All in a Day's Work: Lumbering in New Brunswick

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Introduction 1964.147L 1971.22.214 1971.22.77 1971.22.23 1971.22.201 1971.22.123 1968.65 X12293


New Brunswick Museum, 2003

Imagine a river stretching away in front of you, one of many in New Brunswick. Before you on the shore you find a lumber camp, a place to sleep, food and occasional respite from a hard life in the woods. Ahead of you lies the work of cutting and hauling logs and rafting them downstream to the lumber mill, from where the sawn lumber will be shipped to market. The sounds of axes and saws and the cry of "Timberrrrr!" ring out around you.

New Brunswick's abundant forests became an important source of raw timber for Britain when the traditional supply from the countries around the Baltic Sea was cut off during the Napoleonic Wars of the early 1800s. During the winter months, trees were felled and collected. In the spring, the logs were floated down New Brunswick's rivers to mills downstream or along the coast. Wood processing techniques developed rapidly in the late 19th century, making it easier to turn raw timber into a variety of saleable commodities, such as boards, decorative woodwork and even the lowly but essential matchstick.

Life in the lumber camps was hard and dangerous, but it produced a breed of sturdy men proud of their skills, as well as a rough code of conduct that governed their lives in the forest. Living conditions in the camps were at best rudimentary. With no unions, the work of the 19th-century logger was defined only by seasonal conditions and available daylight. Perhaps the most exciting event in the life of a lumber camp was the spring log drive, an event that had all the elements of a thrilling adventure: exhilarating work, spine-tingling action and hair-raising danger.

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the lumber industry underwent rapid technological change, which affected the worker's diet and tools, the transportation of timber and the efficiency of the mills. The forest industry became a highly mechanized, year-round operation. Mills producing finished lumber products soon gave way to a prominent pulp and paper industry, while the railway, chain saw, tractor, truck and mechanical harvester changed the world of the old-time lumberjack forever.