Place: Long-Sault Rapids
Theme: The square timber trade era
Year: 1806
Related Vignette(s):

1760-1867 - The square timber trade era
Vignette
B4
The Wrights and the Outaouais square timber trade

Historical rendering of the first drive of an Outaouais square timber raft. It shows Philemon Wright on his raft the “Columbo”, assembled in 1806 at the mouth of the Gatineau River.
Historical rendering of the first drive of an Outaouais square timber raft. It shows Philemon Wright on his raft the “Columbo”, assembled in 1806 at the mouth of the Gatineau River.
Philemon Wright, was an American from Woburn Mass, near Boston. He set up the Outaouais’ first agricultural settlement in Hull Township in 1800 and founded the village of Wrightstown, from which the City of Hull originateed (1875).
Philemon Wright, was an American from Woburn Mass, near Boston. He set up the Outaouais’ first agricultural settlement in Hull Township in 1800 and founded the village of Wrightstown, from which the City of Hull originateed (1875).
The village of Wrightstown in 1823. The hamlet boasted a church, a sawmill, a grist mill (in the centre) and a three-storey inn (to the right).
The village of Wrightstown in 1823. The hamlet boasted a church, a sawmill, a grist mill (in the centre) and a three-storey inn (to the right).
View of the timber rafts moored in the Sillery and Quebec coves and of the ships waiting to be loaded with square timbers and deals for the return-trip to Great-Britain.
View of the timber rafts moored in the Sillery and Quebec coves and of the ships waiting to be loaded with square timbers and deals for the return-trip to Great-Britain.
Drawing of the timber slide built by Ruggles Wright on the Quebec side of the Chaudière Falls, around 1829. Ruggles, son of Philemon Wright, was the inventor of this very important technological innovation, essential to the growth of the Outaouais’ square timber trade.
Drawing of the timber slide built by Ruggles Wright on the Quebec side of the Chaudière Falls, around 1829. Ruggles, son of Philemon Wright, was the inventor of this very important technological innovation, essential to the growth of the Outaouais’ square timber trade.
To the left of the engraving can be seen the mouth of Brewery Creek, the road linking Hull to Aylmer and the village of Hull’s Main Street. The artist draws Ruggles Wright’s slide and the cribs that are being floated towards the slide entrance.
To the left of the engraving can be seen the mouth of Brewery Creek, the road linking Hull to Aylmer and the village of Hull’s Main Street. The artist draws Ruggles Wright’s slide and the cribs that are being floated towards the slide entrance.
W.H. Bartlett drawing entitled Timber Slide and Bridge on the Ottawa. This is probably a romantic rendering of the Ruggles Wright slide.
W.H. Bartlett drawing entitled Timber Slide and Bridge on the Ottawa. This is probably a romantic rendering of the Ruggles Wright slide.
Illustration representing the Grand Calumet Falls and slide around 1880.
Illustration representing the Grand Calumet Falls and slide around 1880.
Towing of a squared timber raft on the St. Lawrence around 1880. A steamboat takes over from the sails that used to be hoisted on the rafts to make them gain speed on slow-running stretches of the river.
Towing of a squared timber raft on the St. Lawrence around 1880. A steamboat takes over from the sails that used to be hoisted on the rafts to make them gain speed on slow-running stretches of the river.
Plan of the Township of Hull as laid down by surveyor Theodore Davis in 1801. It is annotated and the names of many of the pioneer settlers are written on it. The colour code differentiates the Protestant clergy reserve lots in dark grey from the Crown reserve lots in red. It should be noted however that this township, granted to Philemon Wright is much larger than most townships.
Plan of the Township of Hull as laid down by surveyor Theodore Davis in 1801. It is annotated and the names of many of the pioneer settlers are written on it. The colour code differentiates the Protestant clergy reserve lots in dark grey from the Crown reserve lots in red. It should be noted however that this township, granted to Philemon Wright is much larger than most townships.

Quebec and Canada’s forest industry began as a solution to the supply problems that started to plague Great Britain in 1802. Because of the hostilities that pitted France against England, British shipbuilding yards were short of wood to repair the ships of the British fleet. And since Britain’s power was directly related to its dominion of the seas, the British navy turned to Canada for a solution.1 In 1804, to encourage imports of Canadian timber, Great Britain introduced its first tariff on wood imported from the Scandinavian countries, from Prussia, and from Russia. This was the beginning of Colonial preference2. Three objectives were sought by the adoption of this tax, namely the increase of the price of wood imported from the countries located on the Baltic Sea; a change in the trading practices of the British merchants; and making of Canadian timber more competitive on the British market. This first tariff gave birth to Canada’s forest economy. The Continental blockade ordered by Napoleon in 1807 prohibited European countries from trading with Great Britain. The result was an accelerated growth of the timber trade, fostered by the introduction of new tariffs, and Canadian timber flooded the British market. In 1812, when the blockade fell, the Canadian timber trade was firmly established. Britain’s protectionist tariff policies remained in effect until the early 1840s, which contributed to the continued growth of the lumber trade, in Canada, in Quebec, and in the Outaouais3.

It’s in this context that Philemon Wright (image) and his men assembled the first great square timber raft that was scheduled to leave from the mouth of the Gatineau River on June 11th, 1806. Wright’s decision was motivated by financial circumstances. When he settled in the Township of Hull in 1800, he had $20 000 at his disposal. His start-up capital was almost exhausted, and he needed an export product to sustain his young farming community. The Ottawa Valley timber trade that took off at that point in time would be Wright’s financial lifeline.

Christened “Columbo” by its owner, this first Wright raft was made up of 700 pieces of squared oak and pine, 900 planks and beams, and a variety of other forest products. On this raft that Wright and four of his men start off on their long journey down to Quebec City. The trip down the Ottawa and St. Lawrence is beset with difficulties. It takes them 25 days to drive the Long-Sault Rapids, the distance that separates Hawkesbury from Carillon. Along the way, Wright sells the planks and deals that are piled aboard the raft. The “Columbo” finally docks in Quebec on August 12th, 1806. But they have to wait until the end of November to sell the timber raft.4 (image)

This endeavour a success. Imitators spring up all along the Ottawa River and its tributaries. Timber contractors of every description followed Wright’s lead and invesedt in the assembly of square timber rafts and in sawmills that manufactured deals for the British market. (image) Production took place in places like Hawkesbury, Buckingham, North Nation Mills (Petite-Nation), and a good number of other Ottawa Valley towns.

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References and definitions

1 Sandra J. Gillis, The Timber Trade in the Ottawa Valley, 1806-1854, Ottawa, Parks Canada, Manuscript Report No 153, page 5.

2 Ibid., p. 6.

3 Ibid., p. 9-10.

4 Ibid., p. 65-70.

Secondary media sources and captions

PHOTO No 1
Source: C.W. Jefferys, The Picture Gallery of Canadian History, Toronto, The Ryerson Press, vol. 2, p. 103.
Caption: Historical rendering of the first drive of an Outaouais square timber raft. It shows Philemon Wright on his raft the “Columbo”, assembled in 1806 at the mouth of the Gatineau River.

PHOTO No 2
Source: Library and Archives Canada, C-11056.
Caption: Philemon Wright, was an American from Woburn Mass, near Boston. He set up the Outaouais’ first agricultural settlement in Hull Township in 1800 and founded the village of Wrightstown, from which the City of Hull originateed (1875).

PHOTO No 3
Source: Painting by Henry du Vernet, 1823. Library and Archives Canada, C-608.
Caption: The village of Wrightstown in 1823. The hamlet boasted a church, a sawmill, a grist mill (in the centre) and a three-storey inn (to the right).

PHOTO No 4
Source: George Munro Grant, Picturesque Canada; The Country as it Was and Is, Toronto, Belden Brothers, 1882, vol. 1, p. 256.
Caption: View of the timber rafts moored in the Sillery and Quebec coves and of the ships waiting to be loaded with square timbers and deals for the return-trip to Great-Britain.

PHOTO No 5
Source: Charles P. DeVolpi, Ottawa. A Pictorial Record. Recueil iconographique. 1807-1882, Montréal, Dev-Sco Publications, 1964, plate no 30, p. 30. Drawing by W.S. Hunter published in 1855 in Hunter’s Ottawa Scenery, Boston, 1855 and entitled «“Timber Slide on Hull Side – Ottawa City, Canada”.
Caption: Drawing of the timber slide built by Ruggles Wright on the Quebec side of the Chaudière Falls, around 1829. Ruggles, son of Philemon Wright, was the inventor of this very important technological innovation, essential to the growth of the Outaouais’ square timber trade. Inspired by the Scandinavian slides, he conceived a slide capable of floating down entire cribs past the Chaudière Falls. It was a one kilometer long canal that which followed a passage cut through the limestone isthmus of the peninsula that skirts the Chaudière Falls. The cutting-away of the limestone bluff that used to link the peninsula to the Island of Hull gave birth to a new man-made island, Philemon Island.

PHOTO No 6
Source: Extract of the 1877 Stent et Laver engraving.
Caption: To the left of the engraving can be seen the mouth of Brewery Creek, the road linking Hull to Aylmer and the village of Hull’s Main Street. The artist draws Ruggles Wright’s slide and the cribs that are being floated towards the slide entrance. To the right can be seen the Great Chaudière Falls that could swept the cribs in its powerful current at any time. At the top of the engraving can be seen an outline of the limestone-walled cove, which extends from the Ottawa River to the intersection of the road that leads to the Union Bridge. It’s that long rocky notched cove that was used by the old Voyageurs in spring and autumn.

PHOTO No 7
Source: Charles P. DeVolpi, Ottawa. A Pictorial Record. Recueil iconographique. 1807-1882, Montréal, Dev-Sco Publications, 1964, plate no 16, p. 16. Drawing by W.H. Bartlett originally published in N.P. Willis, Canadian Scenery Illustrated, London, 1842.
Caption: W.H. Bartlett drawing entitled Timber Slide and Bridge on the Ottawa. This is probably a romantic rendering of the Ruggles Wright slide.

PHOTO No 8
Source: George Munro Grant, Picturesque Canada; The Country as it Was and Is, Toronto, Belden Brothers, 1882, vol. 1, p. 230.
Caption: Illustration representing the Grand Calumet Falls and slide around 1880.

PHOTO No 9
Source: George Munro Grant, Picturesque Canada; The Country as it Was and Is, Toronto, Belden Brothers, 1882, vol. 1, p. 194.
Caption: Towing of a squared timber raft on the St. Lawrence around 1880. A steamboat takes over from the sails that used to be hoisted on the rafts to make them gain speed on slow-running stretches of the river.

PHOTO No 10
Source: Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec, Centre d’archives de Québec, E21, S555, SS1, SSS1, PH_17.
Caption: Plan of the Township of Hull as laid down by surveyor Theodore Davis in 1801. It is annotated and the names of many of the pioneer settlers are written on it. The colour code differentiates the Protestant clergy reserve lots in dark grey from the Crown reserve lots in red. It should be noted however that this township, granted to Philemon Wright is much larger than most townships. Four extra ranges (ranges 13, 14, 15 and 16) were added on to the north of the township. When Wright died in 1839, he and his immediate family were the owners of 36 000 acres (15 000 hectares) of land in the Outaouais.