An Up-Country Trickle.
The snow was starting to melt. The bolts of pulpwood were piled as far as the eye could see, thousands like a crate of tooth picks had been dumped over a table. There was a lake under all of that wood a lake that was backed up by the dam. As the weather warmed and the frost went out of the ground and the ice out of the pond the gates would be opened to unleash the the power and move the pulpwood.
It was still cold, but relatively warm. There was something strangely satisfying about walking out to the road in only a sweater, scant snow underfoot, rotting in the sun.……………
“I remember about twelve months ago or perhaps a little less, I was fortunate enough to witness one of the sights of my life, and that was the breaking of a log jam on a river and its piling up again a little lower down. It was about four in the afternoon when this jam broke, and it was a truly wonderful sight. I was standing just a bit below, perhaps 100 or 150 yards below the point where the jam broke, and about an equal distance above the point where the log jam was going. The bank of the river on which I was standing was probably fifteen feet above the level of the river, and in the course of three or four minutes I and those who were with me had to fly up over the bank as fast as we could. Where the jam got going the river rose up fully 20 feet. When that jam broke there were four or five men out in the middle of it. To be quite frank how they got out of it I don’t know, but they did.”
F. Gordon Bradley , Leader of the Opposition
Debates of the Newfoundland Legislature 1933
I took a run up to Goodyears dam the other day and was amazed with the amount of water that was on the river. It was a massive deafening torrent and that wasn’t even the main falls of the river. I thought how back in the old days the “company” would have been making the most out of the unusually heavy rains that had filled up Red Indian Lake to maximize the amount of wood they could get to Grand Falls.
Most peoples knowledge of log driving probably comes from the old National Film Board vignette of the “Log Driver’s Waltz.” What is amazing is that many of us may have been watching that and not know that just a few kilometers away an actual log drive was taking place on the Exploits River.
Log Driving in Newfoundland was dependent mainly on snow-melt, rain and an ingenious collection of woods dams. Dam building usually took place in late summer after the drive was finished up and water levels were low. A team of men would set to work building crib works, cutting and peeling logs, collecting moss and driving piles into river and steam beds. These woods dams made it possible to transport wood on streams that would boggle the mind that one could float logs. For instance with a series of dams a steam like Corduroy Brook could be used for log driving in the right conditions. Many of the woods dams would be placed where brooks and rivers flowed out of lakes, others would be placed on the steams themselves to control water levels. At one time Noel Paul’s Brook had something like 8 dams on it! And even a smaller brook like Pamehoc had 3 on it in the 1980’s.
There were men whose specialty was the building of dams. William Dorrity of Maine, who came to Grand Falls to work on the coffer dams for mill construction was one of them. Dorrity had great expertise in the building of dams he had gained though years of working in the lumberwoods of New England and he applied his knowledge to the Exploits River system. In an era before tractors or trucks the steams and rivers were the arteries in which wood flowed to the mill.And in the first decade or so after the mill went into production pulpwood was cut near the river and its tributaries.
Depending on the size of the water body logs were piled on the ice, or by the side of the water. I have seen pictures of large brows of wood in the middle of larger lakes they would simply fall into the water as the ice melted. Usually in the case of flowing water the logs would have to be rolled into the river. In the early days this was done by men with peaveys and pike poles when wood got smaller they used pike piles or pulphooks. Even later bulldozers were used to plow many cords of wood at a time into the river.
The first pulpwood drive for the Grand Falls mill took place in the spring of 1908. Reports at the time said that they drove 8 million logs, that was long wood in the years before they started to measure wood in cords and it was difficult to move. Moving long wood required skill in negotiating the river and picking out the jams. And if a jam couldn’t be picked apart it required dynamite which was destructive to the wood.
The log driver is a much celebrated person in Canada. In Newfoundland there work was dangerous damp and cold. The drive usually started in May when snow might still be on the ground. The water in which the wood was flowing was frigid and the men would be damp all day. In the early years the drivers slept in tents along the river, many a log driver it has been said ended up with consumption (tuberculosis) as a result of their work.In the early years driving was also dangerous work and a number of men were killed on the drive in the 1910’s and 1920’s. If I recall correctly at least 3 men were killed driving for the AND Company in 1913.
Boats were used all along the route the route for transporting the men, transporting tents and supplies and for getting to hard to reach log jams. There are reports of wannigan or wangon boats being used, some of which were like floating camps, but I have not turned up any pictures of these. The most common log drive boat was the batteau-an oversize double ended dory. from the 1950’s on Gander Bay boats fitted with outboard motors.
I do believe that if you did a chart of how many streams and rivers were being used for log driving in Newfoundland over the years it would appear with a peak in the middle of the twentieth century. When they started cutting short pulpwood in the 1920s it became easier to drive wood. By the 1940’s when they started to drive 4 foot wood most feasible streams had dams on them and were used for driving. In the 1960s when logging methodology changed with the introduction of skidders and pallet trucks most of the wood was taken either to the river or to a larger lake or tributary to be driven. In the last years of the drive it is my understanding that most of the wood was dumped into the exploits from trucks.
One can log drive in Central Newfoundland like you would the circulatory system. It was a system that consisted of arteries, veins and capillaries. The Exploits River was the main artery, the veins were the larger tributaries like Great Rattling, Badger, Harpoon, Victoria and Sandy. Into the tributaries flowed the smaller brooks: Rocky Brook, Michael’s Brook, Goodyears Brook, Point of the Woods, most of which were connected to ponds that could hold thousands of cords of wood. There are exceptions since there were what I would capillaries like Pamehoc and Tom Joe that were connected directly to the Exploits, but by and large the above comparison sums it up.
Trucking started to very slowly take over from driving in the 1950’s and 60’s. Initially woods roads were a means in which camps were supplied with men and supplies. Experiments were made into trucking in the 1940’s, but this was used in conjunction with driving. By 1966 driving was stopped on Great Rattling and all wood from the Bishop’s Falls Division was trucked directly to the mill via the south side road. But on the main stem of the Exploits from Red Indian to Grand Falls it was still cost effective to drive pulpwood. An extensive network of woods roads was pushed all through the country in the from the 1940’s onward. it was only in the late 1950’s that the woods roads were really used to move wood and even then into the 1970’s and 80’s most of the wood was still dumped into the Exploits.
Above taken from: Pamehac Brook: A case study of the restoration of
a Newfoundland, Canada, river impacted by flow
diversion for pulpwood transportation
It was only in the 1990’s that driving was completely phased out. Years ago I was surprised when I asked the former Abitibi PR man Roger Pike when they stopped driving. He told me 1991, this kind of blew me away, but it made sense since I remember the log booms in the late 1980’s. I later found out that the last sacking (cleaning logs from the river) was done in 1994!
What I haven’t been able to do is get a whole lot of information on the log drive as it was in the latter years. I have only turned up a handful of pictures of driving operations from after the 1960’s and only one of these is in color. The information has to be out there because many of the workers are still alive compared to the early days.