“Back in Them Old Times”

Back in Them Old Times

“Now twas all in Botwood then, or Ship Cove t’was then, see that’s where there head office was, there was no office nowhere else. So we went in and signed on. It was three o’clock in the evening and you knows that night was almost on then, in October month. So we took our clothes bags on our backs and we beat ‘er for Bishop’s Falls, now Bishop’s Falls in them days was called the outside depot….”

-Mr Henry Hutchings aged 94 describing to Hiram Silk going into the lumber woods at age 17 in 1892.

In 1904 there wasn’t much at Grand Falls besides an old Indian path and portage around the falls that allowed any venturous individuals who had come that far up river passage around the rough water of the falls. The Beothuck had used it, the Micmac had used it, furriers and caribou hunters, surveyors and geologists used it and as far back as one hundred and twenty years ago lumbermen were using it. The lumbermen who ventured as far as Grand Falls and above were working for operations out of Botwood.

Botwood was the first lumbering centre in the Bay of Exploits. As far back as the 1860s there were mills reported in the vicinity of Ship Cove and Peters Arm-Present day Botwood and Peterview respectively.

Wood cutters and shipbuilders had been attracted to the forested and sheltered inner reaches of the Bay since the early days of European settlement and shipbuilding was the real impetus behind this initial stage of lumbering. The early mills were water powered but steam mills could be found in the Bay by the 1880’s.

It is hard to imagine now when passing through the area, which is so heavily forested with thick stands of fairly unimpressive black spruce, that the Exploits Valley once hosted impressive stands of white pine. This pine attracted ship builders and lumbermen.

Firms such as the Manuals and the Windsors on Exploits Island built several schooners a year and sent fleets of them to persecute the Labrador fishery. It is said that Exploits Island, now resettled was once home to several Millionaires including members of these two previously mentioned families.

James Windsor of Exploits in partnership with a William Vallance established a steam powered Sawmill at Dominion Point on Peters Arm in 1869 and operated until 1892.

Eventually the export potential of Newfoundland lumber was realized. In 1890 a new mill was built at Botwood that could produce 45,000 foot board measure a day. It is reported by the 1955 Commission on forestry that this was the first mill built for the export of lumber in Newfoundland. I personally find this very hard to believe. In fact it was not even the first large mill at Botwood. But is with the construction of this mill in 1890 that a real push came on exploiting the wood resources of the inner parts of the Exploits Valley.

If I recall correctly the 1890 mill in Botwood was owned by a Gooday and Company from Quebec. Later the Rev. Edward Botwood became involved. Initially this company brought in a lot of Frenchmen from Quebec to work in the mill and in the logging camps. The French Canadians were joined at work by many Newfoundlanders though most of the foremen seem to have been French, including a man by the name of Le Motte.

By the 1950’s when this photo was taken most of the white pine in Newfoundland was gone. (Photo from the Royal Commission on Forestry 1955)
By the 1950’s when this photo was taken most of the white pine in Newfoundland was gone. (Photo from the Royal Commission on Forestry 1955)
Early Mill at Botwood. This mill appears to be water powered because of the flume leading to it. (Photo Credit-Center for Newfoundland Studies Archives, Memorial University)
Early Mill at Botwood. This mill appears to be water powered because of the flume leading to it. (Photo Credit-Center for Newfoundland Studies Archives, Memorial University)
The Exploits Lumber Company mill at Botwood. This mill was one of the biggest consumers of Exploits Valley lumber prior to the opening of the Grand Falls Mill. (Photo Credit-CNS Archives MUN).
The Exploits Lumber Company mill at Botwood. This mill was one of the biggest consumers of Exploits Valley lumber prior to the opening of the Grand Falls Mill. (Photo Credit-CNS Archives MUN).

The sawmill at Botwood seems to have quickly expanded its timber limits and operations in search of high grade white pine for its mill. Around 1891 it was cutting near Bishop’s Falls and by 1895 according to Mr. Henry Hutchings in an interview this company was cutting in the Badger and Twin Lakes region.

At this time Badger Brook was the end of the line for the Railway and depot from the Exploits Lumber Company was established there. Later a satellite mill was also established at Badger in addition to the mill at Botwood Eventually there would be at least two sawmills at Badger Brook, even before the establishment of the AND Co.

It wasn’t just in the Exploits Valley that mills sprang up. In the 1860s David Smallwood built the first steam powered mill in Newfoundland near Gambo and once the Railway started inland off the Avalon Peninsula things really took off. Mills were established on the railway at Terra Nova, Benton, Notre Dame Junction and most importantly Glenwood. One cannot forget the Phillips operations at Gander Bay and Point Leamington which were sizable operations but not located inland on the Railway.

The big catalyst for the expansion of the pine lumber industry was not initially export it was domestic consumption. This domestic demand came from the fact that a large portion of St. John’s had burned in 1892 and at the same time the railway was being pushed across the island. The railway opened up new country and required lumber for building purposes and sleepers.

At the turn of the 19th and 20th Centuries Newfoundland was in the midst of a boom in the white pine lumber industry. In 1900 Lewis Miller obtained rights to the timber around Red Indian Lake and built the largest sawmill in Newfoundland at a place he named Millertown. This boom in white pine was destined to bust. The trees were over mature and the stands quickly became exhausted. The white pine on the island of Newfoundland never fully recovered due to over-harvesting and  a disease known as blister rust. The isolated examples I have seen are the lucky ones that escaped the woodsmen’s axe and saw because they were too small-a hundred or more years ago.

Resources:

MUN DAI Hiram Silk Collection, Interview with Henry Hutchings http://collections.mun.ca/cdm/singleitem/collection/ich_oral/id/153/rec/1

http://nl.canadagenweb.org/ndexp_womenbio.htm

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