Place: Rapides-des-Joachims
Theme: From Bush to Mill
Year: circa 1900
Related Vignette(s):

1867-1960 - From Bush to Mill
Vignette
C3
An original extreme sport: log-driving!

Log-drivers’ encampment on the shore of the Ottawa River in the vicinity of Rapides-des-Joachims around 1900.
Log-drivers’ encampment on the shore of the Ottawa River in the vicinity of Rapides-des-Joachims around 1900.
The beginning of the log-drive, on the headwaters of one of the streams of the Ottawa River watershed around 1940.
The beginning of the log-drive, on the headwaters of one of the streams of the Ottawa River watershed around 1940.
The sweeping of logs at the Rapide de la Montagne. The view is quite spectacular. The logs are toppled down to the river below, signalling the beginning of the long trip downriver to the mills.
The sweeping of logs at the Rapide de la Montagne. The view is quite spectacular. The logs are toppled down to the river below, signalling the beginning of the long trip downriver to the mills.
Typical occurrence in the log-sweeping operations: the strayed logs found on the river banks are retrieved and pushed back into the rushing waters.
Typical occurrence in the log-sweeping operations: the strayed logs found on the river banks are retrieved and pushed back into the rushing waters.
The task at hand seems overwhelming. We are reminded of the Twelve Tasks of Asterix.
The task at hand seems overwhelming. We are reminded of the Twelve Tasks of Asterix.
Ottawa Boat or Pointer jumping the rapids on the Rouge River around 1936.
Ottawa Boat or Pointer jumping the rapids on the Rouge River around 1936.
Log jam on the Gatineau River near Limbour around 1940.
Log jam on the Gatineau River near Limbour around 1940.
Employees of the Upper Ottawa Improvement Company straining every muscle in their bodies to break a log jam on the Ottawa River, near Bryson, on September 14th 1942.
Employees of the Upper Ottawa Improvement Company straining every muscle in their bodies to break a log jam on the Ottawa River, near Bryson, on September 14th 1942.
Towing of thousands of logs imprisoned in a floating boom on Allumettes Lake on the Ottawa River.
Towing of thousands of logs imprisoned in a floating boom on Allumettes Lake on the Ottawa River.
Sorting of logs at the Bryson booms on the Ottawa River around 1942, by workers of the Upper Ottawa Improvement Company.
Sorting of logs at the Bryson booms on the Ottawa River around 1942, by workers of the Upper Ottawa Improvement Company.
Sorting of logs at the mouth of the Gatineau River around 1947. When the sorting passage is not in use, a long squared log is placed across its entrance. It is known as the gap-stick. This probably explains the extensive use of the expression La Gappe in the Pointe-Gatineau area, now immortalized in the well-known City of Gatineau Boulevard that carries the La Gappe name.
Sorting of logs at the mouth of the Gatineau River around 1947. When the sorting passage is not in use, a long squared log is placed across its entrance. It is known as the gap-stick. This probably explains the extensive use of the expression La Gappe in the Pointe-Gatineau area, now immortalized in the well-known City of Gatineau Boulevard that carries the La Gappe name.
The sorting of logs to be used by the chemical pulp mill of the E.B. Eddy Company on the Ottawa River in Hull, around 1946. Nowadays, the Museum of Canadian History stands on this site.
The sorting of logs to be used by the chemical pulp mill of the E.B. Eddy Company on the Ottawa River in Hull, around 1946. Nowadays, the Museum of Canadian History stands on this site.

At the end of March, when the log-cutting and wood-hauling had ended, most of the lumberjacks quit the shanties. The most foolhardy however, stayed on because of the higher wages that were paid out to the log-drivers and river sweepers! They were joined later on by a bunch of regulars, used to the log-running game and to the techniques of log-sweeping, most of them farmers’ sons. The log-sweepers had to follow the log drive downstream in order to salvage the logs that had snagged on the banks after the main drive had passed1. With their cant-hooks, peaveys and pike poles2, they worked fourteen to sixteen hours a day, wading in water up to their waist (image).

The log-runners made a contingent of about fifty men3. Soon after their arrival, just a few days before the spring thaw and ice break-up, and just before the frozen surfaces of the lakes were swallowed up, they were greeted by the drive foreman. His first challenge was setting up of the first log-driving encampment. Five tents were pitched; one of which housed the kitchen, the cook’s quarters as well as his aide’s, and the store of provisions and perishable goods. A second tent was reserved for the foreman and his assistant. The three other tents served as rather cramped dormitories for the men – fifteen of them bunking down together in all three nomadic canvas shelters. During the drive, the encampment was moved down the river watershed in order to follow the men; the tents were dismantled and set up time and time again, ahead of the descending drivers and sweepers. (image)

A successful log-drive depended on the foreman’s ability to make the right decisions. He had to take advantage of the spring by riding on the high waters that facilitated the log-running, all the while hoping that Mother Nature would give him a hand If the water was too high and too fast it might increase the number of logs that strayed outwards and snag on the river banks, in the flats, and in the brush, which increased the amount of work the log-sweepers had to carry out. In fact, even the best foreman had to be lucky.

The log-running workers were divided into two groups: Six men work from the “pointer” boats, and six others tramped down ahead of them on both banks of the river to sweep all the stranded logs they find back into the swift waters of the main channel.

The water-borne log-drivers had to break the log jams that occurred by using their pike-poles and peaveys, and in the case of pulp-wood jams they could resort to blowing it apart by using dynamite, a very risky business indeed4. When the match fuse was lit, one had to run like crazy to take shelter. And when the log-jam breaks life is cheap. According to the classic ballad entitled The Jam on Gerry’s Rocks:

They had not rolled off many logs when they heard his clear voice say,
I’d have you men be on your guard for the jam will soon give way,
These words were scarcely spoken when the mass did break and go,
And carried off those six brave youths and their foreman, Jack Munroe5.

The boat on which these log-drivers worked was given the name pointer because of its pointed ends. (image) The pointers were light, easy-to-handle rowboats whose sharp and inclined bow and stern permitted easy-riding over floating logs and safe passage through a river’s white waters. They were designed in Ottawa by John Cockburn in 1859, for J.R. Booth, the Ottawa lumber baron6. The qualities of the pointer boat, also known as the Ottawa Barge, explain why it was used in the lumber industry throughout Canada and the Province of Quebec7.

The log-sweepers, who pushed out the stranded logs back into the running waters, were also in charge of opening the back-up dams and sluice-gates in order to increase the flow of water. In addition, they had to break the rollways and log-dumps that lined the shores in order to topple the logs into the fast-flowing waters8.

Log-driving was an extreme sport! It was dangerous work and it yearly took its toll of victims. Period newspapers are filled with reports of accidents by drowning and otherwise during log-drives. During the 1845 log-driving season for instance, there were eighty deaths reported in the Ottawa Valley alone. The following year, in 1846, the number of fatalities totalled more than fifty in the same geographical area9 . Moreover, by standing in icy water and wearing soaking-wet clothes day in and day out, drivers and sweepers were prone to chilblains, arthritic black leg, and rheumatism10.

Search the Web!
Look up Wikipedia’s article on “Log Driving” » at:
Website

View the National Film Board’s “Log Driver’s Waltz”, a Canada Vignette at:
Website
This light-hearted animated film is accompanied by a song composed by Wade Hemsworth and sung by Kate and Ann McGarrigle. It tells the story of a young girl who loves to dance and is ready to marry. She chooses a log driver over his more well-to-do, land-loving competition. Driving logs down the river has made him the best dancing partner to be found.

View the video “River Log Drive”, a documentary film from the Forest History Society at:
Website
River drives were a standard way of moving large amounts of cut timber to sawmills during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, prior to the expansion and adoption of railroads and trucks for log transport.

For a wonderfully serious counterpart to the “Log Driver’s Waltz”, watch Raymond Garceau’s film (in French only) on log-driving entitled “La Drave”. It’s a National Film Board production that can be viewed at:
Website

Discover a place like no other… The Forest Fire Prevention History Interpretation Center, located in Maniwaki. A visit there will make you discover the original « Pytonga », the lumber tug that towed for years on end millions of cubic metres of logs across the Baskatong Reservoir, one of the Upper-Gatineau’s largest bodies of water.
Website

References and definitions

1 They had to get the logs back into the main channel so that they would float down-river to the mills.

2 Please refer to Vignette C4 (Photographs No 2 and No 11) for an illustration of the main log-driving tools used by the lumberjacks.

3 Many authors have studied log-running and log-driving operations. Let’s highlight A.R.M. Lower’s description of log-running in The North American Assault on the Canadian Forest, (New York, Greenwood Press, 1938), pages 33, 36-38 and 42, and the account that appears in John W. Hughson et Courtney C. J. Bond’s, Hurling Down the Pine, (Chelsea, The Historical Society of the Gatineau, 1987), pages 93-96.

4 For a detailed description of a log jam being broken on the Gatineau River, just below the Alonzo Wright Bridge, see: « La Drave » in Louis Taché and al, Le Nord de l’Outaouais. Manuel-répertoire d’histoire et de géographie régionales, Ottawa, Le Droit, 1938, pages 61-64.

5 Quoted by A.R.M. Lower, Op. cit., page 39.

6 Ontario Department of Lands and Forests, Operations Branch, The Pointer Boat, Ontario, Ontario Department of Lands and Forests, Operations Branch, 1963.

7 Normand Lafleur, La drave en Mauricie des origines à nos jours. Histoire et traditions, Trois-Rivières, Éditions du Bien public, 1970, pages 83-84.

8 Roland Saint-Amand`s thesis is a remarkable study of the log-driving techniques used in the Batiscan River Basin. M.A. in Geography, Laval University (1969), entitled Les Laurentides batiscanaises; une géographie de l’exploitation des ressources naturelles.

9 A.R.M. Lower, Op. cit., pages 38-39 et Sandra J. Gillis, The Timber Trade in the Ottawa Valley, 1806-1854, Ottawa, Parks Canada, Manuscript Report No 153, pages 158-160.

10 Donald MacKay, The Lumberjacks, Toronto, McGraw-Hill Ryerson Limited, page 120. Also, for a reference to black leg arthritis, see: http://www.civilisations.ca/cmc/exhibitions/hist/canp1/ca03fra.shtml

Secondary media sources and captions

PHOTO No 1
Source: Pierre Louis Lapointe Collection. Photographer unknown.
Caption: Log-drivers’ encampment on the shore of the Ottawa River in the vicinity of Rapides-des-Joachims around 1900.

PHOTO No 2
Source: Library and Archives Canada. Photographer unknown.
Caption: The beginning of the log-drive, on the headwaters of one of the streams of the Ottawa River watershed around 1940.

PHOTO No 3
Source: BANQ-CAQ, E57, S1, PA 18-49. Photographer unknown.
Caption: The sweeping of logs at the Rapide de la Montagne. The view is quite spectacular. The logs are toppled down to the river below, signalling the beginning of the long trip downriver to the mills.

PHOTO No 4
Source: BANQ-CAQ, E57, S1, PB-54-38. Photographer unknown
Caption: Typical occurrence in the log-sweeping operations: the strayed logs found on the river banks are retrieved and pushed back into the rushing waters.

PHOTO No 5
Source: BANQ-CAQ, E57. Photographer unknown.
Caption: The task at hand seems overwhelming. We are reminded of the Twelve Tasks of Asterix.

PHOTO No 6
Source: Pierre Louis Lapointe Collection. Photographer unknown.
Caption: Ottawa Boat or Pointer jumping the rapids on the Rouge River around 1936.

PHOTO No 7
Source: Pierre Louis Lapointe Collection. Photographer unknown.
Caption: Log jam on the Gatineau River near Limbour around 1940.

PHOTO No 8
Source: Pierre Louis Lapointe Collection. Photographer unknown.
Caption: Employees of the Upper Ottawa Improvement Company straining every muscle in their bodies to break a log jam on the Ottawa River, near Bryson, on September 14th 1942.

PHOTO No 9
Source: Pierre Louis Lapointe Collection. Photographer unknown.
Caption: Towing of thousands of logs imprisoned in a floating boom on Allumettes Lake on the Ottawa River.

PHOTO No 10
Source: Pierre Louis Lapointe Collection. Photographer unknown.
Caption: Sorting of logs at the Bryson booms on the Ottawa River around 1942, by workers of the Upper Ottawa Improvement Company.

PHOTO No 11
Source: Pierre Louis Lapointe Collection. Photographer unknown.
Caption: Sorting of logs at the mouth of the Gatineau River around 1947. When the sorting passage is not in use, a long squared log is placed across its entrance. It is known as the gap-stick. This probably explains the extensive use of the expression La Gappe in the Pointe-Gatineau area, now immortalized in the well-known City of Gatineau Boulevard that carries the La Gappe name.

PHOTO No 12
Source: Pierre Louis Lapointe Collection. Photographer unknown.
Caption: The sorting of logs to be used by the chemical pulp mill of the E.B. Eddy Company on the Ottawa River in Hull, around 1946. Nowadays, the Museum of Canadian History stands on this site.