More than 100 years ago, when the railroad began its exploration of branch lines around tracts of forest, “a party of lumbermen from Chicago,” writes Harold Fenske in his book Riverlore, “stood on the shores of Red Deer Lake and looked with envy at the hazy blue ridge of the Porcupine Mountain a scant ten miles to the south.”
Map courtesy Glen Lowndes
An assessment was first provided to the federal government by one of its own employees, a surveyor by the name of Belanger, who in the late 1800s went into the Porcupine Forest and determined its potential for future logging. His report likely influenced the subsequent formation of the Red Deer Lumber Company in 1903 on the shores of Red Deer Lake, the destination of the waters of the Porcupine Forest northeast of Kelvington.
Three million acres of the forest, 100 miles east to west and 50 miles north to south, spanning the Saskatchewan/Manitoba border, was set aside by the government. No homesteads were allowed within its boundaries. There was no electrical power in those days. Everything was man- or horse-power in the bush and mills were run by steam engines located next to the large volume of water that a lake could provide.
Hand-, horse- and steam-powered logging
Describing the mechanics of a steam-powered mill, local logger Jim Hendren relayed that “Alfred Gennialle (son of the legendary Antoine Gennialle, who is buried in the Perigord cemetery) used four-foot-wide belts, about 100 feet long, solid leather, to turn the main jack shaft that ran an entire lumber mill.”
Loggers worked during the winter when roads could be made with deep ruts frozen down for sleighs loaded with logs to slide along. Crosscut saws were used to cut and limb logs that were skidded full-length to a landing, sawed into lengths and then hauled to riverbanks by horse, where they were dumped onto the ice. In the spring they were floated to a mill downstream.
Pat Hendren of Kelvington was one of the early pioneers in the Kelvington country to begin his working life logging.
Allan (Pat) Hendren was born in 1894 and moved with his family in 1905 from North Dakota to Winnipegosis. Five years later the family moved to Nut Mountain, Sask. Pat quit school when he was 15 years old and went to work for the Red Deer Lumber Company at Camp 4, later called Reserve Junction, in the Porcupine Forest.
A bull cook his first winter in the bush, he waited on tables for 125 lumberjacks. At age 16, he went on his first river drive down the Etomami and Red Deer rivers to Red Deer Lake, situated between the Sask./Man. borders and Lake Winnipegosis.
The Red Deer Lumber Company had a large permanent mill set up at Barrows, Man., on the shore of the lake, a good source of water for its steam-powered mills, and here the spruce of this watershed were cut into lumber.
“My dad was the last man alive to tell the story of riding the Red Deer River,” said Jim Hendren of Kelvington, referring to Pat’s account in Valley Echoes: Life along the Red Deer River Basin. “They would cut spruce all winter (along the river). Spruce was cut because it was considered a superior product. The logs were cut to length and hauled to the river with horses; you couldn’t haul too far because the horses would play out.” The logs were then dumped onto the ice, with crews covering maybe four or five miles all winter.
“A dam was built at what was later Reserve Junction, to hold five- to seven-million feet of logs,” Pat stated in his account. “In the spring the dam gate was opened and the logs let down the Etomami.” Pat and his brother Charlie rode on the logs with “chip-a-way” boots that had soles with little spikes to keep from slipping off the wet and moving logs. It was their job to get the logs off the rocks or riverbanks if they got hung up. Using a peavy, a 12-foot-long pole with a big spike stuck in one end, the two would wade into the water, sometimes up to their necks, to roll the logs and get them moving again.
The crew was fed by a wanigan, a cook shack that sailed down the river with the logs. Hauling the food and tents, the wanigan crew would set up on the riverbank at the end of the day, put the meal out for the loggers and put up the tents.
“We got up at three a.m. and had breakfast, then had a meal at nine a.m. and again at three p.m. Moving eight to 10 miles per day down the river, the evening meal would be served at nine p.m.” The days were long, 18 hours, moving 800,000 foot board measure (FBM) down the river on Pat’s first drive.
The Red Deer Lumber Company was the largest to operate in the Porcupine Forest Reserve. More than 140 men worked at the mill and 11 bush camps operated along the Red Deer River. The company shut down operations around 1926, when low water levels on the river prevented logs from getting to the mills. In 1928 the company was sold to The Pas Lumber Company. A mill at Windy Lake, northeast of Kelvington, was purchased by the Western Construction Company and for the next two decades they were the only two large mills operating in the forest reserve.
Most of the changes in forestry have largely been due to technology; by now, neither The Pas nor Western used the river to move their logs. Portable mills were set up on lakes and rivers in the forest reserve. The Western Construction Company set up its first mill at Big Valley, northeast of Windy Lake.
The war years of the mid 20th century took men away from the country, including the bush of the Porcupine Forest Reserve. “The country went still between 1939 and 1945 because all the men would have gone to war,” according to Jim Hendren. “When they came back, technology (and governments) had changed.”
During the first 30 years of logging at the turn of the 20th century, the forest was under the jurisdiction of the federal government and that meant the forest and fire rangers were hired by the federal government; the feds were quite interested in exploiting the forest early on. At the beginning of the 1930s, the jurisdiction changed to the province and in 1944, the province of Saskatchewan elected its first socialist government.
Steam power was giving way to diesel power and horses were traded for trucks. With the new provincial government, Fenske writes, lumber companies knew their days were numbered. The Saskatchewan Timber Board was created by the provincial government to manage the forests. Leases were granted to small operators and all lumber was to be sold to the new crown corporation.
“The government wanted all of the trees,” Jim Hendren said, describing his view of the Saskatchewan Timber Board. “My dad and Horace Scott logged in Big Valley. They had a mill there in around 1943 and then the Timber Board came along and (now) they would have had to mill (logs) for them, so they quit logging.”
For 25 years, almost a career for some, Pat Hendren logged in the forest. When he laid down his saw, he still had a lifetime of farming to complete. Years later, his son Jim would pick up that saw and head back into the forest.
An Independent Streak
Following in his father’s footsteps, Jim Hendren began logging next to the forest reserve at the beginning of the 1950s, when he was 16 years old.
“I worked for Bill McConell at Round Lake and then began logging on my own, taking (trees killed by) beaver floods and fire-killed wood anywhere in the forest, but I could not take living trees,” Hendren said.
Beginning his logging career with the Saskatchewan Timber Board well established in the province, as an independent logger he logged on and off for the next 40 years under its jurisdiction. Taking a break from logging in the 1960s, he hung up his chainsaw and started selling snowmobiles, but by 1976 he was back in the forest; he built a new mill that was portable, powered by diesel fuel, and took it into the forest for the next decade.
“Skidders and faller bunchers became common in the bush in the 1980s and the machinery got more sophisticated. I eventually went to a stationary mill so I could now haul logs out to the mill and people (buyers) could come to it.” Hendren set the mill up on his farm north of Kelvington and hung out his shingle, Hendren Agro and Forest Products.
He logged poplar as well as spruce trees. When his dad logged for the Red Deer Lumber company, poplars were considered weeds. “You didn’t even think about cutting poplar for timber,” Jim said. Not anymore; poplar is one of the composites of oriented strand board milled by Weyerhaeuser out of their quarters in Hudson Bay, Sask.
With most of the forest now allocated to the large timber companies, smaller independent operators in the early 1990s lobbied the government to allocate 10 per cent of the quota to them. “About 20 years ago a bunch of us loggers started the Saskatchewan Council of Independent Forest Industries,” he added.
The final deal saw them get seven per cent of the quota. It was divided among those who could show they were serious loggers; quota allocation was based on your logging history in the province. In those days, quota allocations were delineated by roping off the perimeter with ribbons. Now, tracts of land are determined by global positioning system (GPS) and the government won’t let you set up a mill in the bush anymore, said Hendren.
Describing his life as a logger, Hendren is pragmatic. “Trees are the building blocks of our society. What would you be living in,” he asks rhetorically, “if it wasn’t for trees? And they are a renewable resource.” A logger, he explained, uses a piece of the forest one year in 90, cutting out approximately five acres every year. He has now been logging crown quotas for 18 years and has watched the evolving mechanization of logging. “Labour has been cut out and everything is machinery,” he says. He pays into a restoration fund that is managed by Weyerhaeuser, with the company contracting out the restoration of the forest to tree-planting companies that come to Hendren’s little piece of paradise.
“I like the smell of the bush,” he says, smiling, summing up his years of logging. “Being out there, seeing the wildlife and nature.” And the forest is not just his livelihood, it is also his playground. Adamant about respecting the rules of the trails through the forest, Hendren can take you anywhere by snowmobile or quad, through the trees, getting you off the trail on foot and showing you a rise of land that once supported a sawmill.
He knows Windy Lake and Big Valley like the back of his hand, like any other logger would know their lease. He can take you into the forest and show you where a tornado went through on the way to Pete Fox’s cabin (see Remembering Pete Fox) and he can look at a tree and know how much FBM it will yield. As an independent logger, he didn’t have the noise of 125 men in the forest. Most of the time it was him and one or two others.
A Lifetime in the Forest
Willie Jakubowski, the eldest of 12 children, was born in 1930 at Grayson, Sask. He moved with his parents to the Rockford district in 1937 and began logging when still a teenager.
“I have worked in the bush all my life, working in Hudson Bay sawing lumber for the Saskatchewan Timber Board, for Wilfred Leason peeling potatoes in the lumber camp at Armit, a small settlement close to Hudson Bay.” He was a bull cook – a cook’s helper who also looked after the bunkhouses, sweeping them clean and keeping a supply of water on hand. “I even cooked for a crew of men when the cook went on holidays,” Jakubowski laughed. “Now I would starve to death.”
After five winters working at Hudson Bay, one of his neighbours at home, Albert Hartl, wanted him to run a Crawler tractor so Jakubowski pulled up stakes in 1953 and headed back. Crawler tractors moved into the bush around 1953, making road-building and skidding trees much easier. He began a logging partnership with Hartl, cutting timber at Big Valley in the Porcupine Forest Reserve, working from Windy Lake all the way to Balsam Lake.
“In those days when we had the sawmill (built on wooden frames and skidded), it was just winter work. We used portable mills set up on trailers (1961) that could be moved in and out of the bush, but the rest of the logging enterprise was completed with horses. We’d move the sawmill into a nice bluff of trees, find a little knoll so we could put in a skidway (two poles) from the top of the knoll to the working area of the mill.” Felling the trees, cutting them into lengths and skidding them to the mill, the logs were then cut into lumber. When the logs were too far away from the mill, it was moved. Jakubowski ended his partnership with Hartl and struck out on his own in 1959. Before moving into the bush for the winter, he would go to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to get a permit for an estimated amount of timber.
Poplar trees could be cut at random, Jakubowski explained, but for spruce, the DNR came out and measured each tree with a wooden calliper to determine how much lumber each tree contained; this process was referred to as “cruising timber.” The tree would then be blazed with an axe at chest height and again close to the root. Each blaze was “stamped” with the reverse head of the axe, marking the letters that were on the head of the axe. Later years saw the trees marked with spray paint.
“My wife June and I, with our family, would move into the bush at freeze-up, usually in November, taking the kids with us until they started school.”
Jakubowski Logging in the Jim Lake area. Photo Saskatchewan Archives.
The crew would get things ready for the winter logging and sawing operations, working on the roads to get them to freeze down, putting new trails into new areas that were to be logged. When the outfit moved to a new area, that camp had to be cleared, setting up a new yard for the machinery. A little time was set aside for hunting, he said.
“My mom and a couple of my sisters cooked for us. We were living in a 10-by-20 bunkhouse and the cookshack was roughly the same dimension at 10-by-30.”
The buildings were kept narrow so they could be moved more easily through the bush. They were skidded from camp to camp, using surveyors’ or range lines for their trails. In the late 1960s, rubber tire skidders with winches became popular, making work easier and more efficient. Access through the bush was also gained by using existing roads that had been cut through the trees by large companies that had logged in the area in previous years. Trappers, hunters and anyone else who moved through the bush left trails that were used by all alike.
The cookhouse and bunkhouse were joined together by a breezeway between. The bunkhouse, as Jakubowski described it, was a much more rustic structure and something you had to get used to. Each bunkhouse slept four or five men.
The camp also had a stable for the horses. As Jakubowski’s crew grew, he hired a cook and had more than 20 men working for him. To get his crew each fall in the absence of phone service, he had to drive to each man’s place and, if he wasn’t home, go back again. The crew largely consisted of relatives and neighbours, many working for six or seven years and some for more than 30.
Transporting crew in spring. Sask Archives
“I remember one year when we first had the mill up ‘high,’ I had a log on the carriage and I looked around and the crew was all back where they were last year. I couldn’t have told them where to go; they were already there!” he said, mixing credulity with pleasure.
Logging all winter took planning. In the fall, Jakubowski would travel to Yorkton and buy a whole truckload of groceries for the winter. Meat was sourced from farmers in the area and throughout the winter he would come out for groceries on Saturdays, usually to Preeceville. One year, when he and his wife June were expecting a baby, the forestry leased them two-way radios so they could keep in touch, letting Jakubowski know when to get home for the arrival.
June quit going to the camp in 1963 when their children began school. Willie would come out every Wednesday night, travelling 20 miles in a 1952 GMC half-ton. He went back to work until Saturday at noon, travelled home again and then went back into the bush Sunday night.
“One year when we started curling, we did real well and then we started sawing lumber. So we were sawing and then had to go out, still keep curling, and no matter how hard we thought we worked we were always 2000 foot board measure short. Our curling games were certainly nothing to be proud of; I think we were just getting played out so we quit curling and concentrated on sawing lumber and that worked much better,” Jakubowski said with a chuckle.
Some of the biggest trees, including those that survived the burn of 1930, yielded 600 or 700 FBM and were so large in diameter that the bottom saw could only cut through 18 or 19 inches of the tree. The rest of the cutting was finished with an axe.
The really big logs that were 30 inches in diameter or more would have to be quarter-sawn. The logs were placed so that the saw was as close to the centre of the log as possible, and then run down the length of the log. The log would then be turned one-quarter and again cut on its full length. That cut quarter would then be removed and the log turned another quarter and cut until the rotation was complete. The four quarters were then cut up separately.
Once averaging 14,000 FBM, Willie had an overhead saw that allowed his crew to begin averaging 18,000 board feet in one day.
“It was in the late 1960s or early 1970s. The Timber Board had us move into a block of timber north of Jim Lake, which was a short distance east of Big Valley. The trees were beautiful and large, which presented a problem.” Quarter-sawing all of these big trees would slow the crew down, reducing the daily production.
“After some discussion and a remark from one of the men who had worked for the Pas Lumber Company at Reserve, a small community that all but disappeared when the lumber company moved out, we decided to install an overhead saw. One of the men who worked for me had a small sawmill on his farm and he had a 38-inch saw that he said I could have.” They built a frame for the saw and assembled it right in the bush so that the overhead cut came down over top of the bottom cut. This new process eliminated quarter-sawing and brought their daily average up to 18,000 FBM. A Workers Compensation Board inspector who visited all the sawmills in the province told Willie that his was the only overhead saw in the bush at the time.
Locating the next year’s worksite was done with a compass and map. “I followed the skidder with a compass and a map to know for sure where I was and I would say to the skidder operator, ‘There should be a mound here,’ and sure enough there it was. Fred Ford, a forester, showed me how to use a compass and a map.”
Describing the burn of 1961, Willie said conditions were very dry that year, with the fire burning across the tops of the trees, killing them and subsequently the roots, toppling the trees to the ground. “You only have a short period of time to salvage the wood before it rots; loggers have got to get it before the bugs get it. Different mills were moved into the area to clean it up.”
The Timber Board, a government-owned entity, had the rights to all the timber in the province. If you wanted to log, you had to have a farm permit (living in proximity to the forest or you wouldn’t get one) or a veteran permit, which required you to be a resident of the province. Most of the logging was done for the Board from 1952 to 1970. The lumber was delivered by truck to the planing mill at Sturgis, where they also had a lumber yard.
When that closed, lumber was delivered to Reserve and a few years later when that site closed, the lumber was delivered to the planing mill at Hudson Bay. Two or three years later the Timber Board was shut down.
“There were a lot of small mills around,” Willie said. “If you wanted lumber you went to the mill and bought what you needed or traded something for it. A veteran could get a permit for lumber and then go to any mill and ask them to cut the trees for it; I once got a permit for 10,000 feet. In the later years of the Board, we were required to saw up to 24-foot lengths of lumber. Then Simpson Timber came along and you would see these nice trees that had to be cut into eight-foot lengths for studs and plywood. It was hard to see the nice trees cut into pieces like that.”
Jakubowski logged and sawed a number of farm and veteran permits, some delivered to the customer, and those that required planing were hauled to the farm, dry-piled and late in the summer a planer was hired to move in to plane the lumber. When the Timber Board was phased out around 1970, he went logging for Simpson Timber and stayed with it until 1990.
Mechanization has made short work of cutting down trees, which are then hauled to logging trails, where they are limbed, cut into lengths and hauled to Hudson Bay. Bunkhouses are now on trailers that are hauled out at the end of the season and every location in the bush is pinpointed with GPS installed right into the machinery.
Willie’s retired now and no longer involved in the logging operation, but he hasn’t completely hung up his saw; he still cuts throughout the summer and fall, putting away enough wood to keep his home warm through the winter. His 200,000 FBM quota now belongs to his two sons. They are still logging and can log more trees in a day than he used to log all winter. Together they own Taiga Technology and log poplar for Weyerhaeuser at Hudson Bay.
Willie’s granddaughter Rene once wrote to children’s author Robert Munsch about her farm, and when Munsch visited it in 1999, he went home with a camera full of pictures of the farm and all the logging equipment. He subsequently published the children’s book, Playhouse, dedicating it to the Jacubowskis.
“I loved logging,” Willie says, smiling. “It was always like a big family. The bell rang to wake us up; we had breakfast, dinner and supper together. In spring (when they went home for the summer) I felt lost, like the whole family leaving home.”
By Susan Lowndes