• hwtproject.k0j@gmail.com
  • Ontario, Canada

Vern Price, The Shantymen, the Camboose and the Cruisers

Fortunately one local Westmeath Township man set down his recollections of his time in the shanty, in the winter of 1938-39, in his book “Logging on the Schyan“. Vernon Price when a young man, like so many of his contemporaries, was attracted to the cash and the romance of the winter shanty life. So many Westmeath families had sons and fathers go to work in the winter lumbering camps up the tributaries of the Upper Ottawa River. These rivers have become part of  the  folklore of songs, poetry and books  –  names like the Coulonge River, the Black, the Schyan, the Petawawa, the Dumoine – most tumbling down from the heights of the Laurentian Hills; and some from the highlands of Algonquin Park.

And the millions, upon millions, of logs that were moved to the shorelines of all the Ottawa’s tributaries and waters by strong-willed men and willing strong horses. Together this vast forest resource could be taken.

An old Cobden Sun photo undated and with no location given. These huge loads were nicknamed “brag” loads for obvious reasons.

In the Summer 1978 edition of The Beaver,  Vern Price’s story of  Logging on the Schyan was 1st published. Author Brenda Lee-Whiting captured both Mr. Price and the flavours of his tales. Her article sets out what life was like in the shanties in the 1930’s.

Remember that this was the era before safety equipment and safety standards were the norm – so it could also be a very dangerous occupation if you didn’t know what you were doing. But the old hands knew the ropes as the Ottawa Valley has rung with the sound of the broadaxe and the saw since the early 1800s.

The word “shanty” is thought to be derived around 1810-20 from the Anglicization of the French-Canadian “chantier” for  lumber camp and is used as the name of a log bunkhouse at a lumbercamp or the camp itself – a lumberjack’s headquarters.  From Dictionary.com.

The colonial society of the 1800s saw  stratification along ethnic lines,  with the English and the Scots in ruling and leadership roles; the political and the commercial enterprises were usually headed by men, (never women of course !),  of those two ethnic groups – while the French and the Irish provided the strong backs  and brawn that worked  in the logging camps and built the Rideau Canal; but were hardly  of the “best sort”.  Indigenous people were hardly even on the bottom rung of colonial affairs.

An Irishman’s Gt.-Grandson

The family root went deep into Westmeath with young Vern being the great-grandson of  the Price (Pryce) family “Immigrant Ancestor” ENOCH PRICE (1831-1928), who came alone to Westmeath Township in 1849, as a young lad  of 18 from Wicklow, Ireland, on the east coast of the Irish Republic. See PRICE entry.

Vernon Elliott Price (1916-1992) would take up farming in “The Glen”, a short distance to the east of Beachburg and he was from a farm family; the son of Enoch Dalton Price (1893 – 1965), born in Perretton, and  Martha Elizabeth Elliott (1890 – 1976).

Gratefully we acknowledge the generosity of Vern’s children who have given their permission for their Dad’s book to be presented on this website. A special thank you to his eldest daughter Pat Price Krose who knew her father was a Magpie and encouraged him to celebrate his collections of pictures and stories in published format. Also a thank you to Tim Gordon from Burnstown Publishing.

Logging on the Schyan

Vernon Price.  “On September 22, 1938, Price took a boat from Deep River, Ontario across the Ottawa River to the Depot on the Quebec side where the Schyan River enters the Ottawa.  Hitching a ride on a tote wagon which delivered supplies to a number of logging camps along the Schyan, the enterprising 22-year old arrived at Willie McCool’s Camp and was taken on.”  This is a collection of memories and photos of that winter’s logging.”     5-1/2 x 8-1/2, 88p, b&w photos, 1986, 2000.

The book, (now out of print), is presented in thirds to shorten download times.

Logging on the Schyan 1st Third From “Introduction” to “The Chapeau Boys” Page 30.

Logging on the Schyan 2nd Third From “Lumberjack’s Lament”  Page 31 to “Horses & Teams” Page 62.

Logging on the Schyan 3rd Third From “Run on a Hill ” Page 63 to “Ledger Pages” Page 88.

The Cobden Sun in 1980 ran a story  “Vern Price Enjoyed Working in Lumbercamps”, featuring some of the same photos found in his 1986 book:

Gordon Robinson’s Story

Here is another shanty story by a Beachburg area man –  Gordon Delmer Robinson (1924-2015):

Gordon Robinson’s grandchild Megan Lariviere captured the shanty tales.

The Camboose Shanty

Another historian and author described shanty life at an earlier time – circa 1880’s, when things were a bit more primitive. Clyde C. Kennedy authored his The Upper Ottawa Valley- A Glimpse of History, in 1970 for the Renfrew County Council and it is still a go-to resource. It is available in all local libraries. Kennedy details the construction of the camboose building and also how those earlier shantymen lived.

The men worked hard, usually six days a week. They spent their Saturday nights fiddle‐playing, dancing, singing and telling stories, as they were able to sleep in on Sundays. They referred to their dancing as “buck-dancing” because there were no women with whom to dance. Some of the men would wear kerchiefs around their waists or over their heads to play the part of the women in the dances. (Bytown Museum 1999)

A lively mix of musical and storytelling styles was created due to the wide variety in the men’s backgrounds. Their shanty songs were known collectively as “Come all ye’s“, because so many of them began with just those words. There were many such songs sung in both French and English, mentioning the names of real people, places and events. (Bytown Museum 1999)

In his 1895 book, Up To Date Or The Life Of A Lumberman, George S. Thompson wrote of the lumberman’s somewhat crude lifestyle: “Sunday is cleaning up day, the men doing their washing and mending on that day, that is the few who would go to the trouble. Quite a number would never change their underclothes or shirts until the clothes wore out, and as to washing their feet, such a thing would never entered the minds” (Bytown Museum 1999).

The Cruisers – Estimators of the Timber Stand and Values

To start at the beginning, before any logging was done, men of great skill called cruisers would come onto the “limit” – licensed by the lumber company-  and estimate the value of pine found there. He would also locate floatable streams, camp sites and improvements necessary for successful harvesting of the stands. On these estimates, operators would risk their fortunes and their futures.

Charlotte Whitton’s description of the art of the cruise perfectly describes this very important first step. From Whitton’s “A Hundred Years A-Felling’ 1842-1942” for the Gillies Brothers, she writes: