“Back in Them Old Times”-Early Lumbering in Central Newfoundland

Back in Them Old Times

“Now twas all in Botwood then, or Ship Cove t’was then, see that’s where there head office was, there was no office nowhere else. So we went in and signed on. It was three o’clock in the evening and you knows that night was almost on then, in October month. So we took our clothes bags on our backs and we beat ‘er for Bishop’s Falls, now Bishop’s Falls in them days was called the outside depot….”

Mr. Henry Hutchings aged 94 describing to Hiram Silk going into the lumber woods at age 17  circa 1892.

October 23rd [1888]. Fine day again. After running a couple of very
bad and dangerous rapids we got down to the Grand Fall portage
early in the day. It took us all day to carry over our canoe and
baggage to the lower end of the portage, owing to the late heavy
rains. It was a desperate lug, especially carrying our now water-
soaked canoes. On the way we met three more boats and crews of
deer slayers coming up to the slaughter. We got over and down to
the head of the long rapid or rattle as it is called before dark.
Here we camped.

J.P Howley Reminiscences of forty-two years of exploration in and about Newfoundland  Passing though the Grand Falls portage in 1888.

In 1904 there wasn’t much at Grand Falls besides an old portage path  around the falls and rapids that allowed any venturous individuals who had come that far up river passage around the rough water of the falls. The Beothuck had used it, the Micmac had used it, furriers and caribou hunters, surveyors and geologists used it and as far back as one hundred and twenty years ago lumbermen were using it. This road can be found on old Crown grants in the area and was noted over a hundred years ago as being “an old tote road.” The lumbermen who ventured as far as Grand Falls and above were working for operations out of Botwood. Operations which over the course of twenty years were owned by a number of different entities; Benson, Botwood and Hall, Goodday and Co, Exploits Lumber Company, Exploits Lumber and Pulp Company, Newfoundland Pine and Pulp Company.

Botwood was the first lumbering centre in the Bay of Exploits. As far back as the 1860s there were mills reported in the vicinity of Ship Cove and Peters Arm-Present day Botwood and Peterview respectively.

Wood cutters and shipbuilders had been attracted to the forested and sheltered inner reaches of the Bay since the early days of European settlement and shipbuilding was the real impetus behind this initial stage of lumbering. The early mills were water powered but steam mills could be found in the Bay by the 1880’s.

It is hard to imagine now when passing through the area, which is so heavily forested with thick stands of fairly unimpressive black spruce, that the Exploits Valley once hosted impressive stands of white pine. This pine attracted ship builders and lumbermen.

Firms such as the Manuals and the Windsors on Exploits Island built several schooners a year and sent fleets of them to persecute the Labrador fishery. It is said that Exploits Island, now resettled was once home to several millionaires including members of these two previously mentioned families.

James Windsor of Exploits in partnership with a William Vallance established a steam powered Sawmill at Dominion Point on Peters Arm in 1869 and operated until around 1892.

Eventually the export potential of Newfoundland lumber was realized. In 1890 a new mill was built at Botwood that could produce 45,000 foot board measure a day. It is reported by the 1955 Commission on forestry that this was the first mill built for the export of lumber in Newfoundland. I personally find this very hard to believe. In fact it was not even the first large mill at Botwood. But is with the construction of this mill in 1890 that a real push came on exploiting the wood resources of the inner parts of the Exploits Valley.

Lumbermans camp badger brok
Logging Camp at Badger. Judging from the age of the there photos in the this collection this would have been a camp cutting for the Exploits Lumber Company in Botwood Circa 1890’s. The cook might even be a Frenchmen! From Howley

If I recall correctly the 1890 mill in Botwood was owned by a Goodday and Company from Quebec. The Rev. Edward Botwood was involved in establishing this mill and I do believe that the original owners of the mill was a company by the name of Benson, Botwood and Hall, before selling out to the Quebec Company. Initially this company brought in a lot of Frenchmen from Quebec to work in the mill and in the logging camps. The French Canadians were joined at work by many Newfoundlanders though most of the foremen seem to have been French, including a man by the name of Le Motte.

By the 1950’s when this photo was taken most of the white pine in Newfoundland was gone. (Photo from the Royal Commission on Forestry 1955)
By the 1950’s when this photo was taken most of the white pine in Newfoundland was gone. However, it should be noted that the paper companies were still cutting and milling pine to build dams and other structures at least five years later (Photo from the Royal Commission on Forestry 1955)
Early Mill at Botwood. This mill appears to be water powered because of the flume leading to it. (Photo Credit-Center for Newfoundland Studies Archives, Memorial University)
Early Mill at Botwood or Peter’s Arm. This mill appears to be water powered because of the flume leading to it, and the absence of a smoke stack. (Photo Credit-Center for Newfoundland Studies Archives, Memorial University)

The sawmill at Botwood seems to have quickly expanded its timber limits and operations in search of high grade white pine for its mill. Around 1891 it was cutting near Bishop’s Falls and by 1895 according to Mr. Henry Hutchings in an interview this company was cutting in the Badger and Twin Lakes region.

Botwood Mill Exploit Lumber Company
The Exploits Lumber and Pulp Company mill at Botwood. This mill was one of the biggest consumers of Exploits Valley lumber prior to the opening of the Grand Falls Mill. The name on the mill would date the picture to about 1904 (Photo Credit-CNS Archives MUN).

At this time Badger Brook was the end of the line for the Railway and depot from the Exploits Lumber Company was established there. Later a satellite mill was also established at Badger in addition to the mill at Botwood Eventually there would be at least two sawmills at Badger Brook, even before the establishment of the AND Co. It is known that the Exploits Lumber Company established a portable mill at Badger in 1901. There may have been as many as three lumber mills at Badger between 1900 and 1910.

It wasn’t just in the Exploits Valley that mills sprang up. In the 1860s David Smallwood built the first steam powered mill in Newfoundland near Gambo and once the Railway started inland off the Avalon Peninsula things really took off. J.J Murphy was another operator who established himself at Gambo. Murphy built his mill where Mint Brook enters into Gambo Pond.  To facilitate shipping Murphy had a tramway built to tidewater at Gambo, and even operated his own steam engine for shunting the lumber. Mills were also established on the railway at Terra Nova, Benton, Notre Dame Junction and most importantly Glenwood. Strangely, it is evident that lumbering and sawmilling was established at Glenwood prior to the railway passing though the area. The lumber must have been barged up the Gander River to the ocean. In addition one cannot forget the Phillips operations at Gander Bay and Point Leamington which were sizable operations but not located inland on the Railway.

The big catalyst for the expansion of the pine lumber industry was not initially export it was domestic consumption. This domestic demand came from the fact that a large portion of St. John’s had burned in 1892 and at the same time the railway was being pushed across the island. The railway opened up new country and required lumber for building purposes and sleepers.

At the turn of the 19th and 20th Centuries Newfoundland was in the midst of a boom in the white pine lumber industry. In 1900 Lewis Miller obtained rights to the timber around Red Indian Lake and built the largest sawmill in Newfoundland at a place he named Millertown. This boom in white pine was destined to bust. The trees were over mature and the stands quickly became exhausted. The white pine on the island of Newfoundland never fully recovered due to over-harvesting and  a disease known as blister rust. In reflecting back to the 1890’s and the highgrading of the pine timber old Mr. Hutchings had said that even then “we had ruined the country.” The isolated examples I have seen are the lucky ones that escaped the woodsmen’s ax and saw because they were too small-a hundred or more years ago.

Bryan Marsh


MUN DAI Hiram Silk Collection, Interview with Henry Hutchings http://collections.mun.ca/cdm/singleitem/collection/ich_oral/id/153/rec/1


Howley Reminiscences

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