Stewiacke Valley lumber industry

The lumber industry in Upper Stewiacke
By Isabel E. Deyarmond – Rambling Winds, 1975
Lumbering has always been an important industry in Upper Stewiacke. When our pioneer forefathers settled here, as they cleared the land, they used the logs to make homes for themselves, and barns to house their animals. The axes they used for cutting the trees were not of the finely tempered, double-bitted variety of the present day, but were a one-bitted type called a pole axe, crudely fashioned by hand.

Blaikie mill site in Burnside, before move to Upper Stewiacke in 1907

Later, a broad axe was developed, a very large blade type of axe, about ten inches across the cutting edge, and used for hewing the logs into timbers which were used for building frame houses. Hand saws of different types began to come into use, particularly the cross cut saw, operated by two men.

When saw mills came into use, they were much different from the up-to-date mills of today. The first mills were equipped with a saw that worked up and down, these were used for many years before the present type of rotary saw was invented and developed for practical use.

Logs for sailing vessels

Before the days of trains and motor trucks many of the logs were made into rafts and floated down the Stewiacke River, some as far as Maitland where they were used in ship building. Stories told from generation to generation claim that the largest sailing vessels in the world were built at Maitland from some of the logs from the Stewiacke Valley.

Times are greatly changed since the days of our ancestors, and what with the invention of trucks, tractors, power saws and saw mills, lumbering has advanced apace, and is not the arduous task of years ago.

Nearly every farmer owns a wood lot from which he can cut logs, in the winter time, either for sale or for building repairs which are always needed if houses and barns are to be kept in shape. At
one time there was a saw and shingle mill owned by William Fraser and situated on Goshen Brook in Meadowvale.

Blaikie’s mills

The Blaikie family at one time operated a grist and saw mill in Burnside. This mill was run by water power. When the families moved to Upper Stewiacke in 1907, they erected a steam powered mill, equipped to turn out all dimensions of sawn lumber as well as mouldings, flooring, doors and windows, etc., and gave year round employment to several men over the years.

Nova Scotia mill, early 1900s

The slabwood from this mill was cut into firewood and sold to every available buyer, and at that time constituted the greater part of the fuel burned by the people in this district. Sawdust also gained in popularity as a fuel for a time. In speaking of floating logs down the Stewiacke River – the ‘River drive’ was an annual event in the spring for several years The logs were cut on the uplands and mountains in the winter months, hauled by horses and sleds to the river banks and browed up.

In the spring when the waters in the river and brooks were high, the logs were rolled in and activity began. On several of the brooks that
empty into the river, were built Splash Dams. At certain intervals these dams were opened to augment the depth and force of the water in the river. Large crews of men were engaged at this work.

Log drive camps

The so-called ‘Driving damp’ was where the men ate their meals and slept at night. Here the cook and cookee prepared the meals. When the men were too far from the camp to return to dinner, the ‘Lunch carrier’ took a lunch to them, once in the forenoon around ten o’clock and again in the afternoon around two o’clock.

One of these camps was situated at Cross Roads. How well do I recall those good old days – when the late Hugh Johnson was cook, and we school kids spent part of our noon hour about three days a week, visiting his ‘domain’; where our treat (and we were very generously treated) consisted of big, thick molasses cookies, sugar cookies with raisin faces, dried apples and prunes.

Needless to say we were sorry when it came time to close this camp and move on to the next one, which was situated at the head of Middle Stewiacke. This procedure was carried on until the logs reached the mill at Stewiacke, first owned and operated by Alfred Dickie, then later by his son Rufus.

In later years this company was known as the Canadian Lumber Company. The first drive ever to be taken down the river was engineered by John Donelly and the cook was the late Hugh Johnson.

Portable mills

These operations ceased quite some years ago, but timber is still being cut, but made into lumber by a much faster method. Portable saw mills are set up, usually wherever there is a cut sufficiently large enough to last all or at least part of the season.

One of these locations was at Logan Brook, where a tragic incident took place, that still remains vivid in the minds of the people.

Blaikie house, Burnside

There was a double drowning of two young men, Reuben McCabe, brother of Mrs. Roy Patterson and Levi Lively of Stewiacke, who were swept away to their deaths by means of a cloudburst and flashflood that swept their sleeping camp downstream.

Today, the newest invention in time and labor saving devices, is the Power or Chain Saw. The use of horses is gradually being phased out and replaced by tractors. Roads into the woods that formerly had to be made by hard labour, are now quickly done by tractors and bulldozers, and when completed, are in most cases, so well constructed that automobiles can travel over them as well. A far cry from let’s say seventy years ago. Another machine that in later years has revolutionized lumber operations is the ‘tree farmer’.

Christmas trees

For a few years the cutting and marketing of Christmas trees was a thriving business. These were sold locally as well as being transported by trailer trucks and by railroad to various points in the United States.

Today the big name in wood products is Pulpwood. It is being cut in various quantities by individual people and also by contract for large companies. One such company operating in big business today is the Scott Paper Company who, over the years, has purchased large tracts of woodland in various locations in the county.

Local men who have been contracting with this company over the past years include the names of Roy Harrison, operating in Woodside and vicinity, Halifax County; Aubrey Graham in Burnside; Vernon Crockett in Eastville; Perley Hamilton and Philip O’Connell in other localities.

Tremendous quantities

This product is being cut in tremendous quantities. It is cut during the winter and summer alike. At one time certain amounts were sold to markets overseas; this had to be peeled before it could be shipped. Large amounts were taken to the pulp mill at Sheet Harbour, then shipped by rail to the Mersey Paper plant at Brooklyn, Queens County.

Eventually this mill at Sheet Harbour was closed down. A new mill was constructed at Port Hawkesbury where some of the pulp is taken today; but the bulk of the product is being trucked to Abercrombie, Pictou County, where a large modernized mill is in operation. The finished product finally ends up in many varieties of paper products.

Upper Stewiacke has been well represented on the world markets by the sale of several other wood products. In the days of the building of wooden ships, the masts or spars had to be made of spruce, of the best quality, long and straight. These were cut here and sent to the shipyards in Nova Scotia and the United States.

Wooden ‘knees’

Wooden ‘knees’ were used in the construction of sailing ships. These were sometimes made of spruce but mostly of juniper. They were, as the name implies, shaped like a knee or bent at about an angle of ninety degrees. They were secured by taking the trunk of the tree, and digging below the ground, getting the main root, sometimes the root would be bigger than the trunk above ground, and they would be required in different lengths according to the size of the vessel to be built.

The last shipment to go from this district was supplied by Philip Redden in 1936; some were cut on the back of the Riverside Cemetery property, some in back of the ‘doctor’s residence’ and some in Meadowvale.

Piles were cut and sold to build wharves, bridges also were used as one form of water break, along the river, to keep the force of the water from cutting away the banks.

Pit props

Pit props were supplied for use in the mines. These were used in round form. The use of pit props in the mines, which were stood on end in an upright position to support the roof of the workings are giving way to a new type of supports in the form of short square timbers 6″ x 6″ or 8″ x 8″ in thickness; these are blocked up, two laid one way and two laid in the opposite direction. These are called ‘mine packs’.

At the present time Edwin Blaikie is manufacturing these in his mill at Stewart Hill.

Railroad ties were cut, and at first hewn into square formation, by hand with a broadaxe, then later were sawn in the mills. The last ones sold here were cut by the late William Redden, these were hewn by hand, about twenty years ago or more.

Peg wood was made from hard wood, mostly white and yellow birch. This was taken to the J. Lewis and Son Limited Company at Stewiacke. In summer the hemlock lumber was cut and peeled and the great slabs of thick bark was piled up and sold by the cord to the tanneries, and this product was called ‘tan bark’.

Reforesting pine

Pine lumber is mostly used in building materials, such as finish lumber, windows, doors, etc. The best pine lumber has been pretty much all cut from the wood lots. It is of very slow growth among the soft woods, and it seems to be having difficulty to propagate its kind. However in several places, large parts of old fields have been reforested with pine and this seems to be working out quite well.

Good maple, especially Birds Eye Maple, is used where the effect of the grain of the wood is desired to be outstanding. When shingles were first made they were made by hand using a knife with two handles, called a Drawshave. Most all kinds of softwoods were used, spruce, fir, pine and hemlock. Poplar wood is extreme! light in weight when dried, and used to make Excelsior, etc.

Now let’s go back and reminisce a bit about some of the me who were the big names in the lumber business, who operated on large scale in our districts such as – Alfred Dickie, Rufus Dickie, the Lockhart Brothers, and David Hueston.

Alfred Dickie

Alfred Dickie was a native of Stewiacke. He bought up large tracts of timberland in several places in the Valley. He owned and operated a large saw mill at Stewiacke, and contracted the cutting of the logs on his own property as well as buying from other individuals. He also had some lumbering interests in England. After his death his son Rufus fell heir to his holdings, and for a number of years he carried on the business in the same manner.

In the year 1905, three brothers – John, Robert and Mosher Lockhart, natives of New Brunswick, came to Upper Stewiacke and engaged in lumbering operations.

They did not have portable mills at that time, but the logs were cut during the winter and in the spring were rafted down the river to the Alfred Dickie mill in Stewiacke. After a few years the Lockhart Brothers took into their partnership another man by the name of Mr. Smith.

They continued contracting for Alfred Dickie until the process of rafting logs down the river was discontinued, with the advent of portable mills. Eventually they sold out their interests to Rufus Dickie.

Hueston and Findlay

About the year 1915, David Hueston and Gordon Findlay moved here from Linden, Amberst Head. In partnership they engaged in lumbering operations. They purchased a portable saw mill and cut their first piece of timber between Meadowvale and South Branch. In the summer of 1918 he moved to Newton Mills and during, that year and the winter of 1919 he cut and sawed a sizeable piece of timber owned by Andrew Gammell situated out the Rupert Miller Road.

In 1920 he moved his mill to Woodside, Halifax County. The logs were cut during the winter months and browed up on the ice on the Mathew Hamilton Lake, and were sawn during the spring. The lumber was taken to the Station at Upper Musquodoboit and shipped by rail to various points of trade. At this time there were no motor trucks, horses and wagons were used to move lumber. In the fall and winter of 1927-28, he cut another timber lot belonging to Allan Johnson.

In his later years of operations motor trucks were being used and Abner Ellis and his son Earl were hired to transport the lumber to the railroad. A unique feature of the first trucks was that instead of inflated tires, the ones on the rear wheels were made of solid rubber, with a wide face and the front tires were much narrower.

Eventually, Mr. Findlay moved to the West Coast to live and Mr. Hueston built a spacious home in Truro, where he lived until his death.

Blaikie Bros. & Co. Ltd.

The Blaikie Bros. and Co. Ltd. saw and planing mill, a part of Upper Stewiacke for sixty-one years, was closed in December, 1968. The business, owned by David Morrison Blaikie, Jr., was bought by the Brookfield Box Company Limited of Brookfield.

The steam-powered mill, first operated in Burnside by Morrison Blaikie, Sr. (who settled there in 1822) was moved to village site in 1907 diagonally opposite the United Church. Other family members involved in the mill operations at different times included Harris, Roy, Glenn and Edwin Blaikie. Edwin presently operates a portable mill on Stewart Hill.

The business grew until it employed several local men. Shingles and laths, door and window frames were made and most types of lumber sawn and planed. The mill was hit by loss through fire on three occasions and was rebuilt each time, a tribute to the integrity of those who operated it. The silence expounds the loss of this business.