It has seldom been our privilege to present a more comprehensive word picture of the everyday life of a lumberjack and river driver on the Upper Ottawa a half century ago, than that which comes to us today from the pen of Mr. James Annable of Carleton Place. Born on the banks of the Mississippi at Carleton Place, in the days when lumbering on that important tributary of the Ottawa was at its height, Mr. Annable at an early age threw in his lot with the bronzed giants of the forest and river. His experiences during that first season are not only interesting but highly informative.
“I left home to go to the headwaters of the Mississippi river in Lavant as a cook’s flunkey in the shanty of Boyd Caldwell, Sr., pioneer lumberman with timber limits at Ompah. We outfitted in Lanark village and travelled by wagons. There were thirty teams of horses, each wagon loaded with bob-sleighs and tools, along with provisions to feed seventy men that winter. The foreman in charge (we shall call him Bob Price) was six feet tall and weighed about 200 pounds. The wagons were loaded to capacity with flour, beans, black molasses, salt pork, sugar, tea, etc. The cook wagon was equipped with utensils and food already cooked to feed the crew composed of teamsters, bush rangers, roadmen, sawyers and river drivers.
It took fifteen days to make the Journey to Lavant station, near Ompah, where our camp site was already staked out. On our arrival at the Snow Road, we were almost frozen as winter had set in and the ice was on the inland lakes and creeks, we arrived with a number of the men sick with colds and sore feet; many of them had to cut brush roads around sluiceways. At last the wagons arrived.
“We lived in tents for twenty days while the shanty was being constructed out of hemlock logs. After the trees were felled the broad-axe men notched the ends and locked them on the corners, boring a one-inch auger hole through each tier and driving dowel pins made of ash and hickory sapling to hold the corners intact. They were floated alongside each other and held together with swifters made out of rope and the inner bark of ash and elm. Each stick would average from 800 to 1,000 feet virgin pine. They were formed into cribs of twelve sticks each. Rafters were made out of tamarack and spruce, tapering from eight inches at the butt to four inches at the top. The pitch of the roof was about 30 degrees. “The roof was made by hewing out the center of eight inch timber with a tool called an adze. After narrower so that they would float and not break apart.
In the center of the crib the cookery was located, also tents for the river drivers. These men wore high boots almost to the knees the roof -timbers were complete. This made it waterproof and when completed it was almost air tight. Ventilation was made under the eaves to carry out the smoke. “Around the south end of the camp bunks were constructed three tiers high and five feet wide to hold two men. Their beds were made soft by cutting cedar boughs and filling the bunks with them.
Each man had to make his own bed, the blankets being furnished by the company. Pillows were ‘out’ until the flour sacks were empty, when they would be filled with straw and in time everyone had his pillow. Next, the cookery was constructed by making a log box six feet wide and 18 feet long.
Each man had his own pike pole and peavy or cant-hook and our first slide was reached at Playfair, a few miles from Lanark. The cribs were all broken up and had to be made in four-stick lots to run through the slide Into the lower waters, and it was about eight feet. The kitchen crib was the last to go through. Then on down to Ferguson’s Falls, twelve miles distant.
A post was set in the center with iron bands, with loops for the large iron pipe that supported the cooking utensils over the Are, to rest on. When we were boiling spuds, beans and ‘sow belly,’ the beans when boiled soft were placed in a 24 inch cast, iron kettle with cover that projected out over the edge a half Inch. These were buried in the sand and ashes over night and were ready to serve for breakfast piping hot, flavored with blackstrap molasses and plenty of salt pork browned to a golden hue. read-The Carleton Place Beanery at Dalhousie Lake
The bread was baked the same way, the loaves coming out of the Dutch oven with crust on all sides, weighing about twenty pounds and cut in wedges. At meal time each man took his tin plate and tea basin and knife and fork and stood in line until the cook or the cook’s devil would help him with his food. Fresh meat was seldom served in those days but there was plenty of wild game to be had, but with no shooting allowed we used to snare rabbits.
After each meal, eacn man took care of his dishes and tools and put them on the rack ready for the next chow time. When the days work was done and supper over, they sat on the long benches that ran in front of the bunks, the boys would enjoy themselves by playing flutes, fiddles, mouth organs and jewsharps. Old shanty songs prevailed and the old timers took delight in hanging it on the tenderfoot, but it did not take long for the first-timer to learn his way about. Wrangling and fighting were taboo.
A tragedy occurred as we passed Innisville rapids into the big waters of Mississippi Lake. Our foreman called for volunteers to ride a chain boom through Innisville rapids. Some twelve of the old timers went through fine, after a three-mile sail, each man on a single stick thirty feet long and twelve to fifteen inches in diameter. These logs were chained together end to end and were snubbed to shore at Cooke’s Landing wilh one end to the other and poled against the current across the mouth of the big lake and made fast to trees on the other shore.
When everything was made fast, all the crew went up again to the slide and ran the square timber through the lower rapids out into the clear water They floated the cribs endways until they reached the boom, placing the cribs close together in formation to get in readiness to cross the Mississippi lake about four miles to the head of Pretty island. There always seemed to be a head wind ahead of us so we had to lie idle until the wind chance to south.