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River Drives

Historically, the technique of choice of transporting large amounts of lumber over long distances has been to float them down a river. It was more economical to use the energy of a quickly moving stream or river instead of relying upon either man power or horses to move the logs. Even as late as the 1970s, Canadian International Paper claimed that floating their logs down the Gatineau cost less than a quarter as much as by truck.

Another factor was simply logistics. It would have been nearly impossible to create the roads to transport the quantities of lumber that were coming from the Gatineau valley.

The Spring Sweep

Several tugs
Several tugs herding a boom downstream c. 1940.

The river drive itself didn't change all that much between the 1830s, when the Wrights first started the log drive on the Gatineau, through until 1926. Logs were piled on the river and stream banks during the winter. When the spring thaw occurred they were sent on their way downstream. A small portion of the logging men would have remained after the end of the cut to follow the logs on their journey to help them on their way. These were the log drivers. This changed dramatically when the dams at Low and Chelsea were completed.   See more...

The Log Booms

A Sawmill
A sawmill: final destination of logs on their journey down river c. 1883.

In 1926, the log drive entered a new era. The construction of several dams on the Gatineau meant that the traditional log drive was impossible. Large bodies of slow moving water meant that logs needed to be collected in booms and towed south to the dam to be sent down a log chute. Tugboats soon followed and the drive remained until 1991.   See more...

The Last of the Logs on the Gatineau

Loading logs at Wakefield
Although seen here being loaded with logs in the 1970's, the rail line was used infrequently to haul logs compared to the quantity moved by water, and now by road.

Environmental concerns, as well as the ability to haul the wood by truck, reduced the advantages of the river drive. As logging cuts moved further inland from the river up north, it made less and less sense to load the logs onto trucks, deliver them to the river and float them downstream. Now the lumber is chipped up north, where its cut, and transported by truck to the pulp mills.

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