The Gang Man
Commencing a dramatic recital of the exploits of the pioneer timbermen who made lumbering history on the Ottawa
THE white pine region of North America extends from Newfoundland to Manitoba and Minnesota, covering an area of about two thousand miles in length. Almost in the centre of this region, nestling among the foothills of the Laurentians, at the junction of the Ottawa and Mattawa Rivers, sleeps the small town of Mattawa. Eighty years ago it was born of the fur trade and became a wayside trading-post on one of the longest inland waterways of the world; a 4,500mile highway of rivers and lakes upon which great flotillas of birchbark canoes, sometimes manned by as many as sixteen hundred paddlers, used to travel.
Fifty years ago Mattawa was fostered by the lumber trade. Then that little town in that memory-haunting valley became busy all the year round. Crews and freight were assembled for the many brigades of canoes, pointer boats and portage sleighs which transported supplies to far-off regions; gangs were mustered for the many lumber shanties, river-driving crews, and for the timber rafts which passed down the Ottawa and St. Lawrence Rivers on their way to Quebec City, all of which were provided with outfits.
In the middle eighties, when the Canadian Pacific Railway was being built through Mattawa, that frontier town still remained the gateway to a vast surrounding region. It was also the jumping-off place for many thousands of shantymen, and many thousands of tons of freight for far-away lumber camps. Such large brigades used to leave Mattawa that sometimes on a summer’s day the river would be swarming with them, and with such brigades of portage sleighs that on a single winter’s day a string of perhaps two hundred teams would be shaking their bells among the surrounding hills, a jingling farewell to that picturesque little settlement. Its trade was increasing because sixteen years before a bushranger named Jimmie Jones had cruised Manitou Forest. On Jimmie’s report, J. R. Booth had bought many hundreds of square miles of Manitou Forest, and now was sending into that country five gangs of shantymen to make square timber and cut sawlogs.
And in this day, when steam, electricity and machinery are stripping lumbering of its old romance, when the picturesque figures it created are fast becoming shadows of the past, it is my purpose to turn back the clock, take you along with a bush gang of old, and show you lumbering as it used to be.
The gang we are accompanying, is a gangin the employ of the late J. R. Booth. The bush superintendent has selected bowsmen and steersmen and allotted midmen to load and man a fleet of pointer boats. It would be on an August day, and the noise and confusion of loading being ended, we switch to the past.
An Impressive Flotilla
VICHEN the last orders had been given to the forevv men and all was in readiness, the bush boss gave the word, and 234 blades dipped and water swirled—or splashed, for drunken hands held many an oar. In all, there were thirty-two boats of two sizes. All possessed the pointer boat’s long, pointed bow and stern, which gave them a rakish appearance and also their name. Nevertheless, the overhanging bows and sterns, together with their flat, keelless bottoms, made these boats not only suitable for the landing of men and supplies on any kind of shore, but made them remarkably water-worthy in shooting dangerous rapids.
Twenty-five of the boats were thirty-two feet in length and four-oared, but each was manned by six men, as their bowsman and steersman used paddles. Each boat was loaded with four extra men, as well as blankets, packsacks, and grub enough to supply the whole ten on their inland voyage. Yet these boats were really travelling light in order to make fast time, while the rest of the boats, which were acting as freighters, were heavily loaded. Each of the seven freighters measured fifty-five feet in length, was manned by twelve men, and carried four tons of cargo, as well as a twoand-a-half-fathom birchbark canoe. The bows and sterns of the freighters, however, were decked over to afford platforms upon which the bowsmen and steersmen could stand while using their great paddles. When these thirty-two boats got well under way the brigade formed a thrilling picture, especially when it was travelling on the wild upper reaches of the great river.
In still older shanty days all supplies for the lumber camps in the region of the Upper Ottawa were paddled up the river in birchbark canoes. Later the pointer boats came into vogue, while in winter freight-laden portage sleighs used the frozen stream as a winter highway. Whenever rapids intervened and honeycombed the ice in a dangerous way, a circumventing trail was cut through the bush along the shore. Whether that piece of road was five rods or five miles in length it was called a ‘‘portage trail.” The light birchbark canoes varied in length from four to six fathoms on the water line and carried from two to four tons of freight as well as a crew of from six to twelve men. The heavy wooden pointer boats generally measured from thirty-two to forty feet in length, and also carried from six to twelve men as a crew, and yet they had no greater capacity than the canoes. Because men can row faster than they can paddle, the heavier boats made six miles an hour on dead water, while the lighter canoes were covering only four. In those days the trip from Bytown—now Ottawa City—to some of the remoter shanties took a month or more, as the portaging of supplies on man-back around many rapids consumed many days. Packs were carried with the aid of leather tump lines, fifteen feet in length and with a broad headpiece in the centre. In that way two hundred pounds was sometimes portaged in a single load. The big canoes were transported over portage trails bottom up and with their gunwales resting on the padded shoulders of four men. The pointer boats were either “tracked”—that is, hauled up the swift current on the end of a line—or dragged, top side up, over portage trails on rollers made of small logs. On their way to the shanties the men of those canoe or boat brigades seldom carried tents, and in stormy weather simply turned their water craft upside down and slept beneath them.
Around their camp fires or even at the paddle they often sang in French:
"In bark canoe gone up have they,
And done it with a grand hooray!
Bang on the rim,
Let them pass on, gay raftsmen!
Bang on the rim, bang! bang!”
The Strong Mart’s Duel
THOUGH this Northern trip of Booth’s Brigade of over three hundred woodsmen was a thrilling adventure up wild rivers of great power and beauty which fought their way through dense solemn forests, steep rocky glens, and tortuous mountain canyons, it was but the preliminary and milder part of this year-long drama of the wilds.
Notwithstanding that it was a sultry, sunny seventeenth of August, and that they had to row against a swift current as well as make a number of portages around rapids, they covered thirty-one miles before they finally went ashore that evening to camp for the night near the foot of the Long Sault Rapids.
The first carry they encountered was at La Cave Rapids, four miles above Mattawa, where in order to lighten their boats they portaged part of their outfit, and then, with two men aboard each craft to keep it off shore, the rest of the crew, each with a shoulder inserted in a looped tump line fastened to a long tow line, struggled along the riverbank as they tugged on the upper end of the “tracking line” to haul the boat up the rapids. Four miles farther on, the “white horses” of Les Erables Rapids leaped at them, and to avoid these mystical beasts the brigade had to portage. This time the men had a carry of about a quarter of a mile. Then, three miles beyond that again, they heard the Mountain Rapids roaring, and to protect their outfit they went ashore and carried it over a hill.
On the portages, as always, there was much rivalry among the men as to who could carry the greatest load. Pierre Leteic, the foreman of the gang intended for Camp Four, decided he would play a joke on “Bull” Bullock, the foreman of Camp Five, who was an unusually strong man and took much pride in his strength. So Pierre secretly unheaded a barrel of pork while the rest of the men were on the carry, and, taking out about half the meat, he headed it again, leaving no evidence of what he had done.
When about a hundred of the shantymen had returned and Bull Bullock was standing near, Pierre proclaimed that if there was another man who could carry as much as he could that man ought to come forward and follow suit. With that he shouldered the half-filled barrel of pork and walked off with it amid much applause. It must have weighed about two hundred pounds. Without saying a word, Bull Bullock seized hold of another barrel of pork, but a full one, of course, and, shouldering it, he too carried bis barrel away. But bis barrel weighed three hundred and sixty pounds. A few moments later, as though to cap the climax, Jean Sebastien shouldered another barrel of pork, and called upon bystanders to place upon it a bag of beans, and then he too walked off with the lot. But his load weighed four hundred and eighty pounds.
During the day hasty meals were taken to help speed the smaller boats along, but that night the crews, resting round their fires, ate more leisurely and smoked more contentedly, for they had done a good day’s work and had left the big freighters far behind. It was at such times that the shantymen derived much pleasure from their old songs, and Jean and a group of others started an old French-Canadian chanson :
“WThen you see Quebec once more,
Often feeling sick and sore,
Then you go to find your boss,
Counting up his gain and loss.
To camp we’ll go for our winter home,
To camp we'1' go for our winter home.”
Another favorite was the “Shanty Teamsters’ Marseillaise,” and this time Harry Johnson was doing the singing:
“We read of the devil: from heaven he fell,
For rebellion and treason was cast down to hell.
But his son, Jerry Welch, remains here below
To work deeds of darkness, cause sorrow and woe.”
When bedtime came most of those rough men knelt down and said their evening prayer, and then lay down anywhere, with only a blanket between them and the starry sky, while above them arose in a long, trailing shroud of misty vapor the ghostly spirit of the powerful river.
Into the Wilderness
nr HE following day they made four portages around tha Long Sault Rapids and, entering Lake Temiskaming, they covered thirty miles before camping that night on the beach of Grand Encampment Bay. Next day, twelve
miles farther up the lake, they passed the mouth of the Montreal River. Another twelve miles and they passed Fort Temiskaming on the right bank. Still another twelve and they camped for the night on Piche Point, four miles across the lake from where the town of Haileybury now stands. That night, however, Haileybury was just a story-and-half high log shack in the middle of a stump lot which was being chopped out of the forest by a former trader of the Hudson’s Bay Company, Charles 0. Farr, now a free trader. Bvcn then Farr had a true prophetic vision of how that country would eventually develop, but for a number of years unthinking and unreasoning parliamentarians pooh-poohed his ideas and called him “Crazy Farr.”
Even after leaving Lake Temiskaming the brigade had to row and portage and track through an uninhabited wilderness where frantic streams leaped down hillsides. Consequently, the farther and higher they travelled the harder and more dangerous their progress became, and in some places days passed almost as quickly as the shantymen passed miles, not because the portages were unmarked or uncleared but because the rapids grew so numerous and steep that everything— boxes, bales, barrels and boats—had to be portaged over long junglelike stretches or bare, rocky reaches of hill climbing.
Though their ingoing trip was crowded with picturesque toil and interesting incidents, it was not to be compared with what befell them during the winter that followed, or during their work of bringing out their harvest of timber and navigating it upon its first voyage of 672 miles, finally landing it at the City of Quebec, whence it would start on its second voyage of 3,000 miles across the Atlantic.
Let it be enough merely to note the brigade’s arrival at Black Lake before the middle of September, with boats battered and broken, clothes shrunken and tattered, but with bodies and brains in fine fettle.
About fifty men with their outfit were left on the
western shore of Black Lake to build Camp One, and there to spend the winter cutting timber. The other 200 men continued seventeen miles up Indian River to Manitou Lake, where fifty of them turned aside to skirt four miles along the northern shore and there to establish Camp Two at the mouth of Wolf Creek. Meanwhile the rest of the brigade continued along the western shore four miles where another fifty parted company, and rowed two miles eastward across the lake to set up Camp Three at the mouth of Moose Creek. The remaining hundred travelled two miles round the convex bend of the western shore, where they separated, fifty continuing westward to the mouth of Caribou Creek to build Camp Four; while the last fifty headed straight southward, passed Spirit Mountain on Spirit Point, and after a further two-mile row, landed at the mouth of Bear River to establish Camp Five. That camp was to be in charge of Bull Bullock, and that was where Jean Sebastien was to work. Thus their thirty-five days of travel were at an end.
DISEMBARKING his men on the western bank of Bear River, a couple of hundred yards from Manitou Lake where the tall trees would protect their camp from winter winds, Bullock selected a site for his shanties. Then he gruffly gave orders to the head men of his different gangs, and swiftly the work of chopping, clearing, and levelling began. Brush shelters were erected, boats unloaded, outfits piled, firewood gathered, kits unpacked, fires lighted, supper served.
After the meal the men made their beds of balsam brush. They were tired from the long, hard day’s work and sat silently smoking until the moon rose, and then they turned in.
The following morning everyone was up before dawn, and as soon as breakfast was over, many continued the work of clearing and levelling. Meanwhile some of the timbermen began chopping down suitable red pines and cutting their long limbless trunks into thirty and fortyfour foot lengths. Others hewed scoops with which to cover the roof; scored small pines for flooring; squared timber to enclose the fireplace; cut poles for the bunks; scored logs to make benches; or split logs to make slabs for the door and the two tables. Still another little group of axemen were cutting twenty-foot logs from nearby poplar trees, to build an open-faced lean-to, to serve as the cook’s shelter until the big camboose would be ready.
Day after day the white man’s destructive work went on in that primeval wood. While the shantymen’s axes answered one another, chips flew, trees trembled, choppers shouted, trees tumbled, saws swished, chains clanked, men hauled, timbers twirled, and cornermen cussed when the notches did not nestle. And thus the first shanty assumed shape.
The camboose was the first and the principal building to be erected. In it the men were to eat and sleep and live all winter. Its inside measurements were forty by twenty-six feet, and it was built of unhewn logs with the bark left on. Although the walls were seven feet high, they had no windows and but a single door which was four feet wide. The roof, formed of scoops, was supported by stringers which rested on the two end walls. The scoops were made by scoring logs to the thickness of six inches and then hewing them flat on one side, and chopping them out, troughlike, on the other. The first layer was laid on the stringers with the concave sides up, and the second, or top layer, was laid with the concave sides down. Thus the edges of the alternating scoops were fitted into the hollows of the opposite layer, and formed a series of troughs which not only kept out rain, but drained the water off the roof.
In the centre of the roof stood the chimney, a huge boxlike affair built of logs, eight feet square at the base and tapering to five feet square after a rise of six feet. Day or night, summer or winter, that big chimney was never closed, and through its opening the whole house was supplied with light and air. The underside of the roof was chinked with moss. The walls were first chinked with long slivers of pine, then calked on the inside with dry moss and on the outside with wet clay. No metal whatever was used in the construction of the building. Everything, even the door-latch and the door-hinges were made of wood.
Round three sides of the inner walls a double tier of double bunks was banked, in which the men were to sleep two in each bunk. The bunks were made of poles four to six inches thick and were filled with balsam brush, which was to be renewed every month. Against the lower tier of bunks a stationary bench ran round three sides of the room. Upon this the men were to sit while eating, smoking, reading, or talking. The floor poles were adzed on the top side, and adzed extra smooth at the end of the room farthest from the door to afford a better surface for dancing.
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The Gang Man
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Inside the house, to the right of the doorway, stood the men’s water barrel and the men’s wash sink, then against the right wall stood the woodpile, after which came the bunks, beginning with those of the foreman and the clerk. To the left of the doorway stood the cook’s water barrel, next to this his table for dishes and food, and then the cook’s and the choreboy’s bunks. In the centre of the room, beneath the great open chimney, the earthen fireplace lay enclosed in a frame of hewn timber eight by ten feet square and a foot in height, at the farthest end of which a row of covered iron pots would be buried in hot sand. In these the bread and the beans would be cooked. At one corner of the fireplace a wooden crane was set up. Upon this, big iron pots would be hung to swing over the fire as needed for cooking. Near the fireplace two grindstones were set upon their wooden stands for the sharpening of axes.
On the outside of the shanty, against its left wall was built a ten-by-ten shed in which the “handy man” and his helper were to work beside a carpenter’s bench and a blacksmith’s forge. Against the right outer wall was built the cook’s shed for the storage of his supplies. The other shanties were to be composed of a twentyfoot-square storehouse for hay and oats; and two stables, each twenty-six by twenty-four feet in size, and provided with three eight-foot stalls on either side for the accommodation of twelve teams which were to come in later.
After five long sweltering days’ work, the gang moved in when the camboose was completed. That night they celebrated the occasion with much singing, dancing and story-telling.
Laying Out a Road
AT FIVE-FIFTEEN in the morning ■** the cook was shouting:
“Hurrah, mes bons hommes! Levez, levez, levez! Up, up, up, up!”
With a heavy stick he thumped upon one of the camboose posts, beating the shanty drum to awaken the shantymen. At five-thirty breakfast would be ready. At six o’clock work would begin. At eleven o'clock they would stop for dinner. At five-thirty their day’s labor would be done, and they would return to camp for their six o’clock supper.
The cook, however, seeing a slow response, shouted again:
“Hurrah, mm bons hommest Up, up, up !”
Then a frowsy head appeared and its owner dropped from an upper bunk. Straightening up, he began to sing in
“At four o’clock next morning the foreman loudly shouts:
‘Hurrah there, you teamsters, ’tis time that you were out!’
The teamsters then get up, all in a fretful way;
Says one, ‘I’ve lost my shoe-packs, and my socks have gone astray !’ ”
As others crawled out, they joined in:
“The choppers get up, and their socks they cannot find,
They lay it all to the teamsters, and curse them in their mind;
One says, ‘I’ve lost my socks—I don’t know what to do.'
Another has lost his shoe-packs, and he is ruined too!”
Then a few minutes later, to the tune of clinking dishes, the whole gang was ladling food from the big pots around the fire. J. R. Booth had provided a tin ! plate, tin tea-dish, and a spoon for each ! man, but everyone had to supply his own knife, and, if he needed one, his own fork. The food was plentiful but plain, and
all meals were practically the same: pea soup, boiled pork, baked beans, boiled rice, apple sauce, white bread, black molasses, and green tea. Later the portage sleighs would be coming in with potatoes, sugar and butter, and when the weather was cold enough to freeze meat, beef would be supplied.
After breakfast the foreman talked with the head timber-makers, the logmakers, and the road-makers. Some of the shantymen were set to work doing various chores about camp. Others began the helving and sharpening of axes, and the sharpening and setting of saws.
Then the foreman and his head roadmaker, Walter Angus, a six-foot-four half-breed from Moose Factory, set out, together with an extra axeman, to lay out a road up Bear River Valley. All three carried axes, but the foreman’s axe was much the smallest, having a onepound head and a two-foot handle. Although it was useful in many ways, it was really a foreman’s emblem of office, for in those days foremen always carried axes of that size. After covering about three miles, Foreman Bullock turned rightabout-face. While he slowly tramped back toward camp he carefully selected the line of least resistance and of most level grade, and then blazed it to show his two axemen exactly where the main road was to be made down to Manitou Lake for the hauling of big loads of square timber and sawlogs. The axemen followed the foreman, one on either side, and as they walked toward the lake they perfected the blazing of the trail by axeclipping the bark on both sides of the many trees which formed a double parallel line, inside of which the road-cutters were to work at cutting down and clearing away the trees and grading the ground.
That afternoon the foreman took the head timber-maker and the head logmaker, and showed them the stands of pine wherein their men were to start work, and also where the main road was to be, and where their rollways should be placed.
Meanwhile the road-makers had started chopping down and clearing away the trees from the twenty-foot main roadway. They were provided with crosscut saws, grubhoes, shovels, cant-dogs, and double-bitted or double-faced axes with straight three-foot handles and threepound heads—one blade of which had been ground bluntly for grubbing out roots, and the other ground sharply for chopping down trees. Their work was to cut down all trees which stood in the way, cut them up and move them aside, uproot or blast out all stumps, clear away all stones—using fire and water to split the rocks—level and grade the roadbed, build bridge^ over streams, and lay logs to form corduroy roads over bogs. They were to leave the roadbed in readiness for the required depth of snow for the hauling of sleighs loaded with squaretimber or sawlogs. Also they were to cut branch roadways for the hauling of timber and logs to the main roadway. When only timber was to be drawn, the side roads were to be cut twelve, instead of twenty feet wide.
A Land of Enchantment
AS SOON as the foreman had had time to inspect properly the upper part of Bear River, he had decided that two reservoirs were required to store enough water to float down next spring’s drive. He planned to build a square dam at the foot of Moose Lake, a little over three miles upstream from camp, and a roll dam at the foot of Beaver Lake, a mile farther up. When he had determined the length and height they were to be, he stopped other operations in order to put most of the men on that work.
But at the very start they saw signs of trouble. Immediately below Moose Lake, at the narrowest section of that part of Bear River, they encountered soft mud which might cause a leak below the dam in the spring. They did their best, however, to guard against it. The dam measured 160 feet in length by tenand-a-half feet in height. Its water gateway through which the current was to carry the square timber and sawlogs, was approximately ten feet wide and eight feet deep.
In building the roll dam or apron dam across the river below Beaver Lake, they were troubled by quicksand. But after much labor they filled the pocket with stones and used extra heavy logs to support the construction. This dam, instead of having a sluiceway through which to run the logs, was made with a slanting timber apron on the inside, or upper side, of the dam, over which the force of the overflow of water was to carry the logs. The square dam was built of square timber, while the roll dam was built of round logs banked with earth to keep them down. Its apron, over which the logs were to pass, was made of hewn timber.
With the passing weeks came a faster and greater change in the Northland’s charm, and Manitou Forest appeared even more magnificent. For now it seemed as though some transcendent artist had mixed gigantic pools of paint, and had brushed the whole landscape with his gorgeous colors.
Once again that beautiful panorama changed. Now for a few days it was all whirling leaves and pelting rain which swept the deciduous trees bare and beat their crisp leaves down into soggy mats upon the forest floor. Then Fairyland appeared. In a single night it came. The temperature dropped enough to chill the trees and ground more than the lakes and rivers. Then misty moisture, steadily rising from the water, began to condense on every colder thing it touched, forming hoar frost. By sunrise the diameter of every tiny twig and blade had multiplied from five to fifteen times its natural size. Now each was encased in a coating of long, hairy, fuzzy crystals of brilliantly sparkling white. Manitou Forest was turned into such a land of enchantment that half a hundred hairy, hulking shantyman were also changed into fifty happy, laughing children whose spirits rose so high among those beautifully glittering trees that many burst into spontaneous singing.
The unusual hoar frost, however, lasted only for a few hours, and was but the forerunner of many a slight snowstorm which passed within the next few weeks. Then the snow came to stay, and the shantymen welcomed it as the beginning of winter, for they could now carry on their work with greater comfort and greater ease. While they worked, the timbermen wondered when the teamsters would arrive, for they were bringing their horses overland through that wild, roadless and bridgeless region. Now that the rivers and lakes were frozen, the teamsters and their teams were expected any day. Already the snow had fallen to a depth of about a foot, and as the work of the timber crews was well under way, it was high time that hauling to the rivers and lakes began.
It was with the eoming of the snow that the shantymen more than ever realized how much big game there was in Manitou Forest. Now the tracks of moose and lynx, wolf and caribou, fox and white-tailed deer, and otter and marten showed with fine definition, and many a woodland drama could be read on the forest floor.
To be Continued