The River Drive at Upper Stewiacke


The River Drive at Upper Stewiacke

By Ella and Herman Johnson

The reason for this was that the logs were hauled with horses and sleds; the roads were never passable except after the ground was frozen. The logs were cut, usually by axe and cross-cut saw, ‘yarded’ by horse then loaded on sleds and hauled to the river banks (in this case, the “Pembroke”) where they were ‘browed’ in high piles until spring. As soon as the ice was out of the brooks, the men arrived and ‘rolled in’ the logs – that is they rolled them into the water of the brooks and rivers, and river driving had begun.

Preparations for the River Drive were begun in the Fall when the Dams were repaired and shut down.

Dams for reserve water were situated on Meadow Lake, where the Off Brook originates; on Charlie Walters Lake, now called Moose Lake, where the Pembroke originates, and on Deyarmonds Lake, where Jacks Brook originates.

‘Splash” lift

These smaller dams were opened each morning and closed again at night. This extra water was caught in the ‘Big Dam’ just below where the Off Brook and the Pembroke join. This dam was opened for three hours, three or four times a day. This gave a good ‘splash’ to lift the logs off the banks when they got caught up. The logs were brought to the brooks by the farmers. Some had contracts from the Canadian Lumber Company in Stewiacke and others cut from their own land. These logs were scaled and marked each week through the winter.

In the spring, as soon as the ice went out of the brooks, men began to gather for the Drive. Usually seventy-five or so men from Sheet Harbour, Middle and Upper Stewiacke, and Indians from Millbrook worked there. The boss for years was Walter Haines from Sheet Harbout and Harold Hilchie from Spry Bay. Camps were in Burnside, Cross Roads, Springside, The Cove and Birch Hill.

Cooks at these camps through the years were Levi Davis, Hugh Johnson and Ed Belmore, with ‘Cookee’ Lawrence Dean. Lunch carriers took lunches to the men at about 10 am and 2 pm each day.

The Pembroke was very rocky and sluices were built over the rocks to put the logs through. There was one each in Jacks Brook, Big falls, Little Falls and the Old Mill Pond in Burnside. There was danger as well as a lot of planned duckings and tricks played.

Douglas Johnson

Douglas Johnson was sixteen the spring he first was on the Drive. He and ten other men were working at a jam on the Little Falls when logs started over the falls. The other men made it to the bank but Doug went over the falls and under the logs. He had a bad cut on his head. It is thought this knocked him unconscious as he did not have water in his lungs. He was in the water for one half hour and a Mr. Harry Townsend from Truro worked with him an hour or more before he came to.

The men got many a ducking, by accident or design. One day Royden Rutherford, Middle Stewiacke, and a Dutchman (Cecil ?) were riding a large log down stream, when Cy Graham called out, “Look at the ducks flying up river!” They looked up and lost their footing and went into the river over their heads. Needless to say there weren’t any ducks. They were good swimmers, so they got safely out.

Mr. Haines followed the men with a good boat with which he knew exactly how to cross the brook at high water. One day Elwood Graham said he would take several men across to take off a “wing”. He went down stream quite a ways before he got near the other bank and some alders which some of the men grabbed and pulled the boat to shore.

$1.50 to $2.25 a day

One year there was four million feet of logs which went down the Pembroke from Burnside and Pembroke.. Mr. Dickie told one time that it cost $2.75 per thousand to land logs in Stewiacke. A good man received $2.25 per day and a poor man, $1.50, working from daylight to dark.

Previous to 1940 most of the lumbering business was carried on in the winter  months after freeze-up, which usually occurred in December and sometimes November.

Note: This account is included in Stories of the Stewiacke Valley, which were collected and printed during the Stewiacke Valley Bicentennial celebrations in 1980.