1902 Encyclopedia > Canada > Canada - Forests

(Part 5)

Forests. – The forests of Canada abound in fine timber, adapted to almost every variety of useful or ornamental work, and furnishing one main element of wealth to the province. Foremost in point of utility are the white and red pine, annually exported in large quantities to the United States and to Europe. Three-fourths of the square and flatted timber produced in the Ottawa region in 1853 was of white pine. Cedar, red pine, and railway-ties chiefly made of tamarac, were the others which were produced in largest quantities. Pine trees of 100 feet high are not uncommon; and instances are not rare of trees greatly exceeding that height.

The pine prepared fro exportation is made into square timber, measuring from 60 to 70 feet in length; or into waney timber (as it is called when only partially squared or flatted), averaging generally the same lengths though sometimes running to 100, or even 120 feet. For the native market the unsquared log is cut into convenient lengths of from 12 to 15 feet for the saw-mill. The white oak, besides being made into squared timber not greatly inferior in dimensions to the white pine, serves also largely to supply staves both for the English and the West Indian markets. The number of pieces of squared and flatted timber produced in the Ottawa district alone in 1873 was 303,268, and the number of unsquared logs for the same year amounted to 2,024,980. The elm, beech, ash, maple, walnut, cedar, birch, and tamarac are all valuable products of the Canadian forests. The black walnut and the birds-eye and curled maples are now in special demand in England for cabinet and fancy work. The sugar maple is also of value for the sap which it yields during early spring, from which excellent sugar is made in ever-increasing quantities. The yield of maple sugar produced in the four older provinces in 1871 amounted to 17,276,000 lb. A maple grove, as it is called is accordingly regarded as a valuable feature on a Canadian farm.

The value of the immense forests of Canada is becoming more apparent every year. The year 1874 was one of reduced exports and imports, as compared with any previous year since the confederation of the provinces. Nevertheless the total produce of the forest exported during that year, apart from what was required for use within the Dominion, amounted in value of $26,817,715. Of this timber to the value of $14,928,403 was exported to Great Britain; the United States received to the value of $9,654,890; South America to the value of $920,309 the British West Indies to the value of $602,487; and the remainder went to the Spanish, French and Dutch West Indies, to France, Portugal, Belgium, Germany, and Holland, and to regions and colonies beyond the Pacific. Australia took to the value of $60,081; China, $38,024; British and Dutch Guiana, $23,452; and Honolulu, the Azores, South Africa, and other countries, in lesser proportions. In addition to all this, the forest produce required for home consumption during the same period cannot be estimated at a less value than $3,000,000.

Canada is becoming every year more important as an agricultural country. It is exporting not only grain but also cattle to the English market; and when the rich prairie lands of the North West are brought under cultivation its agricultural produce will probably rank foremost in value of that of any nation in the world. But at present the produce of the Canadian forests exceeds in value any other yield of the growth, produce, or manufacture of the Dominion. The total value of the exports of Canada for 1874 amounted to $73,926,748; and of this $26,817,715 was the produce of its forests. The importance of this branch of native industry cannot therefore be overlooked. The Governments of the different provinces grant licenses to those engaged in the timber trade to cut timber over vast tracts of land, under the name of "timber limits." These are in moist cases remote from the settlements; and much ability and foresight are required to make adequate provision for the large bodies of men, horses, and oxen, to be employed in cutting down and preparing the timber for the market, and transporting it to suitable points for rafting. Much capital is accordingly embarked in the trade. Hay and other requisites have to be accumulated at suitable stations. Large gangs of lumberers follow at the proper season. Lumber shanties are constructed capable of accommodating from 25 to 50 men. The structure is made of logs hewn on the spot, and forms a square or oblong edifice surrounded on three sides with the baulks, or sleeping-berths, of the men, while the fourth side is occupied by the dresser or working-table and other requisites of the cook. The center is open to the sky, and underneath this only opening for light or air a huge wood fire is kept constantly replenished. Over it stretches the crane on which the cook hangs his pot; and thus the fire answers the double purpose of warming and ventilating the dormitory and cooking the food of its inmates. The shanty-cook is an important member of the little community. Salt pork and beef, pease-soup, wheaten bread and tea, with potatoes, white beans, and onions, are the staple of the lumber-shanty fare. As a rule, intoxicating liquors are absolutely excluded; and thus provisioned the foreman selects the proper trees; and lumbering operations proceed throughout the winter. Many thousands of men are busy through the whole winter felling the trees, cutting them into legs, or hewing them into squared timber, and transporting them over the snow to suitable points for floating them down the rivers to the mills, or directly to the place of export. As the rivers are in many places interrupted by falls of a character unfitted to the safe passage of timber over them, large sums are expended in constructing timber-slides; and on some of the main channels, as on the Ottawa, the construction and maintenance of the chief timber-slides undertaken by the Government.

It is erroneously supposed by many, who are unfamiliar with the character of the Canadian forest, that the work of the lumberer results in the clearing of the land. Only the finest full-grown trees are selected for the lumberer’s axe, and it is calculated that the same district may be gone over by the lumberer every twelve or fifteen years. Hence if the destructive fires which from time to time do such immense injury can be guarded against, and the operations of the lumberer are carried on with due care, under proper oversight, there is no reason why the forests of Canada should not remain a permanent source of national wealth.

In the new clearings in the vicinity of lumbering districts, the farmer finds a ready demand for all his produce, and employment for himself, his horses, and his oxen during the leisure of winter. In this way the lumbering business helps to promote the settlement of new districts, and attracts a population to localities which otherwise might long remain a wilderness. In free grant districts, as in the Muskoka region on the Georgian Bay, where new settlers are engaged in their first hard struggle to transform, the wilderness into fruitful farms, the earliest savings of the farmer are frequently expended on a yoke of oxen; and thus provided, his services are welcomed by the lumberers, and he can find profitable employment throughout the winter. On the breaking up of the frost in spring the produce of the winter’s lumbering is floated down the rivers. There, at suitable points on every available rapid or waterfall, large mills are erected for sawing up the logs, chiefly for the English and American markets. The squared timber for the foreign markets is put together in cribs and run down the rivers to suitable points, where they are formed into great rafts, and so floated down the lakes and rivers, as on the River St. Lawrence to Quebec. There they are finally broken up, and shipped for their foreign destinations.

Few among the many sights which meet the eye of a voyage on the St. Lawrence are more striking than one of those floating villages, consisting often of 150,000 cubic feet of timber, bound together into one great raft, with its shanties, its blazing fires, securely kindled on an earthen hearth, and its banners streaming in gala fashion, as it glides along. Much skill is required in piloting these rafts down the great rivers. The cribs floated from the far inland timber limits are collected into what are called drams; each dram has its own gang or division of the raft’s crew, and so many drams form a raft. But at every considerable rapid the raft is again broken up into its component parts, and the cribs taken down separately, to be again put together on reaching smooth water. Thus united, the raft moves onward with the current, aided at times by sail and oar, until it is safely secured within the booms of the great timber merchants in the coves above Quebec.

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