During the mid-19th century, the United States was in the middle of its “Conquest of the West,” the settlement of the vast territory stretching between the Mississippi and the Pacific Ocean. Before that time, many homes of the wave of pioneers moving westward were generally constructed out of whole trunks of trees superimposed on one another. (image) This technique, known as pièce-en-pièce construction required trees of large dimensions. Such trees became rarer as settlers moved westward. Out on the Great Plains, settlers began building homes completely out of sod. Necessity was the mother of invention! During the 1830s, a new architectural procedure known as the “balloon frame” began to be perfected. This invention would transform the methods of construction in the United States and would have a considerable influence on the development of the lumber industry in the Outaouais region.
The “balloon frame” method of construction consisted of assembling pieces of wood into a framing skeleton made of planks of two by four (inches) and two by six (inches), which constituted the backbone of a building. (image)1 During this period, this procedure was revolutionary as it allowed for a reduction in the amount of wood used in construction at a time when there was a widespread shortage in the United States. Moreover, due to the ease of assembly permitted, it took only a handful of unskilled labourers to build homes in two or three days; towns and cities that grew up so quickly became known as “boom towns”. (image) The forests of white pine and white spruce in the Outaouais became a significant source of forestry resources to feed the American market. A free-trade agreement was reached between British North America and the United States in 1854, which played an important role in the building of the rail networks on the continent. These conditions provided the Outaouais region with the conditions for considerable economic and industrial development.
Thus, from the 1850s on, lumber production was added to the output of squared timber, which had already been an important part of the Canadian economy. This situation was favourable for the region’s economy, especially for the economic development of communities that were located near the forests, particularly since the lumber industry was more labour-intensive than the production of square timber. In addition, new capital flowed in with the Americans who moved to Canada. In Chaudière Falls, in particular, they settled between Hull (Wrightstown) and Ottawa (Bytown). They erected large sawmills in order to supply the U.S. market2. The presence of these new enterprises entailed hiring many workers, which in turn drew a large French-Canadian workforce to the region. Gradually, the demographic balance began to shift towards the Francophones.
The accelerated growth of the lumber industry, focusing on the U.S. market from the early 1850s, inspired the creation of a many enterprises that used wood as a raw material, or suppliers that furnished the forestry industry. This included match factories, barrel factories, woodturning, and fabricators of doors, windows, furniture.. Other manufacturers made tools and prepared foodstuffs for the logging areas. Towns and villages in the forest hinterland became more dynamic and developed new transportation networks.References and definitions
1 MARTIN, Paul-Louis. À la façon du temps présent. Trois siècles d’architecture populaire au Québec, Sainte-Foy, Les Presses de l’Université Laval, 1999, 380 p.
2 LOWER, A. R. M. The North American Assault on the Canadian Forest, New York, Greenwood Press, 1938. Also: Charlotte Whitton, A Hundred Years A-Fellin’, Ottawa, Runge Press, 1946, p. 140.
PHOTO No 1
Source: Bibliothèque et Archives Canada, PA-27215.
Caption: View of a part of a sawmill on the Chaudière Falls with stacks of boards and planks in the background.
PHOTO No 2
Source: Collection Pierre Louis Lapointe. File, The Richelieu Waterway, 15 September, 1972.
Caption: Map of the navigable channel from New York to region of Montreal, which allowed for the transportation of forest products to the United States.
PHOTO No 3
Source: Musée canadien des Civilisations, no 73-424.
Caption: Paper roll carriers for the Eddystone News before being loaded onto Canadian Pacific railroad cars.
PHOTO No 4
Source: Collection S.J. Jarvis. Unknown photographer
Caption: The Edwards Mill at Rideau Falls in Ottawa, c. 1900
PHOTO No 5
Source: Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec, Centre d’archives de l’Outaouais, P117.
Caption: Workers in the lumberyard of the James MacLaren company, c. 1906.
PHOTO No 6
Caption: Miniature model of a “balloon frame” construction.
PHOTO No 7
Caption: The “saloon”, typical structure in a town in the American West, constructed using “balloon frame” construction.
PHOTO No 8
Caption: The remains of a home constructed pièce-en-pièce .