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



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 become an important source of raw timber for Britain when the traditional supply from the countries around the Baltic Sea is cut off during the Napoleonic Wars of the early 1800s. During the winter months, trees are felled and collected. In the spring, the logs are floated down New Brunswick's rivers to mills downstream or along the coast. Wood processing techniques develop 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 is hard and dangerous, but it produces a breed of sturdy men proud of their skills, as well as a rough code of conduct that governs their lives in the forest. Living conditions in the camps are at best rudimentary. With no unions, the work of the 19th-century logger is defined only by seasonal conditions and available daylight. Perhaps the most exciting event in the life of a lumber camp is the spring log drive, an event that has 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 undergoes rapid technological change, which affects the worker's diet and tools, the transportation of timber and the efficiency of the mills. The forest industry becomes a highly mechanized, year-round operation. Mills producing finished lumber products soon give way to a prominent pulp and paper industry, while the railway, chain saw, tractor, truck and mechanical harvester change the world of the old-time lumberjack forever.