Log Flumes in the Central Newfoundland Lumberwoods 1919-1965

Time, weather, and flooding have done away with a lot of the “river improvements” that were done in Central Newfoundland in the 80+ years that wood was driven to the Grand Falls mill via the log drive. Rivers and streams were blasted, cribbed, straightened, diverted and dammed, especially in the days when they were driving 4 and 5 foot wood, you’d be surprised with what they could drive on if it were dammed effectively. The early years when wood was cut in carried and long lengths presented some serious challenges in driving.

A flume is basically a v-shaped or curved trough that is filled with water so logs can be floated. There are a few examples of these being used in Newfoundland. The more well known examples were in the western logging areas that supplied the Corner Brook mill. In some cases the hilly terrain in Western Newfoundland made these both necessary and feasible, there are a few pictures around of the flumes and chutes used out in this area.

Deer Lake has a fairly well known and large log flume in place, I believe it still may be there. It is a large steel chute put in place to keep pulpwood from the turbines in the power plant there.

The employment of flumes in log transportation in the central region is less widely known. I have uncovered three notable examples.

The 1919-20 Flumes of Gilmour and Turner: 

During the logging season of 1919-20, Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company Logging Superintendent J.D Gilmour and Logging Engineer Jack Turner designed and supervised the construction of large two log flumes. Both flumes connected ponds with smaller tributaries to the larger rivers, in one case Victoria and the other the Exploits.

Log Flumes Map of location 1919-1920..JPG
Map of the two log flumes built for the Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company in 1919-20. I I am almost certain of the location of the flume near Victoria, but for the life of me I can’t positively match the second flume to any lake or pond in Central, though the Exploits looks like it does near the mouth of Pamehac, and the pond remotely resembles one of the ponds in this area. (Engineering and Contract Record also Canada Lumberman)

A report on the building and employment of these flumes was detailed by the builders in an article in the Canada Lumberman. Flume Number 1 was built from a pond near Victoria River (on the opposite side from Jones Pond.)  It was approximately 1.75 miles long.  A crew of about 20 men and a temporary sawmill were employed to build both flumes. Interestingly they used the flumes to actually float the building materials down the completed part of the flume for its own construction. This was not without obstacles as it was built during a particular dry summer. To work around the lack of water a v shaped cart was built to travel down the flume with materials! There are a number of pictures of Flume Number 1 in the article.

AND CO Flume 1919-1920.JPG
Section of the flume near Victoria River, 1920. (Canada Lumberman)

Flume Number 2 is more of a mystery. The map shows that it connects a pond to the Exploits River. It can be safely assumed that it was built somewhere in Badger Division. The pond depicted in the map does not look like any in the area, but it should be remembered that the map was done without the aid of any aerial photographs.  This flume was also reportedly nearly 3 miles long. There are no pictures of the flume, although there is a detailed account of the materials that went into its construction. And despite these details and a map, I cannot determine the exact location of the second flume. In my opinion it was probably built somewhere in the vicinity of Pamehac Lake, 5-Mile Lake and Black Duck Brook as I know this was an active logging area at this time, and the map depicts a pond on the south side of the Exploits River.

AND CO logging flume 1919-1920 Canada Lumberman..JPG

It can be assumed that these flumes were built in the absence of large brooks to drive the longer timber that they were cutting at the time. The article in the Canada Lumberman (also reproduced in the Engineering and Contract Record) is the only account of these flumes existing. I have gone through dozens of interviews with loggers, many of whom were working during this time period and it is not mentioned. In all likelihood there may not be any remnants of these flumes, the lumber used in their construction was probably salvaged for camps and/or dams, and in any case if anything was left it has long melted back into the forest.

Although they were fairly expensive and labor intensive to build, the flumes could move a lot of wood, which justified the cost. With only about a four man crew, it was reported that the flume to Victoria moved 275 cords of wood in one 10-hour shift. During the Spring of 1921 over 5000 cords of wood were floated down this flume. That is 5000 cords moved without having to feed a horse or put a drop of gas in a tractor.

If anything these flumes, were an expensive but successful experiment in moving wood. At almost the exact same time another innovative means of moving wood was being experimented with, that being the gasoline powered crawler tractor. It doesn’t appear that another large flume was built by the Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company in the woods for another 44 years.

Island Pond-Cripple Back Flume 1964

In the early 1960’s the Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company was phasing out the log drive on the Noel Paul River. Most of the merchantable timber in the south western part of this area had been harvested. There was however, several camps and operations still operating near the watershed of West Branch Sandy River. There was still a lot of wood around a pond known as Island Pond. Before 1964 wood from Island Pond was floated down Point of the Woods Brook to Noel Paul’s Brook. With the cessation of the drive here there needed to be a way of getting the wood from Island Pond to the Grand Falls Mill. The solution was one that hadn’t been tried in years.

20181117_125914109679793.jpg
The Island Pond-Cripple Back Flume, under construction, November 1964. (AND News-Log)

This flume may have been the brainchild of Nelson Williams from the Woods Department. The idea was to build a flume to connect Island Pond to Cripple Back Lake, from Cripple Back the wood could be floated into West Branch and then into Sandy Brook and finally the Exploits. The idea was given the OK from Grand Falls, under the condition that the site would be returned to the way it  was  before the flume was in place.

So in the summer of 1964 a portable sawmill was set up near Island Pond to supply the lumber for the flume. I have been told it was mostly PINE! Construction of the flume was reportedly started on November 16, 1964 by a crew under the supervision of Foreman Cyril Purchase. It is hard to believe, but the 1160-foot wooden v-shaped trough was competed in less than a month.(News Log December 1964)

Cripple Back Flume
The completed Island Pond-Cripple Back Flume. Summer 1965. If you look closely you can see the cab of a Russel Winch Boat on the left. This flume started on Island Pond fairly open and flat and gradually tapered into a v-shape to increase velocity on the way into Cripple Back. (News-Log)

In order to make the flume work, the dam on Island Pond had to be raised so that 2 extra feet of water could be backed up. An additional dam also had to be built for the flume.   I do believe that that some of this additional damming was also done in order to control water for the Sandy Brook hydro station, which was being built around the same time. Besides the dam building, a considerable amount of exaction had to be done to a hill and through a bog.

The Island Pond-Cripple Back Flume went into operation in the summer of 1965. It was projected that that year some 17,000 cords of wood, mostly cut under the supervision of foreman Stewart Chatman, would be sluiced through the flume. By the middle of July about 11,000 cords had already gone through the flume. (News-Log August 1964)

20181117_133800-11605933972.jpg
Cripple Back end of the flume.

The flume was used for a number of years until most of the mature wood was cut in the area and operations moved elsewhere, cutting in this area seems to have ended around 1967 when George Hayden had a contract near the flume. So what happened to the flume? The story goes that at the time Wooddale was developing as farming community. A farmer there knew about the flume and knew it was made of pine. He approached the Company and asked what they were doing with the flume. Then the Logging Superintendent came back with the answer: “You can have it for free if you put the site back the way it was before it was put there.”

Cripple Back Flume location Crown.JPG
The area today. You can still see where it was excavated for the flume. (Crown Lands, Land Use Atlas)

The farmer hired on some equipment and dismantled the flume and apparently did a pretty good job of cleaning up the site. I wonder if there is an old barn in Wooddale made out of pine?

-Bryan Marsh

Sources:


Engineering and Contract Record

Otto Verge, Personal Conversations with Author.


Notes:

There were a number of other diversions and other stream improvements done over the years. There was a large man made diversion at Pamehoc Brook in the 1970’s where they seem to have dug another stream to the Exploits River to shorten the distance that logs needed to be driven to the main river.

There were other diversions, such as at Diversion Lake, where the flow was diverted into Sandy and I believe Miguel Lake, where the flow was diverted from the North West Gander River to great Rattling Brook by building a canal and dams.

If you look closely you can still see where some of the wings built on Badger Brook back in the 1920’s to improve the flow of logs.

I have seen pictures of brooks in Millertown area where the stream bed has been lined with logs to keep pulpwood from jamming, impressively these pictures were recent and the logs have been in place for a considerable number of decades.

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