From an Up Country Trickle to a Down River Roar- The Log Drive in Central Newfoundland.

An Up-Country Trickle.

The snow was starting to melt. The bolts of pulpwood were piled as far as the eye could see, thousands like a crate of tooth picks had been dumped over a table. There was a lake under all of that wood a lake that was backed up by the dam. As the weather warmed and the frost went out of the ground and the ice out of the pond the gates would be opened to unleash the the power and move the pulpwood.

It was still cold, but relatively warm. There was something strangely satisfying about walking out to the road in only a sweater, scant snow underfoot, rotting in the sun.……………

The railway trestle at Badger Brook 1923. Because of its location at the junction of Badger Brook and the Exploits River most of the pulpwood from Millertown and Badger Divisions passed by Badger. Naturally it was the headquarters of the river drive. Wood cut on the Badger-Twin Lakes would have been driven under this bridge. when this picture was taken there was a lot of cutting going on in that area as they were opening up the Hall’s Bay Road.

“I remember about twelve months ago or perhaps a little less, I was fortunate enough to witness one of the sights of my life, and that was the breaking of a log jam on a river and its piling up again a little lower down. It was about four in the afternoon when this jam broke, and it was a truly wonderful sight. I was standing just a bit below, perhaps 100 or 150 yards below the point where the jam broke, and about an equal distance above the point where the log jam was going. The bank of the river on which I was standing was probably fifteen feet above the level of the river, and in the course of three or four minutes I and those who were with me had to fly up over the bank as fast as we could. Where the jam got going the river rose up fully 20 feet. When that jam broke there were four or five men out in the middle of it. To be quite frank how they got out of it I don’t know, but they did.”

F. Gordon Bradley , Leader of the Opposition

Debates of the Newfoundland Legislature 1933

Click to access 02_DebatesOfTheNewfoundlandLegislature1933_1stSession.pdf

I took a run up to Goodyears dam the other day and was amazed with the amount of water that was on the river. It was a massive deafening torrent and that wasn’t even the main falls of the river. I thought how back in the old days the “company” would have been making the most out of the unusually heavy rains that had filled up Red Indian Lake to maximize the amount of wood they could get to Grand Falls.

Most peoples knowledge of log driving probably comes from the old National Film Board vignette of the “Log Driver’s Waltz.” What is amazing is that many of us may have been watching that and not know that just a few kilometers away an actual log drive was taking place on the Exploits River.

Log Drivers pole a batteaux up the Exploits River. These river boats were used to transport men and supplies as well as reaching hard to get to log jams on the river. By the time some of these boats reached Rushy Pond they were pretty battered.

Log Driving in Newfoundland was dependent mainly on snow-melt, rain and an ingenious collection of woods dams. Dam building usually took place in late summer after the drive was finished up and water levels were low. A team of men would set to work building crib works, cutting and peeling logs, collecting moss and driving piles into river and steam beds. These woods dams made it possible to transport wood on streams that would boggle the mind that one could float logs. For instance with a series of dams a steam like Corduroy Brook could be used for log driving in the right conditions. Many of the woods dams would be placed where brooks and rivers flowed out of lakes, others would be placed on the steams themselves to control water levels. At one time Noel Paul’s Brook had something like 8 dams on it! And even a smaller brook like Pamehoc had 3 on it in the 1980’s.

Freeing a log jam. Long wood was driven up until sometime in the 1920's. It was much more prone to jamming and driving required more skill than it did after the switch to shorter wood after the introduction of the bucksaw.
Freeing a log jam. Long wood was driven up until sometime in the 1920’s. It was much more prone to jamming and driving required more skill than it did after the switch to shorter wood after the introduction of the bucksaw.

There were men whose specialty was the building of dams. William Dorrity of Maine, who came to Grand Falls to work on the coffer dams for mill construction was one of them. Dorrity had great expertise in the building of dams he had gained though years of working in the lumberwoods of New England and he applied his knowledge to the Exploits River system. In an era before tractors or trucks the steams and rivers were the arteries in which wood flowed to the mill.And in the first decade or so after the mill went into production pulpwood was cut near the river and its tributaries.

A log driving dam under construction. These dams were situated on many lakes and brooks all over central. This one appears to be in an ideal location-where a stream flows from a lake, which made backing up water easier. I was lucky enough to talk about dam building with my Grandfather and great uncles who worked building dams in the late 1940’s. 

Depending on the size of the water body logs were piled on the ice, or by the side of the water. I have seen pictures of large brows of wood in the middle of larger lakes they would simply fall into the water as the ice melted. Usually in the case of flowing water the logs would have to be rolled into the river. In the early days this was done by men with peaveys and pike poles when wood got smaller they used pike piles or pulphooks. Even later bulldozers were used to plow many cords of wood at a time into the river.

Rain and snow melt would turn many otherwise calm brooks into raging torrents in the Spring. Nature was often aided by dams.
log drive rollign logs mha
Rolling pulp logs into the water in the very early years of the Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company.Handling long logs required rolling with Peaveys. By the 1920’s wood was cut to smaller lengths and was much easier to handle and logs were usually watered with only a pulp hook or a pikeroon.
Log Cabin Field Grand Falls Circa 1930s. The end of the line for all logs cut by the AND Company. It was also a popular spot for recreation until the era of liability and litigation. The logs in the picture appear to be 7.5 foot wood that would have be brought in by train from Terra Nova, Glenwood or Neyles Brook. Cutting of 7.5 foot wood was discontinued around 1950 and 4 foot wood was loaded into bundles fro shipment from these operations.

The first pulpwood drive for the Grand Falls mill took place in the spring of 1908. Reports at the time said that they drove 8 million logs, that was long wood in the years before they started to measure wood in cords and it was difficult to move. Moving long wood required skill in negotiating the river and picking out the jams. And if a jam couldn’t be picked apart it required dynamite which was destructive to the wood.

The Evening Telegram, May 21, 1908. Almost a year before the switches were pulled at the mill at Grand Falls the first drive of pulpwood for the AND CO took place, under the supervision of William Dority.
log drivers picking a jam maritime history archive.
Freeing a log jam on the Exploits River Circa 1910-1925. The drive on the Exploits was known as the “Main” river drive. Here you can clearly see the drivers pike (usually called pick) poles the main tool used in driving wood.

The log driver is a much celebrated person in Canada. In Newfoundland there work was dangerous damp and cold. The drive usually started in May when snow might still be on the ground. The water in which the wood was flowing was frigid and the men would be damp all day. In the early years the drivers slept in tents along the river, many a log driver it has been said ended up with consumption (tuberculosis) as a result of their work.In the early years driving was also dangerous work and a number of men were killed on the drive in the 1910’s and 1920’s. If I recall correctly at least 3 men were killed driving for the AND Company in 1913.

“The Drive is just below Badger and everything is working grand with a jolly good crew of pick drivers and Ronald Kelly in command.” Two drivers shepherd logs down the Exploits River somewhere between Badger and Grand Falls 1918/19.

Boats were used all along the route the route for transporting the men, transporting tents and supplies and for getting to hard to reach log jams. There are reports of wannigan or wangon boats being used, some of which were like floating camps, but I have not turned up any pictures of these. The most common log drive boat was the batteau-an oversize  double ended dory. from the 1950’s on Gander Bay boats fitted with outboard motors.

Great Rattling Brook Last Drive 1966
The last boom of wood to go down Great rattling Brook, August 1966. The foreman was Sidney King picture here with Lloyd Goulding. In the foreground you can clearly see a Gander Bay boat, the kind that was used on the drive from the 1950’s onwards. In the Backgound you can what looks to be a Russel Winch boat-the workhorse for “sacking and towing” after WW2. ( Price News Log, August 1966)
Logs in the mill pond at Grand Falls around 1918-1919.
The dam at Grand Falls. The Grand Falls and Bishop’s Falls, and Exploits-Red Indian Dams were the biggest on the river system but there were literally dozens if not hundreds of smaller wooden driving dams scattered around Central Newfoundland.(MHA)

I do believe that if you did a chart of how many streams and rivers were being used for log driving in Newfoundland over the years it would appear with a peak in the middle of the twentieth century. When they started cutting short pulpwood in the 1920s it became easier to drive wood. By the 1940’s when they started to drive 4 foot wood most feasible streams had dams on them and were used for driving. In the 1960s when logging methodology changed with the introduction of skidders and pallet trucks most of the wood was taken either to the river or to a larger lake or tributary to be driven. In the last years of the drive it is my understanding that most of the wood was dumped into the exploits from trucks.

If a picture paints a thousand words-than these three could make up a volume. The wood boomed on Red Indian Lake would pass though the Exploits Dam near Millertown. In the second picture you can see one of the types of boat used on the drive. The little locomotive on the bottom is a whole other story in itself! 
The Mill Pond and jackladder at Grand Falls.
The end of the line for all pulpwood cut for the AND Company. The Mill Pond and jackladder at Grand Falls.The wharf like structures in the river are boom piers , which were built under the supervision of Mr. Billy Dority and as far as I know are the same ones that are still there today. In the summer months as the wood came down from the drive many men were hired temporarily in wood handling at the mill.(Maritime History Archive)
Aerial view of the Grand Falls mill in the 1960’s or 70’s. In the foreground on the left you can see that the boom is full of wood. For many years driving wood was the cheapest way to move pulpwood. Abitibi-Price only stopped the practice in 1991 because of monetary and environmental concerns.


Log drive on Triton Brook near Gambo circa 1955. The 1930s-1960s saw pulpwood drives on hundreds of brooks and streams as the AND Company drove short pulpwood to the mill. The wood pictured here is 4 foot pulpwood.
Log drive on Triton Brook near Gambo circa 1955. The 1930s-1960s saw pulpwood drives on hundreds of brooks and streams as the AND Company drove short pulpwood to the mill. The wood pictured here is 4 foot pulpwood. Wood from the Gambo area would be loaded on trains for transport to Grand Falls.(Royal Commission on Forestry 1955)

One can log drive in Central Newfoundland like you would the circulatory system. It was a system that consisted of arteries, veins and capillaries. The Exploits River was the main artery, the veins were the larger tributaries like Great Rattling, Badger, Harpoon, Victoria and Sandy. Into the tributaries flowed the smaller brooks: Rocky Brook, Michael’s Brook, Goodyears Brook, Point of the Woods, most of which were connected to ponds that could hold thousands of cords of wood. There are exceptions since there were what I would capillaries like Pamehoc and Tom Joe that were connected directly to the Exploits, but by and large the above comparison sums it up.

log drive boom map
The “Main River Drive” ended at the booms on the far left of this photo at Rushy Pond. Here the drivers were finished and went back to their respective homes. From here the wood became the responsibility of the wood handling crew from the Grand Falls Mill who controlled the wood and booms and fed the main booms as needed. In older aerial photos this area is filled with pulpwood. Some years close to 100,000 or more cords of wood would flow through this area. Not seen but to the left of this photo is the outlet of Sandy Brook where wood cut in that area would join all the wood from down river.  (Google Maps)

Trucking  started to very slowly take over from driving in the 1950’s and 60’s. Initially woods roads were a means in which camps were supplied with men and supplies. Experiments were made into trucking in the 1940’s, but this was used in conjunction with driving. By 1966 driving was stopped on Great Rattling and all wood from the Bishop’s Falls Division was trucked directly to the mill via the south side road. But on the main stem of the Exploits from Red Indian to Grand Falls it was still cost effective to drive pulpwood. An extensive network of woods roads was pushed all through the country in the from the 1940’s onward. it was only in the late 1950’s that the woods roads were really used to move wood and even then into the 1970’s and 80’s most of the wood was still dumped into the Exploits.

log driving pamehoc.png
Diagram of dams on Pamehoc Brook, Pamehoc Lake and Five Mile Lake. These dams were put in in the 1960’s and 70’s in the later years of the log drive. Ar around this time contractor Harold Stanley had a camp in this area. (Scruton, Anderson and King,

Above taken from: Pamehac Brook: A case study of the restoration of
a Newfoundland, Canada, river impacted by flow
diversion for pulpwood transportation

It was only in the 1990’s that driving was completely phased out. Years ago I was surprised when I asked the former Abitibi PR man Roger Pike when they stopped driving. He told me 1991, this kind of blew me away, but it made sense since I remember the log booms in the late 1980’s. I later found out that the last sacking (cleaning logs from the river) was done in 1994!

bulldozer pushing wood
It wasn’t the cleanest or most environmentally friendly way of doing things, but if you wanted to get a big brow of wood into the water quickly than a bulldozer was the tool. This type of mechanization cut down on the number of men needed on the drive. Driving on big rivers like the Exploits also required less men especially of water levels were high. Bulldozers and tractors made it possible to further channelize water bodies to make them easier to drive on. After decades of channelization and bank “improvement” driving on a big river in the Spring was relatively trouble free when water levels were high. 
badger driving crew.
Crew of log drivers from Badger circa 1970’s. This is the only color photo I have of the drive in later years. Notice the jackets on the men a reminder that much of the driving took place in the spring when temperatures were less that ideal. I am hoping I can turn up more pictures like this one of Abitibi river operations in the 1960’s-1980’s
The pulpwood driven down the Exploits would form mountains as it was piled at the Grand Falls mill. 

What I haven’t been able to do is get a whole lot of information on the log drive as it was in the latter years. I have only turned up a handful of pictures of driving operations from after the 1960’s and only one of these is in color. The information has to be out there because many of the workers are still alive compared to the early days.

Bryan Marsh




  1. Great article Bryan, really enjoyed it . I have been reading whatever books I can hands on regarding logging in NL. I had great uncles in Campbellton & Glenwood who were involved in the woods camps ans transportation of horses up the lake. Tks for taking the time to put the info out there.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi,
    Reviewed your articles re logging with the AND company etc. I was very dissapointed that you did not list the division Managers in your history. They played a major role in the company operations. My dad, Hubert Baker spent must of his working life in the Badger operation. Also I spent 10 years managing the logging operations at harpoon in the Millertown division.

    thank you .

    Carl Baker


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