I am looking through my grandmother’s large, cumbersome photograph albums. There are wedding pictures, family pictures, but the snaps that really hold my interest are ones from my grandfather’s workplace. In the 1940s my grandfather was a contractor with Bowater’s. He would travel into the woods with a camp (I mean camp houses, not tents), a crew of cutters and a cook and stay in the forest for about three months.
When the cutting was done he’d return with some men in the winter to dump the cut wood into tributaries of the Humber River. These 4-foot long pieces of logs would wait on the ice until spring thaw and the opening of the dams. Then they would begin their voyage to the mouth of the Humber and a boom waiting there with a tug boat. The tug would close the boom and pull the logs to the mill.
As a kid this fascinated me. “Tell me how the logs swim to the mill!” And it all still fascinates me, but not just because of the meandering trip the wood took down the Humber. Those camp houses, which were rolled into the forest on logs and pulled by draught horses, are still standing. One has been converted to a chicken coop and the others are outbuildings on my Aunt’s produce farm. The rough wooden bunks still exist in some. I played in these buildings as a kid, never understanding or appreciating I was playing in history. The cook house is there too, identifiable only by its lack of bunks. Long gone are the horses. They seemed big enough to eat a man, if horses ate people.
Some years ago I asked my grandmother what she did all those months with all her children and no husband to help around the house. She said the older children helped and she always kept a dog for protection. “There weren’t anyone got handy without you knowin’ if you had a good dog.” For months she’d wait his return, canning and preserving, knitting and baking. Meanwhile in the woods my grandfather ate raisin biscuits made by the cook and meals prepared in large batches. If he ran low on tobacco he’d look for sticky myrrh and chew it like gum.
This is not a Corner Brook tale, I know, but I thought I’d share a little about where the mill’s wood came from decades ago and the people who helped harvest it. Today the wood still comes from outside Corner Brook but is now trucked in, the logs whole. They are piled in triangle shapes in the mill yard, waiting their turn with the machinery inside. My Dad was one of those truckers. I don’t have a sibling in the industry so I can’t say the family tradition of feeding the mill will continue. The best I can do is write about it.
**I was unable to scan any family photos due to their delicate condition.
Photo from the Corner Brook Museum and Archives.