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Logging on the Gatineau

So how did logging the Gatineau affect society, the people involved and those the industry supported.

Skidding logs
There were many people to provide for up on the shanties. This provided newly settled farmers with a sustainable market for their produce well into the 20th century, c. 1920

Lumbering on the Gatineau River was monopolized by the Gatineau Privilege partners for over a decade. During these years the partners were instrumental in opening up the area. By 1833 they had built rough roads 93 miles up the valley to approximately the present site of Maniwaki. The partners were responsible for the introduction of agriculture into the middle and upper Gatineau Valley. After the granting of the “Gatineau Privilege” in 1832, they established depots throughout the valley. The depots were to serve as initial assembly points for crews heading into the bush and as distribution centres for supplies. Farms to produce feed and to provide summer homes for the draught animals used in the lumber camps (shanties) were usually operated in connection with the depots. The establishment of such farms reflected the transportation difficulties of the time. Lumbermen, spared the need to bring in expensive supplies from a distance, provided a ready market for all locally grown produce.

The monopoly of the "Gatineau Privilege" ended in 1843 with the passing of the Crown Timber Act. This Act authorized the issuing of licenses for the cutting of timber on ungranted land. After 1843, limits in the Gatineau were sold at the Crown Timber Office in Bytown.

With the relaxation of regulations the number of companies working the Gatineau forests multiplied manifold during the second half of the nineteenth century. The harvesting of the Gatineau woods at this time was highly organized and the areas to be worked were selected at least a year in advance by a timber cruiser. At the end of each September, the lumbermen began the difficult journey by canoe and portage upriver to the season's locations. The men gathered first at the depots before spreading out in groups of between 30 and 120 to the individual shanties. The shanties were located so that the men would not have more than three miles to walk to work in the bush and so that the teamsters would not have to haul logs more than four miles to a river or lake. Cutting was done during the winter months and the wood was driven or rafted to the mills starting with the spring break-up.

Binding grain
Threshing c. 1920.

During the winter months it was possible to take supplies up the valley using the rough roads along the river. The usual day's travel for loaded sleighs was about 12 miles and hostels, often operated on franchises from the lumber companies, came into being about 12 miles apart. Today's Gatineau Valley settlements reflect this twelve-mile interval between nineteenth century stopping places. Hull, Chelsea, Wakefield, Low, Kazabazua, and Gracefield are spaced consecutively at twelve- to thirteen- mile intervals along the river.

As the nineteenth century progressed, more and more people followed lumbering into the Gatineau Valley to seek a living from farming. The undertaking was possible because the lumber camps provided the farmer with a ready market for surplus produce as well as with winter employment. This pattern of activity combining seasonal farming and lumbering work continued well into the twentieth century.

In the early twentieth century a second change in the nature of the Gatineau forest industry took place with the production of pulpwood succeeding sawn lumber. The end of the sawn lumber era in eastern Canada occurred in the 1920s and 1930s hastened by the depression, the exhaustion of the better quality trees, and the rise of the pulp and paper industry. All independent Gatineau Valley sawn lumber operators sold their limits to the Canadian International Paper Company between 1921 and 1925. In spite of the changed ownership of the Gatineau Valley forest industries, the organisation of forest activities continued unaltered until the 1940s. Work was seasonal, providing local farmers and their teams with winter employment. In 1941, for example C.I.P. had 800 horses working in its lumber camps in the vicinity of Maniwaki.

Following the Second World War, however, the traditional pattern of forest activities that had dominated the Gatineau for almost a century and a half, disappeared. The seasonal, labour-intensive industry that had required unskilled workers and their horses changed into a highly mechanised year-round operation requiring the services of full-time, skilled workers.

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