Old Pat Mulrooney must have turned in his grave a few years ago. That was in the spring of 2015, when the Loggers’ Life Provincial Museum was closed. In the preceding years vistorship had plummeted and there was just too much upkeep for the Rooms Corporation to justify keeping this monument to a once very important way of life. Once upon a time tens of thousands of people visited this site over the course of the short tourist season, every year.
It was a slightly smaller replica of an older style logging camp, the kind you would have likely seen in the area back in the 1920’s.* Inside bunks and a cookhouse were installed, complete with an old Adam Hall Stove and fresh boughs on the bunks. Outside it even hosted a saw pit, a river bateau and even in later years an old tow behind grader. Many thousands of visitors passed though the site over the forty years that it was open.
And there was probably not much of a better site for it to have been located in Grand Falls-Windsor. It was built next to Beothuk Provincial Park, on the shores of Rushy Pond. it was almost between the mill for which the loggers cut pulpwood and, Rushy Pond Waterchute, the place where the log drive ended and where the drivers camped as the yearly logging cycle ended.
In the late 1960’s the area around Rushy Pond became a Provincial Park. A few years later in 1971 the idea to build an exhibit recreating a logging camp first came about. The idea apparently originated with Reginald Woolfrey. Woolfrey at that time was the Regional Supervisor of Parks for the Province. He had also been a logger.
Two other former loggers were tasked with building the exhibit, Alfred Menchinton of Norris Arm and Patrick Mulrooney of Windsor. Over the course of three summers Mulrooney and Menchinton set about building the exhibit. Like many of the early camps the replica was made almost entirely of logs. The actual building of the camps became an exibit in itself and a number of visitors watched as the two men hewed and fitted the logs.
When the work was completed Mulrooney and Menchinton had built a forepeak, cookhouse, Bunkhouse (attached as they were in old camps), a barn, forge and saw filers shack. In addition they also put up a saw pit as would have been seen in the old camps before portable sawmills. Inside the buildings artifacts from a variety of sources were displayed. Price (Newfoundland) had donated a shed down in Millertown from which a number of items came and over one hundred came from Pat Mulrooney’s private collection. The artifacts included axes, saws, stoves, pots and pans, pike poles, peaveys, harnesses and horseshoes and even sleds and a river bateau. The collection even included the lock from Newfoundland’s first pulp mill. In later years an old tow behind grader even made its way to the site.
For many years Pat Mulrooney was the life blood and main attraction at the museum. Who better to educate people about logging than a former logger? Pat even carved food out of wood for the exhibit. His knowledge and enthusiasm eventually led him to winning the George Chafe Award for his contribution to Provincial Parks in 1993.
In 1997 in the wake of the provincial government’s decision to privatize many provincial parks, including Beothuck Park, Mulrooney successfully saved the loggers museum from being a victim of these cuts. Mulrooney retired in 2000 at the age of 65. Unfortunately Mr. Mulrooney passed aware not long after his retirement. Other long time employees included Nee Pinsent and Tony Kyritsis. Mention should also be given to Penny Wells, who while curator of the Mary March Museum focused a lot of energy into the Logger’s Exhibit.
Some years there would be upwards of 20,000 visitors to the site. Included in this number would be school field trips from all over central Newfoundland. About twenty years ago the museum tour was packaged with a tour of the paper mill as well. I do believe there must have been some support from Abitibi at this level. In 2003 there was funding from the Provincial Government to the tune of $35,000 to improve the site and to put up some additional information panels.
As the years wore on the number of visitors to the site dropped off. There was very little in the way of signage to encourage visitors to the site. It and the the Mary March Museum both came under the Rooms Corporation, which now controlled the provincial museums. The number of visitors to the site steadily declined, in 2009 about 3, 100 people visited the site, In 2014 only 1,800 visitors visited the site.
The following spring the PC government made the decision to close the museum. It apparently needed major upgrading and after close to forty years of operation, the installation of a septic system and running water. The number of visitors didn’t warrant the investment.
I would highly doubt that any of the old log logging camps in the woods lasted more than forty years, but they could build a new one at a new site within a few weeks when they shifted every few years. I have attempted to figure out how many camps there were over the years and have just given up to say that here had to have been hundreds and only one now closed memorial to a lost way of life.
The first time I remember visiting the museum was in the late 1980’s with mom and her father, Pop Baker, and I have a faint memory of him talking about how his father had worked in camps like this with “rats chewing on his toes” and the last time was probably in 2006 when approached by the tour guide my girlfriend (now wife) politely explained to the tour guide that “he doesn’t need a guide” and kind of rolled her eyes at me. Some of the information I had gathered was on the storyboards in front of us.
Since the closure there has been ideas floating around that reopening the museum at another location is not completely out of the question, perhaps in Grand Falls-Windsor itself at a location nearer the Mary March Museum.
I for one would love to see it rebuilt, along with a rebuilt Beothuk Village. Were I to do it I would if possible have a later bunkhouse Incorporated in the site, as well as a have an old D-4 or D-6 tractor and a steel Russel winch boat at the location. If you really wanted to get crazy I am sure it wouldn’t be hard to come by a Timberjack skidder either.
There is still a Provincial Seamen’s Museum, way off the Trans Canada Highway in Grand Bank, don’t the loggers and mill workers deserve something too? I guess we are very quick to forget those times when our forest resources contributed so much to our economy.**
*Truth be know there was probably camp somewhere very close by at some point in time. The would probably have been a camp on the other side of the Exploits sometime in the 1920’s and there may have been an earlier camp from the pre-1905 era even closer to the site.
**There were certain periods in the history of Newfoundland that the amount of money earned by workers in the pulp and paper industry, including loggers, amounted to more than what was earned by all fishermen from the fishery. There were more fishermen, however more money was earned from the forest industries. This was the case a number of times in the 1950’s and 60’s. It should also be taken into account that many fishermen would also earn money in the woods at various times in the year. During the early 1930’s the value of the pulp and paper exports from Newfoundland was greater than those from the fishery as fish prices had plummeted during the Depression.
Georgina Martin, Personnel Communication.