Lumbering in the Parry Sound Area

Parry Sound owes its existence to lumbering. In 1856, William Milnor Gibson came to the area to survey the land. He realized that this new area would be greatly valued for its lumbering potential, since the forests to the east were quickly becoming depleted, as a result of excessive lumbering. He soon applied for timber limits - a geographical area from which he would be able to take lumber, and erected a mill at the mouth of the Seguin River. 


The river would provide power to the mill, as well as a means of transporting cut logs from inland to the mill. The Beatty family bought the mill and timber limits from Gibson in 1863, and continued to operate this mill until it was sold to the Georgian Bay Lumber Company, which named the enterprise the Parry Sound Lumber Company, in 1872. Many more mills were opened around the area. Three existed in the town of Parry Sound at one point - the Parry Sound Lumber Company, Conger Lumber Company, and the Guelph Lumber Company. Several more were located along the eastern shore of Georgian Bay, including at the French River, Byng Inlet on the Magnetawan River, and the Musquash River. Beginning around the turn of the century, there were also mills erected in the interior of the land, strategically placed along newly-built railways.

Tools of the Trade

In the early days, loggers would use axes to cut down the trees. As time went on, different types of crosscut saws were introduced, each one more efficient than the last. Jobs for the individual men were chosen by their talents...

There were some who were better at driving teams of horses, those who excelled at cutting solo or with another, and those who were relegated to the task of cutting trails and roads. With the advent of the tractor and electric chainsaw in the mid twentieth century the job of the lumberjack changed radically.

The felled logs were collected into piles called skidways, pulled there by a team of horses. There were several ways of stacking the logs on the skids. In the early day, two men, "senders" using "canthooks", would roll the logs up a pair of poles. A "decking line" was the next advancement in ways of piling. A horse pulled a chain that encircled a log, rolling it up onto the pile. In the later days of horse logging, an A-frame "jammer" was used. This was a sort of derrick that hoisted logs aboard a sleigh, using a cable pulled by horses.

In the Parry Sound area, there were many types of trees harvested. Pine was the most sought after, but hemlock, spruce, balsam, cedar, tamarack, maple, birch, aspen, beech, red oak and cherry were also cut, to be used for different purposes.




Felling, skidding and piling took place from September to December, before the snow became too deep. From January to March, the logs were transported from the woods to a dump. In the pine logging days these dumps were located on a frozen lake or river, where the logs were left to await the spring thaw.


In spring, once the break-up occurred, the logs, piled neatly on the riverbank, were pushed into the water to commence their journey to the mills. Logs would float down the rivers, coaxed along by the river drivers. Drivers had two particular jobs - to keep the logs moving, and to push those that became stranded on the riverbanks along the way back into the current. Pike poles and peaveys were used by the river drivers to keep the logs afloat.

Where the rivers connected to lakes, the current of the water naturally slowed, or stopped. In order to get the logs from one side of the lake to the other where it would continue its journey, the logs were collected in booms. Booms were logs chained together to form a sort of "necklace"; logs were collected inside the chain, and the ends of the boom were pulled, dragging the whole apparatus, with the logs gathered within, to the other end. Originally, horses turning a raft-mounted caps tan were used to pull the booms. In later years, steam-powered boats called "alligators" were used. The name of these boats came from the fact that they were designed to travel both on water and land. This way, the boats could be used on more than one lake - all they had to do was portage to the next.

Getting a drive of logs all the way to the sawmill depended on a continuous flow of water. The lumbermen kept the water as high as possible by building dams, and when the water started to lower, they would set times during the day when water behind the dams would be let out, to get the current, and the logs, moving again.

When the logs had reached their destination, which was usually the mouth of the river system, they had to be separated. Several companies used the same rivers to move their logs, and the logs had to be sent to the proper mill. Logs were identified by a stamp. Each company would have its own mark, which was cast in reverse on an iron hammer, and as the company took down a tree, it was stamped. At the mouth of a river, lumbermen on an apparatus called a sorting jack would collect logs from the individual companies, and send down the logs belonging to each of the mills.

If the sawmill was at the mouth of the river, the separating would simply direct the logs to the mill. However, if the logs had been sent down a river entering Georgian Bay, a distance from the mill, the logs of each mill would be gathered again in booms, and then transported to the individual mills.

At the mills, the logs were processed. Each log was placed on a carriage, operated by pulleys and cables, which carried it endwise into a saw which sliced it into lumber. The leftover wood, or trimmings, of which there was an abundance, in addition to fueling the fires of steam boilers, was used to build up the ground around the mill, and to make wharves for boats to dock. When all the building up that could be done was done, burners were built to eliminate slabs and sawdust. These were not the days of environmental responsibility.

Processed wood was piled by the docks to dry, then transported by boat to markets. Space was at a premium on the docks, and when the stacks would get to a certain height, a second story tramway would be built, so the stacking could continue upwards.

Ships would come from all over the Great Lakes to collect the dressed lumber. Ships from Owen Sound were numerous, as well as ships from Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, Toronto, and many other locations. In later years, as the rail system grew, trains were also used to transport lumber and sawlogs.


The Life of the Lumberjack

The annual logging season began in early autumn and ended when the logs reached the sawmill the following summer. The loggers only had Sundays off to relax and recuperate. In September or October, they would head out to the company's camp, located in the bush, within the company's timber limits...

Log camps , designed to last about five years, were erected before the arrival of the lumbermen. There were one or two sleeping camps , plus stables for the horses, a kitchen for cooking food, a room for eating, and a blacksmith shop. Camps were designed to house anywhere up to 125 men.

There were many different jobs for men who were working in a lumber camp: loggers, fellers (or axemen) who chopped down trees with axes; toploaders who loaded the logs onto the skids; rollers, who rolled the logs up the piled skids, became "senders" with the advent of the "decking line", became "bull-ropers" with the advent of the "jammer"; sandpipers who would heat sand and lay it down on a part of the ice road that descended a hill; "chickadees", young men who kept the ice roads clear of debris and "gipers", older men preforming the same tasks; "buck beavers" who chopped logs at ground level to clear a path for the haul roads; river drivers who followed the path of the logs as they floated down the rivers; plus of course the horses, an essential part of the logging team.

Young men, as young as 14 years old, sometimes worked for the lumber companies. They mainly worked at cutting trails - brushing out paths over which the teamsters dragged logs from tree stump to skidway. However, boys who showed aptitude quickly graduated to driving teams, and felling trees.

At the camps , there was the blacksmith; the cook and his helpers, the foreman (who would also be found in the bush); and chore boys who tended to the camps when the loggers were out cutting through the days.

When the work in the bush was complete, some of the men found work at the lumber mills.

The pine logging and river driving days ended about 1925. By then the lumbermen had turned their attention to other species of trees, and instead of a few large mills, countless smaller ones took their place. As mechanization took over, the lumber camps became smaller and eventually disappeared as commuting took over. Horse gave way to tractor and trucks by 1950. Although radically changed from earlier times, lumbering continues to be carried on in Parry Sound's constantly renewing forest.

Many, many thanks to Mr. John Macfie, who was instrumental in teaching me about logging days. Mr. Macfie not only has several books from which I gleaned most of my information, but was also kind enough to come into the Library to help me figure out what I needed to know. Mr. Macfie's books, Logging Days, Parry Sound Old Times and several others are available at the Parry Sound Public Library.

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