mother had before them.
In JB’s 1939, Nov. 2, Obituary in the Ottawa Journal the lines:
“For many years he had been associated with the late Hon. George Bryson in the working of large timber limits the firms name being the widely known Fraser-Bryson Lumber Company. For 60 years, Mr. Fraser was associated with lumbering in various forms.”
Working together, the brothers each had their role to play. JB often spending more time in the Ottawa Fraser Lumber Company Head Office at 74 Nepean Street, Ottawa, or later at Fraser & Company, 53 Sparks Street, Ottawa, or traveling for business, and his brother WHA was more out in the field putting together the gear, teams and supplies needed for the camps.
In a series of letters written to John (JB), WHA, almost on a daily basis, reports how he is getting along in his work. This collection of letters has been called: 1900 Your Affectionate Bro Letters of December 6 to 28, 1900.
Some highlights taken from that correspondence:
Dec. 6th, 1900: It was important that lumbermen be elected to parliament because they would be instrumental in formulating policies favourable to the lumber industry. Fellow Lumber King Gillies was standing for election and Fraser was obviously backing him; but Gillies would not be successful. 1900 election win for Thomas Murray (1836-1915). Murray was also a lumber merchant. Another lumberman who represented the Pontiac during this time was John Bryson.
Dec. 8th, 1900: WHA would often have dealing with Alex Fraser, (a nephew), of Fraser & Paterson store in Westmeath Village. That firm did a big business buying commodities like oats and hay from local Westmeath Peninsula farmers and then selling on to the lumber camps. WHA also mentions that he will start to have Arklan Farm’s steers butchered and frozen to supply his camps. He thinks Gillies might have beat Murray.
Dec. 10th, 1900: Butchering continues and he also buys a good mare for $130. and will go out back of Beachburg to find a good mate for her. He needs to assemble teams of horses to go to the camps. The price being offered to Fraser & Paterson for hay is higher than WHA wants to pay and he wishes he had closed with Alex earlier. The teamsters used ice roads to go into the camps so they wait until there is cold sufficient to freeze the ice roads.
Dec. 11th, 1900: Account keeping of logs was a massive job and Alex and his uncle were going over accounts. 25 steers have been butchered and 9 more will wait until cold weather. WHA used the good train service to go back and forth to Ottawa.
Dec. 19th, 1900: Ice road at LaPasse would require horses going single file and not overload. He will be buying hay and oats in Campbell Bay area and is planning his return to Ottawa for Christmas. Unsure which John Fraser will be settled with – and who will be supplying a list of his creditors.
Dec. 20th, 1900: Written from Campbell’s Bay. Sleighs being prepared for the camps. Expecting an early start in morning for the teamsters.
Dec. 28th, 1900: Settlement with John Fraser Jr. of $1,862.35 as Oct.15, 1895. Has found no beans to buy and has butter from Fraser & Paterson store purchased. This John might be John Fraser (1847-1918), son of Robert Fraser (1822-1887) and Hannah Currie (1829-1890); a first cousin to WHA and JB.
John Burns Fraser inherited wealth but also generated his own as he pursued his role in the lumber industry. Timber limits are listed as a part of his extensive holdings in his estate which was valued at $2,935,869.00 at his death in 1939. ($2,935,869.00 in 1939 had the same buying power as $50,629,480.31 in 2017).
He and his wife Beatrice Curran Fraser summered at Arklan as did their children when young. Those children Major Hugh N. Fraser, Okanagan Falls, British Columbia; Lt. Col. John D. Fraser of Ottawa and Isabel Fraser Bulmer of Florida, – only John D. (always called Jack) followed his father JB and uncle WHA into the family business empire.
Both of these two January 1919 letters, taken from the Fraser Family Collection, from JB to his son Jack (JD) mention horses – an important part of their lumbering and private family workforce; pre-automobile. (There will be more on the Campbells later in this entry.) 1919 JB letter to Jack(JD).
Jan. 5, 1919: “Geo. Campbell will go out week after next and stay out till he gets you a good driving team. He has to go to Temiscamium(sic) tomorrow for a few days to look over some timber. He has already looked at some horses, but none of them were up to what he wants. He will have to pick them up separately and match them.
He has heard of one horse on the Calumet Island and another at Bryson and will get them hitched up together and tried a week from Tuesday. It is better to take a little time and get something good than rick getting a team that is not suitable.
When I was at Westmeath we always had good driving teams. Your Uncle Willie never had a real good team, he always got something too light and had something wrong with them.
I hope that you will not overdo things or strain yourself in any way. Isabel & I will go up for a few days when we get the new team. From what your mother says you may need to get a new cutter that is more comfortable than the one you have.”
By 1919 it was time to have ownership transferred to the next generation. In this Jan. 12, 1919 letter from JB to his son Jack (JD), he sets out some thoughts on the farm and its employees. 1919 JB letter to Jack
“When I hear that you have 15 horses to feed there is no use sending the big team up before spring. We are selling the old mill team and can use the heavy teams for awhile. I am glad to hear there is Beaver hay. I thought the water was too high last summer to permit it being cut.
Horses do just as well on it as timothy. Beauty will be far better in the barnyard than the stable. I can see that you will ultimately have to let the Jones family go – but that will be time enough when we have arranged for you to become owner of the farm & stock. We will try to arrange this in the spring. It may be well for you to keep the Hickeys (Ethier) on. As soon as I get the driving team I will go up.
I have written to D. Creelman at the Agricultural College Guelph to see if a student can be sent to you in March. One who has the proper knowledge of preparing for a good garden.
You can transfer you Bank Acc. to Westmeath. I will tell Alex to remit there instead of to the Bank here. I expect Campbell back tomorrow and will get him to go out and look up a team. “
JB, like his father Alex before him, sat on the Board of the Bank of Ottawa and later, after it was acquired, he sat on the Board of the Bank of Nova Scotia.
In the next generation, Lt. Col. John D. “Jack” Fraser of Ottawa and his wife and family continued to come to Arklan. However, their interest in Westmeath was waning.
“The isolated hamlets of Schyan Point, located at the confluence of the Schyan and Ottawa Rivers (almost across from Deep River, Ontario), and Fraser Landing, on the Ottawa River in Malakoff Township, are no more than a handful of seasonally-occupied cabins and have no paved road connection to them.”, says the current Sheenboro Wikipedia entry.
They were once very active places with hundreds of men and horses coming and going to bring supplies in and lumber out. These pictures of Fraser’s Landing are from the Fraser Family Collection.
Like a small village, Fraser Landing had sheds to accommodate horse teams, storage for a year’s worth of supplies and accommodation for the both teamsters, their teams and the lumberjacks.
Fraser’s Landing had been so named and set up to accommodate the teamsters coming up the frozen Ottawa River ice road, hauling supplies for the Fraser lumber camps up the Schyan and Dumoine Rivers.
These later generations of Fraser also enjoyed their lodge near Fraser’s Landing called “Malakoff” and all the usual Canadian summer recreations. For more see:
Fraser Lumber Company men went all through the forest areas checking for stands of timber of adequate size. These trips into the bush were hard-going over difficult terrain and through all weathers. These photos are from the Fraser Family Collection. It was not uncommon to meet indigenous families along the way and Algonquin men were often used as part of the Fraser’s crew.
The Fraser family’s business interests included sawmills such as the Aylmer, Quebec, site of the new Fraser Lumber Company mill at the water’s edge of Lake Deschene. A 1903 dreadful summer storm, with extreme winds, blew its brick walls in and proved deadly.
The falling wall of bricks crushed and killed James Campbell, a long-standing and trusted employee of the Fraser’s. It was summer and he was in Ottawa working at installations in the new mill. He had spent his winters in the various limits – some as far as Nipissing and reported to JB.
In letters from the Fraser Family Collection, letters by James Campbell report the condition of the wood on several limits. The first ledger page shows that he had worked for Alex Fraser in 1890-1891, sharing the output of the limits being cut that year. He was obviously well traveled throughout the Fraser held limits. After his death in 1903, George Campbell (son of blacksmith John Campbell, a blacksmith from Quyon) reports to the Frasers in the 1906 and 1908 correspondence. Getting the logs to a creek or river, the distance and terrain to be covered is of utmost importance. Campbell Reports to Frasers 1890-1908.
Another man who partnered JB Fraser was George Poupore of Calument Island. He had also gone in with Fraser on some berths (another name for limits). J.R. Poupore was a lumber merchant on Allumette Island. 1901 George Poupore In this letter from 1901, he writes about a sawmill he knows of:
“I think I can put you on the track of a saw mill between Ottawa & Montreal that would cut all your logs. There is good ___ & docks for loading barges but you cannot ship by rail. This mill is furnished with steam from four large boilers. If you have any notion of going into this with me and I think it can be bought eight.”
The Fraser Family Photo Collection contains these snaps of life in the bush – all undated – they give an insight into the summer camps of the men, called “cruisers”, tasked with surveying the timber limits and the possible output of logs and lumber. They usually lived under canvas but sometimes had an old trappers cabin or logger’s cabin.
One of the Fraser men was sometimes along as each generation became intimately familiar with the timber limits. It is assumed that JB was the photographer, as these photos were among his possessions.