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The Winter Cut

The foundation of the logging industry has historically been the winter cut. Transportation of the lumber to the nearest waterway was made possible by the use of sleds during this season. Also the underbrush, which can be nearly impassable during the summer months, is conveniently buried under the snow.

Shanty at meal time
A typical scene in a logging shanty, or cambuse. Men are gathered around the central fire pit, waiting for dinner with their socks dry hanging from the ceiling. Pots of beans surround the fire. Mmm.....! c. 1900

The logging industry employed the vast majority of its employees during the winter only. Many returned home to their farms in preparation for the next growing season as winter drew to a close. The economic backbone for the region, employing not only the thousands of bush workers, but also many others in supporting industries, the log cut was the seed around which the cities of Ottawa and Hull grew.

Throughout the eighteenth century Britain had relied upon timber imports from New England and the Baltic countries. The American Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, however, eliminated these sources. British North America then assumed a privileged position and the Ottawa Valley became one of the principal sources of the squared timber needed to keep the Royal Navy master of the seas. The white and red pine growing in bountiful virgin stands in the Ottawa Basin was the basis of the timber trade in the first half of the nineteenth century. To be considered suitable for felling, the pine had to have a straight branchless trunk and to be three to five feet in diameter. Finished sticks, when squared, were twelve to twenty-four inches on a side and forty to fifty feet in length. This was the era of squared timbers. Logs were floated down the Gatineau to be stacked into cribs, and shipped to England. Conveniently, as the demand for squared timbers from Canada dried up in England, the construction industry in the United States took up the slack.

As the larger, older trees became more scarce, the local logging industry changed focus. Competition from areas with higher quality timber for construction purposes made the shift towards a pulp and paper based industry necessary. This focus continues to this day.   See more...

Tools and Techniques

Felling thousands of trees each year, moving them all to the river in preparation for the log drive presented many unique and challenging problems. The solutions to many of these problems were ingenious. Even some of the more mundane issues, like creating a square piece of timber, produced specific solutions. Broad axes, crazy-wheels, Linn tractors, peavies, and many other inventions were used for only specific purposes.

Technology notwithstanding, the amount of organisation required to bring a tree from the forest to its destination was quite impressive. Multiple levels of management, lines of supply and communication and distribution were all employed to ensure the smooth functioning of the business.   See more...

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