Logging and the Fur Trade (1870s~1900)
For several years, trappers brought in large quantities of furs, which included beaver, fisher, otter, bear, wolf, martin, mink and muskrat. In July, partners would head into the bush to find a good camp site by a river or lake, and build a solid log shanty with a good stone fireplace. Within their territory, they also built two or three smaller overnight cabins. After setting trap lines, they would stay for one or two months. In September they would return home by canoe with their cache of furs. In March, they would head back into the bush for a month of spring trapping.
Each year, Haliburton village hosted two great sale days on May 24 and November 5. Hunters and trappers—some travelling hundreds of miles—congregated to trade with fur buyers from Toronto, Quebec, New York, and Boston. Around 1920, fur trapping became illegal.
Wild ginseng used to grow in Haliburton’s hardwood hills in large quantities. Trappers would dig the plants up in September and sell them along with their furs at the November sale. Buyers would ship the plants to China where they were in great demand for medicinal purposes.
By the middle of the 19th century, pine was king, and Haliburton could boast of “some of the finest and largest Canadian pine ever seen”. A logging report written in the 1850s optimistically stated, “the area north of Peterborough has enough timber to feed the Ottawa mills at their present rate of consumption for 600 years”. In reality, the virgin pine forests were consumed in less than 60 years.
The first timber licenses were issued for Lutterworth and Anson in 1860, and for Minden and Stanhope in 1861. By the 1870s, the logging industry was booming with at least eight major companies (including Mossom Boyd, Campbells and Stricklands) working the area. One of their more lucrative deals involved the new settlers. To save time and effort, settlers would hire loggers to clear their land. The logging companies processed the logs in their own mills and then sold the lumber back to the settlers, making money on both ends of the deal.
Large-scale logging was done in the winter. Crews entered the bush in September well before snowfall. After their crops had been harvested, farmers went into the woods to become loggers, and were paid $10 to $15 per month. After camps were set up, the men began to work along the streams and rivers to clear debris and build dams. At the same time, a hauler gang (primarily teamsters who would later handle the animals) cut trails and roads for the oxen and horses to haul logs to the banks of soon-to-be-frozen streams.
Most of the tree cutting and sawing was done in November and December by gangs of timber-makers before the snow got too deep. There were five men in a gang. The timber-makers selected and cut down trees suitable for making construction beams and ship masts. They would average six pieces of timber per day. Following them through the bush would be five-man saw log gangs—three men to chop down, dress, and top the trees, and two men to saw trees into 12-16 foot saw-logs and square timbers for the mills. Five logs to a tree were considered average, and a good cutting gang could produce 75 logs each day. Once the snow was about a foot deep (usually mid-January), the hauler gangs began to drag the logs and timbers out of the bush.
By the end of the winter, it was normal for a single crew to have over 5,000 timbers and logs piled along shorelines. The large companies, which would employ 15 to 20 crews, could produce 100,000 pieces of wood ready to go downstream.
When spring arrived and the ice started to break up on the rivers and lakes, the work camps closed. Men not involved in log drives were paid off and most of them returned to their farms. The remaining men were sent to the depot camp to prepare for the log drives which usually began in April after most of the ice had left the lakes.
Log drivers were paid $20 to $30 per month for very dangerous work. They opened the dams to provide the necessary power to carry logs and timbers down rivers to the lakes where log booms were formed. Most of the square timbers went to Quebec to be shipped overseas, and the saw-logs would go to sawmills on the Burnt and Gull River systems. Logging in the Haliburton area drastically slowed down in the early 20th century, and the last log drive through Minden happened in 1929.
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Greg…another really interesting chapter. Thanks so much for all your work on this…we really are enjoying reading about the history of the area….Dave Hann