Project Canterbury

Or, Five Years of Church Work among Ojibway Indians and Lumbermen, resident upon that Island or in its Vicinity.

By Harold Nelson Burden

London: Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent & Co., 1895.

Chapter XX. Saw Mills

The lumber interest is carried on very extensively on the north shore of the Georgian Bay, opposite the Great Manitoulin Island. Here the land is extremely rocky and the hills are covered with timber, chiefly pine. Around these hills are valleys and ravines of considerable extent, in which also the pine trees grow and have been growing for centuries. Amongst the hills are many small lakes mostly connected by small rivers or creeks, thus forming a highway for the lumberman. Through them he sends his logs to the larger lakes where they can be towed to a mill by a tug or steamboat. The work of cutting down timber is commenced in September or the latter end of August.

When a "limit" or timber berth--which has already been described--has been secured, a suitable spot is selected on which to build a shanty--a large rough building of logs, roofed in either with logs or with boards covered with shingle or tarred felt to keep out the rain. It is furnished with bunks for sleeping and a large stove for heating purposes.

Then another somewhat similar shanty is built for the cook, in which the meals are prepared and eaten, and which forms a sort of common dining room for [136/137] the camp. It should be mentioned that lately considerable advancement has been made in the accommodation and furnishing of lumber camps with regard both to the sleeping and other apartments. Not many years ago the arrangements were far more primitive and far less comfortable than they are now; formerly there used to be a large open fire in the centre of the camp, and the smoke made its way through the roof, while if there were any wind, it spread through the shanty, nearly suffocating the inmates. Now this is done away with and a stove takes its place. There is also a considerable improvement in the cooking.

Near the sleeping and dining camp a stable is built for the horses, a shop for the blacksmith and carpenter, and a smaller building for an office in which the provisions are kept. This building is commonly called the "van," and serves as an office for the clerk and a sleeping place for the master of the camp, called the "boss." Here also the missionary is sometimes lodged when he visits the camp. Such then are the buildings erected for the use of the men working on the "limit."

We have already seen how the logs are conveyed down the river to the mill where they are sawn into planks or made into shingles. These mills are usually of wood built upon a stone foundation, and are one or more storeys in height. When the logs have reached the saw-mill they are placed in a boom, and, as [137/138] required, drawn up from the river on an inclined plane. On arriving at the top of the plane they are rolled on to a moveable bed or carriage which runs over a tramway fixed upon the floor of the mill.

Below this tramway there is a frame in which a circular saw is fixed and which is secured to the foundations of the mill. The carriage is provided with a rack and a lever, and is so connected with the machinery driving the saw that the log is sent forward at exactly the same rate as the saw cuts; and, in less time than it takes to write these words, a rough log may be cut up into inch boards. First, one outside slab is taken off, then another, until four have been removed. The log is now square and is ready to be cut into boards. The carriage is then placed so that the saw will cut a board of the required thickness, and when the lever is applied, it is drawn over the tramway, thus bringing the log into contact with the saw, and a board is cut off. It is then run back again, and the process repeated with such rapidity that several men are required to carry the boards to the trucks waiting for them. As soon as a load is completed it is removed, and the boards stacked with great regularity in the yard without, to await sale or shipment.

Shingle mills are often, but not always attached to a saw-mill. These mills work very much upon the same principle as those for cutting up logs. Shingles are made from what are called shingle bolts--trunks [138/141] of pine trees cut into lengths of four feet and split longitudinally into four or more pieces. These are first prepared by being cut up into three equal lengths, the surface being cut level, and are then ready for the shingle saw.

When the saw has done its work the shingle is a smooth piece of board, sixteen inches long, of uniform width, nearly half an inch thick at one end and regularly tapering to nothing at the other. As the shingles drop from the machine they fall down an inclined plane at the foot of which are a number of boys who pack them into frames which are constructed to hold exactly two hundred and fifty. These frames are fastened with hoop iron and the shingles are now ready for shipment. Shingles are largely used for roofing buildings and in some cases outside walls are covered with them.

The work, whether in the camp, on the drive, or in the mill, is at all times both laborious and dangerous. In the bush, time and again men lose their lives by some untimely accident, aggravated by the want of surgical skill and proper nursing. An accident happens; the camp is many miles from the nearest town; the injured man has to be carried as best he may; and every now and then some poor fellow dies from sheer exhaustion on the way.

Then in the mill, an accident may, and frequently does happen. One of the saws will split or some of the machinery give way and pieces of iron or steel [141/142] are hurled with terrible force in every direction. Woe to the man whom such a piece may chance to strike; his body will, in all probability, be carried from the building lifeless.

Then again there are dangers from fire. Year by year lumber to the value of many thousands of dollars is consumed by this destructive enemy. The engine shaft is a prolific cause of danger in this respect; a spark unnoticed may rest upon the roof, which in nearly every case is of shingles, and in a short space of time the whole place is in flames, Everything which human foresight can devise to prevent a mishap of this nature is provided. Guards are placed upon the top of the shaft, and large barrels, full of water, are kept in readiness upon a platform erected in the ridge of the roof. In a word no precaution is omitted, but too often all are without avail.

Project Canterbury