Lumbering in Quebec

One of Canada's first important commercial industries was lumbering. Wood greatly contributed to the development of the Canadian economy for much of the 19th century.

As early as 1790, a timber raft from near Kingston, Ontario, reached Quebec City. However, during the Napoleonic wars, after Napoleon had cut in 1806 Britain's traditional supply areas in northern Europe, the demand of the wood in Europe increased in dozens of time, thus the timber fostered economic development and brought investment to Lower Canada (Quebec). It transformed the regional environment far more radically than the exploitation of fur for the previous centuries.

The timber trade encouraged the building of towns and villages, the opening of road and immigration. Wood was commercialized trough many forms. Large masts, cut for the Royal Navy from the finest trees of the mixed forest, were the most valuable commercial product, but the forests also produced shingles, barrel staves, box shooks and accessories for textile factories. Sawn lumber and square timber were the major wood staples. Lumber, prepared at sawmills consisted mostly of planks and boards.

Beginning in the 1830s, there was a growing trade between the Lower Canada and the US, and the importance of the American market grew. In 1905, with imports of some $18 million, for the first time, the US accounted for more than half of Canadian forest-product exports. White pine was the most popular tree in the timber trade because it is light but strong, and resistant to weathering. White pine was used in shipbuilding for masts and decking. Through the history, the timber industry depended on the muscles of men and beasts. At first, trees were felled with various types of timber axes. In the 1870s the crosscut saw became more common.

A snow road eased the hauling of logs and baulks to riverbanks by oxen and by horses. Once on the riverbank, the timber drive began. Men equipped with "jam dogs" (iron hooks), canthooks or peaveys, often immersed in chilly water, engaged in the hectic and dangerous task of floating the cut out on the freshet.

When more open water was reached, or where falls and rapids could be bypassed, logs and timber were assembled into rafts to continue downstream to mills or to river-mouth booms at Québec, where they were shipped abroad. Later, as steam power replaced water power in sawmills the change increased mill capacity and extended the season of mill operation but did not break the pattern of winter logging.

Far up the mighty rivers, huge rafts of squared logs were assembled by the loggers in preparation for the spring journeys downstream. With their living quarters on the deck, many men worked, slept and ate on the way down to ports where the rafts of squared timber were disassembled and loaded on ships bound for England.

Later, railways reduced the industry's dependence on rivers to transport timber to the mills.

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