Shanty Days Are Here Again

HARVEY B. CAMPBELL November 1 1931

Shanty Days Are Here Again

HARVEY B. CAMPBELL November 1 1931

Shanty Days Are Here Again


There was a time when it was “men only” in the pulp forests, but nowadays the shantymen’s entourage includes madame his wife, grandma, the baby and the old family cow

A LOG travelling at eighty-three miles an hour down a mountain side and hurtling hundreds of feet through the air as it leaves the track is worth going to see. even if the thermometer is thirty-eight below zero.

On a broad plateau high above the Pickabau River, “jobbers” were cutting pulpwood. To haul it down the mountain side was a dangerous business; dangerous both for horses and for men. So the logs were sent down a

Under direction of forestry engineers, a trestle-work was raised, carrying a V-shaped trough of poplar poles. It began at the edge of the plateau and ended 2,000 feet below. The “jobber” on the mountain hauled his logs to the dumping place, then rolled them off his sleigh into the chute. Gravity did the rest.

Only about half that chute could be seen from below, but a descending log became visible 1,000 feet up, a moving shadow with a trail of white smoke floating out behind it. A few seconds later it crashed like a cannon ball into the pile in the river bed. An engineer with a flair for problems estimated that the speed of those logs, when they left that chute for their final dramatic hurtling through the air, was 130 feet pér second. The government stump inspector described it to a nicety as “hell-bent for thunder.”

A big pulp and paper concern, with timber limits vastly larger than the whole of Wales, was getting out its winter cut of wood. Company engineers had designed the chute; company men had built it; and company men would open the flood gates that would float all that wood away.

And far up on the mountain top was a little cabin with a woman in it, and children driving a dog-sleigh, and a man with an axe in his hand—the lock and key of the whole pulp and paper business.

There has grown up with the pulp and paper industry in the Province of Quebec a new type of “shanty” life and a new business that of "jobbing.”

The lumber camps of the old days were the proving grounds for the young bloods off the farm. The strong men, the fighters, the jobless, the footloose and the fancy-free annually went off to the bush in much the same spirit as the crusaders went to Palestine; some because they felt it their duty to go; some because they wished to avoid responsibilities at home; and some because they wanted to get off on a spree.

Lumber camps still attract the adventurous and offer a refuge for the unemployed. But in the pulp forests, the big camp is giving way to the small cabin.

Let me explain.

A pulp and paper company, faced with the

necessity of cutting from one to two hundred million board feet of pulpwood each year, has three courses of procedure open to it—to operate its own cutting and hauling camps; to contract for the delivery of the required wood, or to deal directly with a large number of small contractors who swing their own axes and take their families with them into the

The “Jobbing” Business

THESE men are called “jobbers,” and if the wood that is to be cut is within reasonable reach of a settled district the jobbers get the preference.

The owner companies operate their own camps only when circumstances compel them to do so; never when they can avoid it. For the simple reason that lumbering operations

on a large scale, for a reputable concern that treats its men fairly in the matter of wages, sleeping quarters, and working hours, are a costly business.

The logging contractor may solve the problem in certain conditions, but ordinarily the manufacturers shy clear of entanglement with the professional bushwhacker. He, of course, hopes to make money out of his contracts; and he thinks first, not of the forests or of the finished product, but of profits. But bad wood makes bad paper; short logs, or long logs, or logs that are badly trimmed, add to the costs of production; and in actual practice it is difficult to get a big contractor to produce good wood. Even if he is honest, an elaborate organization is required to supervise his operations; and if he is not honest, no respectable manufacturer wants to be mixed up in his affairs at all.

Many companies prefer to deal directly with the small contractor or jobber. Professionally, the jobbers are fanners for the most part, or day laborers, carters, truckers—men with small holdings of land, or nothing perhaps but bush experience, who are willing to pit their skill with the axe and their genius as woodsmen against the forest primeval. They know that if they can get a contract with one of the big companies, and have no bad luck such as a snowless winter, they will come out in February or March with a neat little nest egg.

The net result is that jobbing is now a business in which thousands of French-Canadian families are engaged. In the Lake St. John district alone, and that is an industrial area, it is estimated that a thousand jobbers are under contract, and that another four thousand professional lumberjacks are working with them in the bush. The total throughout the province must be very large.

Early in the fall they pack up their duffle, make a comfortable place somewhere for grandma and the baby, and hit gaily off to cabins in the woods. And so far as one can see, meeting them on the road, the only reluctant member of the outfit is the old red cow that brings up the rear.

They go early, and they stay late. The trek begins as soon as the ice is on the lakes; sometimes before that. Every year they go a little earlier, and stay a little later—not settlers, but contractors getting out wood.

The preliminary work on the timber limits of a paper company is usually done years before that wood is cut. Forestry engineers work along a watershed or a river valley, and map it. Then they lay it all out in blocks according to the topographical features of the district, and map each block. A block may have 35,000 trees in it, or 200,000 trees. It may have an area of fifteen acres, or a hundred and fifteen; everything depends on local factors. Each block, however, is considered as a unit for which the bids of jobbers will be invited.

In Ontario, such a block is called a “chance.” In Quebec it is termed a “chantier” or “shanty.”

Continued on page 40

Continued from page 27

To avoid confusion, both terms are dropped in this article and the word “block” is used instead.

When the time comes to cut the pulpwood off that area, timber estimators go over each block with care. Guesswork is eliminated as far as possible. The trees are measured; a clerk writes down in a book the figures which the expert estimator calls out; and in the long run, the actual amount of wood which each block must yield is specified in terms of footboard measure. The cost of cutting that wood and of delivering it at the rollway is then estimated, and is published with the other figures about the block for the benefit of the jobbers who are interested.

Then the jobbers are invited to look it

There is no red tape about the business, no opening of sealed tenders or anything like that. The jobbers appear in person, each with a son or a brother or someone who will give him advice and moral support. They see the published figures, and the trees, and all the difficulties that will have to be faced. Then, what about it?

It usually takes some argument to convince each man that the block actually contains as much timber as the estimator says it does. And the prospective bidder wants someone to tramp with him all over the lot, and two or three times around the borders of it. Then he haggles for a day or two over the price. That is just part of the game.

In the end a contract is signed. Then the jobber, aided by his moral support, sets to and builds a log cabin to which his family can be brought. Whereupon he goes home, and carries on till the first snow falls.

A jobber with three or four sons may take on a large block, getting out perhaps two thousand cords of wood. A single man, with his mother or a sister to cook for him, may work alone or with hired help, getting out a thousand cords. Each man according to his own resources. All that the owners ask is that the specified number of board feet of timber be delivered at the railway before the spring floods come.

The Company Depot

’ I 'HE owners supervise operations, of

course. They see that healthy seed trees are left standing, that the baby trees are protected, and that rotten wood is left on the ground. They watch carefully that the logs are properly trimmed, and that proper disposal is made of the left-overs. Scalers measure every log. both ends of it. Checkers go over the scalers’ figures. And government inspectors count the stumps for the stumpage dues, and keep an eye on their size, to see that no trees less than six inches in diameter are slaughtered. The river boss pours oil on all troubled waters, and keeps the whole thing running like a machine.

Long before the jobber moves on to his lot, preparation has been made for his coming. At some central point along the

river valley a “depot” has been established, with offices, a store, warehouses, dining hall and bunkhouses for the men directly under the company’s employ, cabins for the families of the depot staff, and probably a government post-office.

The depot or camp store has often been a sore in the side of the lumberjack. All employees and jobbers are expected to buy their supplies at the depot, and that is fair enough, for only thus can the store be kept open at all. But the crooked employer takes advantage of his workmen by charging them prices that range from the merely exorbitant to plain robbery. The more reputable companies - one may say all the big companies—however, know just how much it costs to deliver a bottle of vaseline or a bale of hay at one of their depots, and they charge that much and no more.

At the Cyriac depot, operated by Price Brothers & Co., Limited, I bought at its marked price a mackinaw which must have cost wholesale a very few cents less than I paid for it, four hundred miles from Montreal. At Hauling Camp No. 7, which is fifty-four miles from a railroad, shirts, socks, mitts and medicines were on sale at what would have been bargain prices in the big department stores.

Men who went into the bush in winter a few years ago were cut off from the outside world for months at a time, save as rumor brought news of their welfare. Now, even remote depots have a daily mail and telephone connection with the trunk lines of the province.

With Tom Nesbitt, the man who made the first mosaic air photograph used by the Allies in the Great War, I spent three days watching operations along the Cyriac River. We did not go to the Cyriac depot by airplane, let me explain. We jounced for thirty-one miles over bush and mountain trails in a bourleau, or jumper sleigh, with the thermometer somewhere around thirtyone below zero.

We were taken into a little cabin of logs after our arrival—a neat little place with a sink on one wall, a table with a desk set on it, and a telephone.

“What’s tnis place, Tom? The office?”

“No, tenderfoot 1 This is the guest camp. I’m going to see how they are at home.”

We were thirty-one miles from a railroad and twenty miles from the nearest crossroads, yet within two minutes we had a telephone connection with home more than fifty miles away.

Think of that for the shanties.

Excellent opportunity was offered in the next two days to see how owners and jobbers co-operate in the business of getting out the year's cut of pulpwood.

Not all the work can be done by the jobber. His task is to fell the trees, trim them, cut them into twelve-foot lengths, and haul them to some place in the river bed where the spring floods will find them, or to some rollwav where tractors or teams with

specially designed sleighs can pick them up and haul them away.

The owners do all the rest. They see to the hauling of supplies. They measure the logs and check those measurements. They make all long hauls, prepare the river for the spring drive, and look after a thousand and one details that require a considerable number of men. Especially, as in the case of the log chute down the mountain side, do they concern themselves with matters that speed up the cut, and eliminate risk, and keep down costs.

Camp Customs

IN 1909, men who went into the bush were paid from eighteen to twenty-six dollars a month and their board. The board was “just so-so.” Now, the standard wage is sixty dollars a month and board. And the food is good.

An old-timer—a genuine old-timer who first went to the shanties more than fifty years ago—told my companion that the only food supplied in those days was bread and lard. If you wanted meat, you had to go out and kill it yourself. And if you toasted your bread and lard on a stick and let the melted lard drip through on to the flame, the foreman would fine you two dollars for waste.

Today, even in the worst of the camps the men get plenty to eat. The shantymen in depot and hauling camps which I have visited both in Ontario and Quebec, sat down to tables covered with white oilcloth and ate their fill—soup, two hot and two cold meats, beans, three vegetables, bread, butter, doughnuts, two kinds of pie, and coffee. Not too bad, even for a hungry man.

The law of silence at meals is still enforced in the lumber camps. A certain amount of latitude is allowed for soup, for merci and for s’il vous plaît. But any man who talks is thrown out. The cook attends to that. It is the approved method of preventing back talk and of dealing with complaints about the grub.

The depot becomes naturally the community centre.

While we were chatting with the cook and his wife, in their neat little sitting room, the night of our arrival at the Cyriac depot, a gay crowd was gathering in the dining hall outside. For strangers to have shown themselves would have been to spoil the spontaneous fun-making that was going on, so we kept out of sight.

Jests and laughter. Roaring chansons of the coureurs des bois. Syncopated jazz done on a mouth organ to the tramping of a hundred moccasined feet. And now and then, a good old-fashioned “clog.” It was like a big family gathering anywjiere; but the moccasins, the soft inflectionless French tongue, and the strong, merciless tobaccoadvertised as Fori pour les hommes foris, “strong for strong men”—marked it Quebec. It was all in keeping with the best traditions of the shantymen.

“A concert on tonight?” I enquired.

“No. This happens every night. This is a prayer meeting.”

It was even so.

The river boss came in, and silence fell on the group about the stove, the silence of expectancy and reverence. A little later the cook appeared, a book in his hand. And under his leadership, men, women and children told their beads and recited their evening prayers.

The same thing would happen in much the same way, I was told, in hundreds ok camps throughout Quebec. It is the genius of the French-Canadian people that they are able to maintain the traditions of their race and the practices of their religion “wherever two dr three are gathered together.”

A Satisfactory Arrangement

EARLY the next morning we went in search of the jobbers. A good axe rings like crystal in frosty wood, and from all sides of the river valley echoes came back like tinkled bells. Then, deep in some slash dark with evergreens, we would find an

axeman, knee-deep in snow, working alone perhaps, or with one or more companions a short way off. He would give us his cheery, "Salut, messieurs!" and stand to chat a while, then carry on with his job.

The French-Canadian does not use the same tools as his neighbors in Ontario. He prefers the double-bladed axe, for one thing. And if he has only a small tree to saw through, he considers it a waste of manpower to use a two-man cross-cut saw. He goes down on his knees with a bucksaw, and in an incredibly short time Prenez garde goes up the shout, and crash comes down the tree. If he has work for two horses, he uses also two sleighs. The one horse is trained to follow the other. Thus one man, or even a child, can drive three or four loads to the rollway at once. Only when the great log sleighs with a nine-foot beam are being used on specially prepared icy roads, does one ever see two horses hitched together in the Quebec woods.

Three times we visited jobbers' cabins that morning, and three times we had coffee, of course. They were all very much alike, those cabins. Two rooms, with saplings flattened on one side doing duty as floor and carpet both, bunks between windows on every wall, and big stoves with soup pots bubbling all day long.

The women no doubt find it a bit crude, and complain now and then. And the men, thereupon, tell how bad the mosquitos were last August when the camp was built, and how the black flies were biting like dix milles diables noirs.

And madame laughs and shrugs her shoulders and makes the best of it. Inconvenient and rough it is, but there are compensations. She has been able to keep her family together, and has had time to teach the smaller children their lessons as well as look after her man. Her very presence has raised the moral tone of the camp community. And the fact that she has saved her jobber husband the cost of a cook is a satisfaction, and will add materially to the profits of the winter’s work.

From the point of view of both the jobber and the company who contracts with him, jobbing is a satisfactory arrangement.

The company is able to deal directly with the man who does the work, wins his confidence, and trains him for future use, so that each succeeding year sees the same men coming back looking for contracts, sometimes returning to the same cabins.

The jobber, who perhaps had not a cent to his name at the beginning of the season, is provided with all necessary supplies, is handed a cheque every two weeks for himself, for his wife who acts as cook, and for his hired men. Then, in the spring, when the whole tally of logs, or footboard measure, has been delivered, he gets another cheque for the balance due him on his contract.

That cheque may be for a thousand dollars, or more, or less, according as his cut has been. Even when he deducts pay for time lost going in and out of the bush, and for getting his horses back into condition, the jobber can usually count on solid profits for his winter’s work of $300 to $400.

Besides that, this winter in the bush is by way of being a holiday to many of the jobbers. A strenuous one,' perhaps, but one they love.

The frosty sunshine, the music of axes, the aromatic headiness of spruce-scented air, evenings en famille full of warmth and fun and frolic beside one’s own roaring fireside—to the modern shantyman. C’est la vie!