The Gang Man

ARTHUR HEMING February 15 1931

The Gang Man

ARTHUR HEMING February 15 1931

The Gang Man

ARTHUR HEMING

Running the Ottawa’s rapids with a timber raft was as dangerous as it was spectacular

THAT evening, after covering between four and five miles, Jean and his crew snubbed the raft ashore for the night. Resuming their way about three o’clock next morning, they covered the seventeen miles to Mountain Rapids, where they put the cribs through in ones and twos. Though it was only a run of about a hundred yards, it had a big jump at the foot, and it took the crew three-quarters of a day to run the whole raft down to the banding ground below .those white waters. From there to Les Erables Rapids was only three miles, so, on nearing the head of it, they snubbed for the night.

Four miles of swift water brought the raft to another cataract, La Cave Rapids. Here the drop was eleven feet, but as the banding had to be done some distance below the rapids, it necessitated a walk back of about two miles. At these rapids during a season of low water a raft could be run through in bands of fourteen cribs each, but during high water only double or single cribs could be put through with any hope of safety.

Next morning, after a five-mile run, they encountered Burritt Rapids. Then another four miles brought them to Rocky Farm Rapids and nine miles below that they came to La Veillée Rapids. All three were of little danger.

It was while running the last that they encountered one of the two big gangs of “river sweepers” employed by the Lumsden Company, one cf the two companies who had the contract to sweep the Ottawa River of all sawlogs stranded upon its banks, or upon rocks in the river, as well as those caught and held in whirlpools and back-snyes, between Lake Temiscaming and Ottawa City. For though all square timber upon arriving at Lake Temiscaming or the Ottawa River was made into rafts, all the sawlogs were merely enclosed in booms to be towed down to the foot of the lake, and then turned free to drift with the current down the Ottawa River. Ottawa City was the destination of the greater number of sawlogs, and sorting booms were arranged in the river above that city, upon which the sorters worked at separating the floating sawlogs according to their brands and driving them into their owner’s boom, to await the time when they would be sawn up in their respective sawmills.

This particular gang was employed to sweep the river from the foot of the Long Sault Rapids down to Des Joachims Rapids. They were eighty-nine in number and were in charge of a oreman. They lived on six timber cribs coupled together °t ra^’ *wo cr*ks wide and three long, one crib oi which supported the cookery, while each of four ot ers carried a large cabin containing a double tier of

bunks capable of accommodating twenty-four men.

The sweepers, in carrying on their work, used one sixoared, and fifteen four-oared pointer boats. The big boom consisted of a chain of one hundred pieces of square timber, each measuring forty feet in length, making a total of 1,333 yards. Besides, they made use of two 400-foot ropes, each one and a half inches thick, and another of the same length which was two inches thick. It took from four to five weeks to make a single sweep of their ninety-four-mile course of the river.

Two miles below La Veillée Rapids, Jean and his men arrived at Deux Rivières Rapids, and the shooting of them was a serious affair for his adventure-loving crew, as they were the third worst rapids on the Ottawa River. They had not only three great swells but they had a very bad collar, too. Here the raft was put through in sections consisting of one, two, or three cribs, according to the skill of the crews of six men each, the number which was required to make the trip with each unit. And those rapids, being about two miles in length, required two and a half days to get the raft through. It was about midnight on July the fifth when the raft reached Doyle’s Rapids, and as there was strong moonlight Jean ran the whole raft right through without dividing it.

Another five miles and they would be approaching the worst of all the rapids on the Ottawa River, so after a run of a mile or two, they snubbed ashore for the rest of the night.

The Rocher Capitaine Rapids were two miles in length, and so violent that a pilot and six men were

needed to man every single crib. One feature of these rapids was a small rock which stood between the head of the timber slide and the head of one of the great cataracts. To the raftsmen it marked the point between life and death. If the oarsmen were stronger than the current, the crib turned to the left of the rock and

plunged down the timber slide. When the current was the stronger, the crib passed to the right of the rock and the men went down to their death. Many a man had crossed that line never to return, and on the rocky banks the little wooden crosses told why. For lower down there were two great cellars, where the force of the current had worn immense cavities in the bottom of the rocky river-bed, and out of which a crib never came intact. Below those cellars the water was very wild; its roar drowned the yell of man, and its mad rush streaked the river with squirming foam for several miles.

It took them three days to get clear of The Rocher Capitaine, where the water dropped forty-three feet. Then, three quarters of a mile below, they came to Mirabeau Rapids, which were nearly a mile in length, but it was merely a long pitch through which Jean ran the whole raft, which he had previously arranged at the last banding ground in one long band of six cribs in width.

Two miles below that again they came to McSorley Rapids, where the raft went through in two sections but took half a day to do it. Another mile brought them to Pine Rapids, where there was a sharp turn round a boulder-strewn bend which had to be shaved so closely that the rocks beneath the raft did a surprising lot of rolling and grumbling, and threatened to wreck one side of the craft. Nine miles more brought them to the head of Des Joachims, where they snubbed ashore for the night. Those rapids were about a mile and a half in length and dropped twenty-three feet.

After three days of toil at Des Joachims, a tug-boat

‘towed the raft through the night, hauling it thirtyeight miles to Petawawa Island, where it arrived at two o’clock the following afternoon. Then, after rowing the raft through the Narrows, a sidewheeler took it in tow for fortyeight miles to Allumette Rapids, where it was run through in two bands. Though those rapids were wide and shallow, they were so steep that: they gave the sensation of going down hill, and the swift water of the slope, shoving so hard upon the stern of the band, caused the bow cribs to dive so low in the deeper and slower water at the foot of the rapids that they actually touched bottom, and in coming up again, fish were seen swimming over the cribs.

Race With Death

y^FTER a ten-

mile row they came to Paquette Rapids, which were four miles long, and through which they ran the raft in bands of eighteen cribs each, which took the best part of a day. Then another sidewheeler towed them twenty odd miles to The Calumet Rapids, where they snubbed a little below the bridge at Bryson, and about one and a half miles above The Calumet. Here the cribs were run through singly. On their first

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dip into those rapids they had to navigate j a very steep channel about one hundred yards in length with an apron at the foot j of the pitch, and about twice that distance I below they entered a timber slide which was about one hundred yards long. Then i into another slide they went, but this one i was even steeper, and there was an apron j at the bottom of it to prevent the down| rushing crib from diving too deep into the river. Skirting a timber-made pier for ; several hundred feet, they then turned into those mighty rapids, at the foot of which there was such a great swell that tons of water swept over the crib as it was forced to dive through.

Next morning at the first streak of dawn, they began parting the raft into separate cribs, and manning each with a pilot and three men. And a little before sunrise they began the run. But no sooner had the first crib—under the command of Old Evening—successfully run the two long slides and was rushing out into the wild, open river, than a fog crept over the surface of the water.

Alarmed, every man unshipped his oar and dropped upon bended knee to offer up a silent prayer. Then, leaping up and thrusting trembling wrists into the nooses of their life-lines, they waited in terrible suspense. For, somewhere before them, they knew that the river had an almost sheer fall of fifteen feet in height.

With a deafening roar, the crib, with a great upheaval, plunged down into the surging water below and broke asunder. For a moment the men appeared amid the boiling foam below, then they were dragged along by the lunging timbers and tossed mercilessly about in that awful cataract, The Calumet. After being submerged beneath the Grand Swell, they were finally dashed among the white horses which reared and plunged between the whirlpools. Three exhausted men rose to the surface beside their loading sticks, and were whirled piteously about until rescue came. The fourth was found nine days after, in a boom twenty miles below.

After a half-mile run the reconstructed raft was snubbed above Dargis Rapids. Here the cribs were run through singly, but now, for the first time, “jobbers” were

hired to do the work. They halted at the banding ground above the mouth of the Rideau River, at the foot of the hill on which stands the Parliament Buildings of The Dominion of Canada in the City of Ottawa.

A Holiday In Town

ONCE again jobbers took charge, for the crew certainly deserved a holiday. It was evening when the raft arrived at the head of the Long Sault Rapids.

The running of the many sections or bands of a great square timber raft through five miles of dangerouá rapids was no easy task. But they made good progress until about ten o’clock, when there was but one band left.

Since early morning the leaves had scarcely fluttered, but now, just as they were heading into the perilous channel which lead down among plunging foam and scraggy rocks, the tree-tops on yonder hill began bowing and waving. Then down the hillside and through the valley they all went a-nodding together, while a squall rushed out from the bank, striking the stern of the band, and began swinging it slowly toward the northern shore.

Uncontrollable exasperation loosened the tongue of Walter Angus, the man at the nearest sweep, and perchance above the booming of the rapids the pilot heard his blasphemy, for at last the spell was broken. He turned his head, perceived the danger, frantically signalled, and instantly they reversed their oars. Dip, swish, swirl; sounded the big bending sweeps as the men tugged violently at them. Talk of galley-slaves! Could ever man row harder? With clenched teeth, knitted brows, and straining muscles, the crewfought the current in vain. Faster and faster the stern swung round, and now —worse luck than ever—a corner of the bow struck a rock on the channel’s southern side. The combat was over. The Spirit of the River had won.

Above the sound of the roaring river rose the tumult of the floundering of loosened giant'timbers, and the breaking of cap-pieces as they went broadside down the rapids. A hundred yards below three

great boulders blocked the way. It was hopeless now. The men ceased rowing, but never a word was spoken, though anxiety paled every face. All eyes watched the rocks ahead, and Death seemed to bar the way. One moment and both ends of the band almost simultaneously crashed against the outer rocks.

Amid the deafening roar of the lunging of waters, crunching of timbers, cracking of cap-pieces, snapping of pickets, and breaking of sweeps, the men rushed from either end to the centre cribs. The outer cribs were smashing up. The loosened timbers, raising their ponderous heads above the leaping foam, lunged and plunged with all their stupendous weight against the granite barriers. The hissing waters hurled clouds of spray high into the air. Three men, in their rush, fell upon the revolving timbers. The onlookers held their breath. The three men rose again; but only two reached the cookery; the third tumbled headlong among the grinding logs. His body disappeared but his hands still clutched the slippery timbers. Would the next wave crush out his life? But see, he rises ! Swinging his legs across the opening, just as a rope was being hurled to him, he scrambled upon his feet and rushed in among the others.

The excitement was so intense that the rest of the men were heedless of their own danger, when, with a tremendous crash, the sagging band jammed fast upon the middle barrier. But now, of all din this was the greatest. Over went the grub table, helter-skelter danced the tin dishes and the spoons, food flew everywhere, a huge pot fell and dashed hot soup upon the crew, the bread pans rolled about and clashed with one another, while their freshly-browned loaves took to flight or dove into the river. Then down upon the heads of the excited throng crowding the crib came, with creak and groan, the toppling roof. The flying boards stampeded the crew. They rushed to gain two boats which rode upon neighboring cribs,

and scrambled aboard. No sooner w’ere they in the boats than violence subsided and confusion ended, for the band was jammed between the three rocks which held it gripped while hundreds of tons of leaping water washed over it.

How they changed with the changing moments! Now could be heard a comic song, merry oaths, and careless laughter. Presently they were serious as trapped beavers while, with pike pole and peavey, they toiled to loosen the stranded timbers. All day long they labored away, greatly missing their “drowned” dinner.

The Frontier Moves On

"VyfORE than forty years have passed.

Now the former picturesque tradingpost and once-thriving lumber town of Mattawa sleeps among her originally beautiful but now fire-swept hills. As she dreams of her former charm, her twentyseven yawning stores fail to retain her fast-fading trade, for she is no longer a frontier town. Years ago Old Man Frontier tied his tumpline about his pack and paddled and portaged far to the northward, where he built other railroads, other villages, and other towns to accommodate men who are working new but already world-famous gold and silver mines, gigantic pulp and paper mills, and prosperous farms. Meanwhile, most of the characters in this narrative have paddled and portaged far away to their spiritual frontier.

How well they played their parts upon that great wilderness stage set among the oldest mountains in the world! Played their parts in a great drama of pioneering days that formed a vital part in the history of their country. A drama of squaretimber rafting, the like of which was never seen in any other country. A drama that ran in Canada for 102 years. Yet how soon are the actors forgotten, and the drama, too! For hunt the archives, the libraries, and the art galleries through, and you will not find one worthy record of Canadian Rafting Days.