Place: Ottawa
Theme: Moving towards sustainable development
Year: 1900
Related Vignette(s):

1960 à nos jours - Moving towards sustainable development
Vignette
D3
The end of log-driving

One of the last squared timber rafts to float down the Ottawa River in 1900. It is made up of more than 70 cribs.
One of the last squared timber rafts to float down the Ottawa River in 1900. It is made up of more than 70 cribs.
The setting in place of the central span of the Interprovincial Bridge (Royal Alexandra) in 1901.
The setting in place of the central span of the Interprovincial Bridge (Royal Alexandra) in 1901.
Log-drivers of the Upper Ottawa Improvement Company, doing their very best to break a log-jam on the Ottawa River, near Bryson, on September 14th 1942.
Log-drivers of the Upper Ottawa Improvement Company, doing their very best to break a log-jam on the Ottawa River, near Bryson, on September 14th 1942.
Typical log-driving scene of the 1960s, on the Ottawa River, by the Upper Ottawa Improvement Company for t the E. B. Eddy Company.
Typical log-driving scene of the 1960s, on the Ottawa River, by the Upper Ottawa Improvement Company for t the E. B. Eddy Company.
Panoramic view of Hull and the Chaudières Falls sector around 1898. To the right, in the foreground, the Sulphite pulp mill of the E.B. Eddy Company and Hull’s striking Notre-Dame-de-Grâces Church. In the background, on both shores of the Chaudières Falls, are wood piles as far as the eye can see. The phenomenal production of saw wood generated mountains of saw-dust and wood scraps of all kinds which accumulated on the bottom of the Ottawa River for close to fifty years.
Panoramic view of Hull and the Chaudières Falls sector around 1898. To the right, in the foreground, the Sulphite pulp mill of the E.B. Eddy Company and Hull’s striking Notre-Dame-de-Grâces Church. In the background, on both shores of the Chaudières Falls, are wood piles as far as the eye can see. The phenomenal production of saw wood generated mountains of saw-dust and wood scraps of all kinds which accumulated on the bottom of the Ottawa River for close to fifty years.
A tug-boat, log booms and a glut of logs on the Upper Ottawa around 1960.
A tug-boat, log booms and a glut of logs on the Upper Ottawa around 1960.
Gathering of log-drivers, sawmill employees, officials and bystanders, above the Chaudières Falls, on the occasion of the September 23rd 1901 Royal Visit. In the background, the many piers and jetties grappling the Ottawa River bottom, testimonials to the log-driving operations which took place there for more than a century.
Gathering of log-drivers, sawmill employees, officials and bystanders, above the Chaudières Falls, on the occasion of the September 23rd 1901 Royal Visit. In the background, the many piers and jetties grappling the Ottawa River bottom, testimonials to the log-driving operations which took place there for more than a century.
This aerial photograph of September 22nd 1923 underlines the extent of the industrial lay-out of Chaudières Falls and points to the importance of the log-booms in the driving of the logs to the E.B. Eddy Company mills.
This aerial photograph of September 22nd 1923 underlines the extent of the industrial lay-out of Chaudières Falls and points to the importance of the log-booms in the driving of the logs to the E.B. Eddy Company mills.
Sorting of the logs at the foot of the jack-ladder of the E.B. Eddy Company’s Sulphite pulp mill around 1960, on the site of today’s Canadian Museum of Civilization. The log-drivers use their pike poles to push the logs towards the entrance of the mill. In the background is the Interprovincial Bridge (Royal Alexandra).
Sorting of the logs at the foot of the jack-ladder of the E.B. Eddy Company’s Sulphite pulp mill around 1960, on the site of today’s Canadian Museum of Civilization. The log-drivers use their pike poles to push the logs towards the entrance of the mill. In the background is the Interprovincial Bridge (Royal Alexandra).
Sorting of the logs being driven to the E.B. Eddy’s Sulphite pulp mill, on the Ottawa River, in Hull, around 1946. In the background is Parliament Hill with its soft-spoken politicians and cosy white-collar workers, the exact opposite of the down-to-earth world in which live those hard-working blue-collar workers.
Sorting of the logs being driven to the E.B. Eddy’s Sulphite pulp mill, on the Ottawa River, in Hull, around 1946. In the background is Parliament Hill with its soft-spoken politicians and cosy white-collar workers, the exact opposite of the down-to-earth world in which live those hard-working blue-collar workers.

The floating of cribs and rafts of squared timbers was carried out for more than eighty years; the driving of logs to feed the sawmilling and pulp and paper industries, for almost two centuries. This method of transport, the only one available before the building of good roads or the advent of the railroad, was proven to be the cheapest for the lumbermen. In the Ottawa Valley, its use dates back to the beginning of the nineteenth century. Elsewhere, on the Richelieu River for instance, the floating of logs and rafts was carried out at the time of New France. The Government of the Province of Quebec had always been favourable to rivers and lakes being used for the floating and driving of timber. Section VI of the Watercourses Act regulated its use but in no way prevents it1.

Beginning in the 1970s, outdoor enthusiasts together with the environmentalists, boaters, country dwellers, fishermen, hunters, biologists and various other nature lovers mounted a growing opposition against log driving2. Environmental laws and the regulations imposed requirements that became more and more stringent for the companies who still practiced log driving. And public opinion, fed by the bludgeon-like arguments of the opponents to log driving, stepped into the fray. The growing economic impact of the recreation and tourist industry finally convinced the political authorities of the importance of opening water bodies and of the benefit from putting an end to log-driving3. The decline in the pulp and paper industry, the closing of many paper mills, the technological innovations that led to a considerable reduction in the need for ligneous material, and the desire to improve the industry’s public image convinced some of the lumber companies to give up log-driving altogether. Log-driving was abandoned over a twenty year period starting out on Lake Timiskaming in 1976 and in most of the other regions of Quebec regions during the 1990s. Some companies, such as Donohue and Domtar took the lead in the Lake St. John District around 1979. The Upper Ottawa Improvement Company (ICO)4, which managed the log-driving operations on the Ottawa River, closed shop around 1992 whereas the James MacLaren Company followed suit on the Lièvre River around 1993.

To measure the progress made since the end of the nineteenth century, a time when the Lumber Barons reigned supreme and held sway over the Ottawa River, important evidence come from the 1837 McAlpine-Greene Report and Antoine Ratté’s Memorandum of November 18865. They describe the pollution from the saw-dust and wood debris of all sorts that were dumped in the Ottawa, which was left to sink and accumulate on the river bottom. While setting up the cofferdams needed to build the pillars of the Royal Alexandra (Interprovincial) bridge in 1900, the workmen discovered to their dismay, that the river-bed was covered by sixty feet of saw-dust, mixed in with squared timbers and logs of various dimensions all of which had accumulated on the riverbed over the space of fifty years6. The saw-dust and wood debris that they removed to reach the riverbed and to anchor the bridge piers on the bottom were dumped on the ice surface. The quick thinking inhabitants of Old Hull were quick to seize the opportunity that was offered to them! They hauled away the free chunks of wood and the logs as fuel to heat their homes.

Ever since the 1960s, more and more people have shown interest in the salvage of logs sunk in the lakes and rivers of the Outaouais’. And that interest, shared by others, in other parts of the Province of Quebec, is justified by both environmental and economic considerations.

J. Edgar Boyle was one of the first Outaouais lumbermen to have tested the salvaging of sunken logs7 . He came to an agreement with the Upper Ottawa Improvement Company (ICO)8 , the company that ran the log-driving operations on the Ottawa River. Depending on the timber marks that were found on the logs, it was provided that compensation would be paid to the companies whose logs would be salvaged. Divers were hired and the wood was piled on the shore for three months to give it time to dry out completely. At the outset, the test seemed promising. But once the sawing started, the results were disastrous. It was discovered that many of the logs were cracked and that fine sand particles, invisible to the naked eye, had found their way inside the wood tissue. As a result, the saws were damaged and the whole operation was deemed as non-profitable. J. Edgar Boyle explained that he had been luckier about ten years earlier when he had salvaged logs in the Eagle River near Montcerf. The sunken logs he had salvaged there had been in the water for only three years. The logs were in top condition and their sawing was a profitable proposition. J. Edgar Boyle estimated that the logs fished out of the Ottawa River had probably been in the water for close to thirty years, which explains their deterioration.

It seems like J. Edgar Boyle’s test was quickly forgotten. A Pembroke firm tried the thing out again in 1971. Boreal Development Limited submitted a proposal to the Ontario Department of Natural Resources regarding the salvaging of sunken logs on the Ottawa River9 . Based on a pilot project involving a few hundred logs fished out in the Fort William Sector and a few hundred more piled on the shore during the winter to measure the effect of drying, they decided to extend their operations into the Ottawa Region. With sawing having gone well, they came to the conclusion that the salvage of sunken logs was profitable. The Ontario Government decided to waive their right to tax the salvaged wood that was lifted out on the Ontario side of the river in order to encourage the project. It seems quite probable that this attempt at salvaging sunken logs was plagued with the same problems that J. Edgar Boyle had met with when salvaging logs on the Ottawa River. To our knowledge, nothing came out of this short-lived project.

Similar salvaging projects have been tried out elsewhere in Quebec. But it’s only in the Saguenay and Lake St. John regions that a systematic study of the potential and feasibility of salvaging sunken logs has been carried out. Suzanne Tremblay’s masters’ thesis, presented in 1991, reviewed the overall situation and underlined the problems brought on by the lifting out of logs sunk in the region’s lakes and rivers10. The environmental after-effects of such operations could cause an enormous problem, so much so, that all those who intend on developing this long-forgotten ligneous matter should be cautious.

Search the Web!
To read up on the Quebec law which deals with the “Driving of Timber”, visit the following web site at:
Website

References and definitions

1 Éditeur officiel du “Québec, Revised Statutes of Quebec, chapter R-13, “Watercourses Act”, Division VI, “Driving of Timber”.

2 For an extremely clear and well-documented analysis of the Quebec forest industry and of the weight of the transport factor in forest management, see Harvey Mead’s article entitled Pour un progrès véritable dans l’industrie forestière, April 14th 2010 on the on the web at http://gaiapresse.ca/analyses/pour-un-progres-veritable-dans-lindustrie-forestiere-156.html

3 Look at the interesting documentary available on Radio-Canada’s Tout le monde en parlait dealing with the end of log-driving on the Saint-Maurice River in 1995 at http://www.radio-canada.ca/util/postier/suggerer-go.asp?nID=1072327

4 The last log-booms were towed on the Ottawa River in 1991. Until 1910, the ICO only droves saw-logs and from 1910 to 1986 saw-logs and pulp logs used in the manufacture of pulp and paper. After 1986, ICO drove pulp logs only to supply pulp and paper mills exclusively.

5 Reports of Hon. Wm.-J. McAlpine, C.E., and D.M. Greene Esq., C.E., on the Wood and Saw-dust Deposits in the Hudson and Ottawa Rivers, Ottawa, A.-S. Woodburn, 1837, 28 pages. Also: Antoine Ratté, “The Saw-Dust Nuisance in the River Ottawa”, in Asticou, No 9, (September 1972), pages 43-49.

6 Robert Haig, Ottawa. City of the Big Ears, [s.l.], [s.d.], page 167.

7 J. E. Boyle, “My Life and Times in the Bush” in Up the Gatineau, No 15 (1989), page 24.

8 For a brief history of the Upper Ottawa Improvement Company, see: Website

9 “Proposal by Boreal Development Limited Regarding Sunken Logs and the Ottawa River”, File 1032-125, Pierre Louis Lapointe Collection.

10 Suzanne Tremblay, La récupération du bois submergé en Sagamie: potentiels, faisabilité et perspectives d’écodéveloppement à l’échelle locale, Chicoutimi, Université du Québec à Chicoutimi, thèse de maîtrise en études régionales, mai 1991. http://bibvir.uqac.ca/theses/1469013/1469013.pdf

Secondary media sources and captions

PHOTO No 1
Source: Library and Archives Canada. Photographer: William James Topley.
Caption: One of the last squared timber rafts to float down the Ottawa River in 1900. It is made up of more than 70 cribs. In the background, the pillars of the Royal Alexandra Bridge which is being built can be seen as well as the steeple of Hull’s Notre-Dame-de-Grâces Church. While setting up the cofferdams needed to build the pillars of the bridge, the workmen discovered to their dismay that the river-bed was covered by sixty feet of saw-dust mixed in with squared timbers and logs of various dimensions.

PHOTO No 2
Source: Canadian Museum of Civilization, CD2000-31-12. Photographer: W. Horner.
Caption: The setting in place of the central span of the Interprovincial Bridge (Royal Alexandra) in 1901.

PHOTO No 3
Source: Pierre Louis Lapointe Collection. Photographer unknown.
Caption: Log-drivers of the Upper Ottawa Improvement Company, doing their very best to break a log-jam on the Ottawa River, near Bryson, on September 14th 1942.

PHOTO No 4
Source: Pierre Louis Lapointe Collection. Photographer unknown.
Caption: Typical log-driving scene of the 1960s, on the Ottawa River, by the Upper Ottawa Improvement Company for t the E. B. Eddy Company.

PHOTO No 5
Source: Canadian Museum of Civilization, D2003-5032. Photographer unknown.
Caption: Panoramic view of Hull and the Chaudières Falls sector around 1898. To the right, in the foreground, the Sulphite pulp mill of the E.B. Eddy Company and Hull’s striking Notre-Dame-de-Grâces Church. In the background, on both shores of the Chaudières Falls, are wood piles as far as the eye can see. The phenomenal production of saw wood generated mountains of saw-dust and wood scraps of all kinds which accumulated on the bottom of the Ottawa River for close to fifty years.

PHOTO No 6
Source: Pierre Louis Lapointe Collection. Photographer unknown.
Caption: A tug-boat, log booms and a glut of logs on the Upper Ottawa around 1960.

PHOTO No 7
Source: Canadian Museum of Civilization, CD2000-31-11. Photographer: Pittaway.
Caption: Gathering of log-drivers, sawmill employees, officials and bystanders, above the Chaudières Falls, on the occasion of the September 23rd 1901 Royal Visit. In the background, the many piers and jetties grappling the Ottawa River bottom, testimonials to the log-driving operations which took place there for more than a century.

PHOTO No 8
Source: Pierre Louis Lapointe Collection. Photographer unknown.
Caption: This aerial photograph of September 22nd 1923 underlines the extent of the industrial lay-out of Chaudières Falls and points to the importance of the log-booms in the driving of the logs to the E.B. Eddy Company mills.

PHOTO No 9
Source: Canadian Museum of Civilization, 73-534. Photographer unknown
Caption: Sorting of the logs at the foot of the jack-ladder of the E.B. Eddy Company’s Sulphite pulp mill around 1960, on the site of today’s Canadian Museum of Civilization. The log-drivers use their pike poles to push the logs towards the entrance of the mill. In the background is the Interprovincial Bridge (Royal Alexandra).

PHOTO No 10
Source: Pierre Louis Lapointe Collection. Photographer unknown.
Caption: Sorting of the logs being driven to the E.B. Eddy’s Sulphite pulp mill, on the Ottawa River, in Hull, around 1946. In the background is Parliament Hill with its soft-spoken politicians and cosy white-collar workers, the exact opposite of the down-to-earth world in which live those hard-working blue-collar workers.