In the 1840’s, Nicol Finlayson wrote of seeing the Indians fishing at Manitou Rapids and described the forest along the river: … the forest on both banks consists of birch and hard wood instead of the eternal pine forests, which have been hitherto passed through. The settlers had to accept that the pine trees along with the mineral rights shall be considered as reserved from the location of purchase, and shall be the property of Her Majesty. Poles and lumber were in huge demand by the CPR, and later by the CNR. The stately pines were also used in shipbuilding. Since 1928 however, few of the trees cut in the district have been pine.
With deep appreciated of their aesthetic value, Sir John Richardson described the rivers’ forests in 1848: The various maples, oaks, sumach, amperlopsis, cornel bushes and other trees and shrubs whose leave before they fall assume glowing tints of orange and red, render the woodland views equal, if not superior to the finest that I have seen elsewhere.
The first sawyers in Chapple came with John McKay over 200 years ago and constructed the buildings at McKay’s fur trading post. In this case, the lure was not trees, but beaver, who at this point were cutting down more trees than any men. McKay’s men squared the timber with a broad axe and, with a long saw, sawed the lumber. One man stood below in a pit pulling the saw down, while the other stood above pulling up. Jasper Corrigal and William Taylor worked at the long saw. it was hard work and McKay rewarded them with a gallon of grog.
About a century later, forestry was a major attraction for the people of Chapple, as it provided much needed capital for the new land owners. Farmers were able to use their teams during the winter for hauling wood, and the lumber camps were a reliable market for farm produce.
In 1892, Frank Yeigh mentioned extensive forests of red and white pine. There are also well equipped sawmills on Rainy River where the incoming settler may procure the necessary materials for the erection of a home and where he has the additional advantage of obtaining employment during the winter months at wages ranging from $25 to $30 per month. The lumber trade therefore forms the leading industry in the District. Seventeen years after Yeigh’s report, Pilkey’s 1909 promotion of the district reads: There are approximately over five hundred million feet of lumber manufactured annually at a value of over ten million dollars, about ten million railway ties at a value of over four million dollars, and also a large quantity of lathe and shingle. The Wasaw Road begun in 1899, gave access to much of the timber.
The huge fire of 1894 opened Chapple to the wood industry. It started south of the border around Hinckley, Minnesota. The last living survivor, Sigrid Strom was 106 in 1994 and still remembered the experience. the Hadleys, who came to Dobie around 1901, tell of seeing great charred stumps of tree that had not only been burned, but also cut. Trees were more accessible after a burn and still valuable if cut before the worms destroyed them. In order to harvest the trees, Tote roads were built inland. These roads, in turn, were used by settlers to move north, building their homes along the trails and extending them to reach their properties. Some settlers found their properties already cleared by the fire.
The Klondyke Trail coming up from Boucherville to Tait merged with the Stratton Station Road. Near Blackhawk, one branch was named the The Wagon Road and further along it became The Tote Road. The trails branched and criss-crossed, but moved toward Clearwater, in the north-easterly direction taken by the fire. Some early maps also show vestiges of a trail called The Barwick Road (not the present one).
Mather was left with a good stand of green pine. The Township was named after the financial pioneer who made possible the opening up and development of the country. (Eric Lund) Grace Nute wrote of J. Mather: The first sawmill, erected by John Mather, a veteran lumberman from the Ottawa valley, began operations on the site of Keewatin as early as 1880. His company is said to have supplied twenty million railroad ties. Many of those ties came from Chapple.
Tom Hilliard told Leah Walton that Tote road, which ran between Barwick and Clearwater Lake, was owned by the Rat Portage Lumber Company. When he built his house about 1903, he obtained lumber from Emo, shipped it by boat to Barwick, and had it hauled over the Tote Road. He said: About 1902 I worked getting logs for lumber of spruce, jackpine, whitepine and railroad ties of tamarac, cedar and jackpine. I spent three summers working at a sawmill in Rainy River. I got about $2.25 and day and boarded myself.
A mill readily available to the people of Roseberry and Shenston was located about a mile downriver from the foot of the Long Sault Rapids near Boucherville. Jim Jackson operated a mill on Sturgeon Creek and Norman Barron tells of coming across the remains of and old mill on the Sturgeon, but it became part of the war effort during the second world war, and was cleared away by military to use in munitions. Cliff Crawford tells of a mill built on Angus Macrea place, by the Pine River’s north bank. It was straight north of blackhawk school at the swimming hole. The used a big spring at the side of the hill for the steam engine. The Blackhawk area experienced fires in 1896 and 1898 and the McRea Mill may have been available to process some of the fire killed timber. Because of the fires, on could see across country for miles. Soon inland mills were operating all over the township, set up where and when they were needed. Adam Elliot, Alan Anderson, Willard Canfield and Carl Halvorsen all had saw mills. In the summer. Adam Elliot’s big steamer double as a thresher.
Around 1905, Traiton Luckens, pastor of Barwick Baptist Church, displayed his own peculiar woodcuting style. People had been coming to church with horses and oxen over rough corduroy roads, In winter, the animals were obliged to stand in the cold until church was over. They needed a shelter, and so Pastor Luckens volunteered to cut the poles for a lean-to shed. When the men of the church saw his willingness, several of them went with the pastor to help. Pastor Luckens, a well educated Englishman, had never cut down a tree in his life. When he began on the first tree, the men noticed to amusement that he had chopped all the way around the tree in a beaver fashion. “Heads up, lads!” the pastor exclaimed. “One more round, and she’s coming down!”
According to Rachel Gallinger, the township of Potts was a beehive of woodworking. She tells about the logs from their homestead being cut, hauled to a landing at Off Lake, and floated to Fort Frances from there. Her father’s powerful voice was a major factor in his begin hired on a log drive to the Shevlin-Clarke mill. From a considerable distance, the men could he the orders he relayed from the boss. Tahvo, Happo was hired for his remarkable to asses the board feet in a log drive. Rachel describes a pit-saw operation similar to that of John McKay over a hundred years earlier. It was used to make floorboards only, as the rest of the house was made of log. A pit-saw was also made available at Manitou as part of the treaty settlement.
From 1919 until 1929, Oscar Hill was the first owner/operator of a sawmill at Finland. Rachel says, “Here I saw my one-and- only at work pulling a load of logs to the mill.” The mills used water from Off Lake Creek for steam. The camp employed several other workers. Workers and their families moved in. Custom sawing was done at $12.00 per thousand board feet. There have been at least seven sawmills in the Finland area.
A cedar shingle-making invention was operated by horse power. A cedar block was split into four pieces, and these were laid on the top. A horse rotated the blocks against a sharp blade, while rock in the middle weighed down the centre. A youngster below piled the shingles as the were cut.
During the thirties when trucks started to haul wood to town, neighbors got together with their teams and, using a home-made plow of heavy logs, worked hard to plow the rood clear of snow. They risked the chance of heavy wind and snow falling before the trucks where able to get their loads to market.
In his book Along the Years, William St. John describes bringing logs with a diameter of three to four feet to the Elliot mill in Tait. He said that on some trees, they could get four 16- foot logs before reaching a limb. They made lumber as wide as twenty-four inches across. Bill’s first pulp-cutting job was at Dearlock where he boarded at Mr. Grennier’s for $1.00 per day. He received $2.50 per cord for cutting and piling it.
Needing cash again in the spring, Bill got a job working on a Pine River log drive throwing pulpwood into the river from the banks, where the settlers had piled it preparatory to scaling. It was then floated down the river to Rainy River. It was not too long before I was assigned to the cook wannigan to help the cook. There were two wannigans used on this drive, one for the cook, and one for the helper, with the stove and provisions, also a bank for the foreman. As the drive progressed we would moved the wannigan down the river so the men wouldn’t have to walk as far for their meals. One day Bill even prepared beaver for dinner. it made a great diversion from the unpopular salty ” red horse meat” and was downed with gusto.
The other wannigan housed the crew. There was a stove in the center and bunks on the sides for the men. The men came in at night usually with wet clothing. This they spread out to dry wherever they could find a space. The aroma of wet socks drying permeated the camp. The drive lasted to weeks. Clement LeBlanc remembers that the Pine River was cleared of debris for the log drives about 1913-1917. To keep track of payment the logs were stamped as to the ownership. On the last drive with a tugboat, Anna Grennier was the bookkeeper. Basil Kilpatrick mentions working on a Sturgeon Creek log drive. The drives has to be carefully controlled, because if the flooding was too extensive, logs just floated off, impossible to retrieve.
Wilbert Bolen tells of a pulpwood camp set up where the Dreksens live south of Karchuks’ place. The camp, belonging to MT Cathart, was operated by Jim Moore. During the winter of 1926, teamsters, Alex Scott, Wm. Bolen< Harvey Hart, Gordon Clink, Jim Moore and Billy Wilder had a hard haul of it. Because of heavy, early snows, the muskegs had not frozen over, and the horses were breaking through the snow crust. Harvey Hart said it was the worst year he had ever put in. No roads were plowed, and so no truck would have been able to haul the logs to Manders (the CNR stop between Stratton and Barwick, where the wood was loaded onto the train). The teamsters paid little attention to roads, and stuck to the high ground wherever possible.
There were six of seven buildings on the camp site the most important of which was the cookhouse. There Hazel Clink did the cooking as well as caring for her little brood of three: Davey, Lorraine and Joyce. Joyce remembers being there, as well as about two years later going to a camp near Roen’s Rock. They stopped in to see old Mr. Roen, a jolly plump man who took her on his knee and gave her a bag of jelly beans.
The teamster hotel in Barwick, The Roseberry, was operated by the McGauley family who lived there until it burned about 1925. There was a livery stable at the rear and both horses and men were fed and warmed. The hotel had been built in 1899 by John McTague and operated by the Smith Family.
When they were hauling from across the river, the men often returned with a load of sawdust which sometimes hid a load of liquid refreshments. Every now and again, haunted house stories would surface. People seeing lights moving in the dark over at the old Tierney house. Bill Wilson decided to investigate, settling himself in the grass to await the ghosts. Sure enough! About midnight lights were moving about! But not ghosts! Rum-runners!
Right up to the present, the lumber business has fulfilled the expectations of the settlers and the predictions of the government reports, by playing a large role in the economy of Chapple. With the building of the new mill on the site of the old Isaac Fearon farm, the wood industry on an even more significant part in the community. If the mill workers ever see an old car rattling by in a cloud of dust with a lady driving and a roly-poly, man beside her, his foot on the running board ready for a swift exit, they’ll know that Sarah and Isaac are just checking in to see what is going on at their old farm.