LOG­GERS WANTED

Re­spond­ing to a re­cruit­ment ad in the lo­cal news­pa­per back in 1954, this young but ex­pe­ri­enced log­ger em­barked on the jour­ney of a life­time

More of Our Canada - - Canadians Abroad - By Ken­neth G. Thomas, Ed­mon­ton

Ire­call see­ing the fol­low­ing head­line in News Chron­i­cle of Port Arthur, Ont., back in 1954, but lit­tle did I know at the time just how much it would change my life: “The Largest Hand-planted For­est in the World, Har­vest­ing to Start With Cana­dian Log­gers.”

Ac­tu­ally, it was the sub­head­ing after­wards that re­ally caught my eye—“ex­pe­ri­enced Log­gers Wanted by the New Zealand Gov­ern­ment.”

Hav­ing ex­pe­ri­ence with sev­eral Cana­dian log­ging firms, I went to find out the details at the Port Arthur un­em­ploy­ment of­fice in late Novem­ber, and soon found my­self hired to go work in New Zealand. I also dis­cov­ered that there were a lot of things that had to get done to get there: ob­tain a pass­port, clear any out­stand­ing debts, as­sem­ble the nec­es­sary per­sonal ef­fects, and bid farewell to fam­ily and friends. My par­ents were not too en­thused about my plans, so my two broth­ers ar­ranged a go­ing-away party for me and in­vited al­most 100 peo­ple.

The train to Van­cou­ver left the Port Arthur sta­tion at five min­utes after mid­night on Jan­uary 1, 1955, with stops in Win­nipeg, Cal­gary, Hope and Kam­loops, ar­riv­ing in Van­cou­ver early in the morn­ing of Jan­uary 3. I had time to en­joy a sight­see­ing bus tour of the city and Stan­ley Park.

As part of the travel ar­range­ments, I spent the night in a ho­tel close to where I was to board the ship the fol­low­ing day. Ex­cite­ment was run­ning high as 125 Cana­dian log­gers boarded the SS Or­cades, the largest ship that had tied up in port at that time.

De­par­ture was at 4 p.m., and it was smooth sail­ing un­der the Lions Gate Bridge and past Stan­ley Park. Lights were al­ready twin­kling in the grow­ing dark­ness as we passed Vic­to­ria and, after the har­bour pilot was taken off the ship, we soon started to gain speed, head­ing for the open ocean.

For the next two days, as the ship rocked and rolled (no sta­bi­liz­ers back then!) along the coast to­ward San Fran­cisco, there was no ac­tiv­ity al­lowed on the decks; even though the deck chairs were tied to­gether, they still slid around on deck. So, I found a book on New Zealand in the li­brary that con­tained out­dated statis­tics of no in­ter­est to me, but inside the back cover was a map. When un­folded, it cov­ered two ta­bles and con­tained great details of both is­lands, as well as nearby Ste­wart Is­land.

As I gazed at this, I was joined by other pas­sen­gers who would tell me where they lived, what the area was noted for, where the best places to va­ca­tion were, and the his­tory of the set­tle­ment of the coun­try by white men. I was told of the great earth­quake and vol­canic erup­tion in the mid-1880s that dev­as­tated a large area in the cen­tral part of the North Is­land. This cov­ered the na­tive trees many feet deep with pumice, in which not even weeds grow. With its fi­nal ef­forts, how­ever, the vol­cano spewed forth a black ash so fer­tile a per­son could grow sev­eral crops in one year.

Dur­ing the De­pres­sion years of the late 1920s and 1930s, the gov­ern­ment used unemployed per­sons and peo­ple in jail to hand-plant trees of

dif­fer­ent species in this vast area. It was to this very area that our group of Cana­di­ans had been re­cruited to har­vest the first of these trees. Pi­nus ra­di­ata is the name of most of the trees im­ported from Ore­gon, U.S.A. These grew so fast in the mod­er­ate cli­mate that my crew cut down trees that were 48 inches in di­am­e­ter at the stump and 120 feet tall at the ten­der age of just 28 years.

Sail­ing un­der the Golden Gate Bridge in San Fran­cisco was thrilling and with the whole day ahead of us in this beau­ti­ful city, there was much to do and see. On one bus tour, we were taken to Muir Woods Na­tional Park, which hosted red­wood trees ten feet or more in di­am­e­ter A story about John Muir ap­peared in the July 1972 is­sue of Na­tional Ge­o­graphic.

Our jour­ney took a turn for the bet­ter as we sailed the calm seas to­wards Hawaii, where again, we had a full day to ex­plore this par­adise, in­clud­ing a bus tour of the is­land. When we de­parted at mid­night, the sight of the is­land grad­u­ally re­ced­ing in the wake of the ship brought tears to many.

Trav­el­ling then for many days with no sight of land was very rest­ful yet full of ac­tiv­ity. Con­tin­u­ing on smooth seas to our next stop at Fiji, we crossed the equa­tor, view­ing the North Star and the South­ern Cross each evening. Fiji was a lot dif­fer­ent than Hawaii and has its own life­style; there was much to see there.

Our en­trance into the har­bour at Auck­land was guided by a dol­phin, a species that had first un­der­taken the job dur­ing the Sec­ond World War, when there had been a short­age of men to guide the var­i­ous ships bring­ing in sup­plies.

Our in­tro­duc­tion into the New Zealand life­style was com­pli­cated by the cur­rency in use at that time. Be­ing of Bri­tish ori­gin, it had coins of half­pen­nies, pen­nies, six­pence, shillings worth 12 pen­nies, pounds worth 20 shillings, and guineas worth 21 shillings— a cal­cu­la­tor would have come in handy while mak­ing pur­chases.

For the sin­gle men, there were a num­ber of promised work­ing con­di­tions that were not ful­filled and change was re­quired. Too much mut­ton on the menu led to a switch of cater­ing firms. A chef from a ho­tel in nearby Ro­torua was brought in and he soon re­cruited four girls from the ho­tel to re­place the lo­cals who lacked ex­pe­ri­ence in serv­ing. Con­di­tions grad­u­ally im­proved in our work area as well.

In spite of be­ing an im­mi­grant in this amaz­ing coun­try, I still felt very much a Cana­dian, so I took Friday, July 1, off work to visit Ro­torua, some 40 miles away by bus. A Scot­tish girl from the cater­ing firm had the day off as well and joined me on the bus jour­ney to do some shop­ping. We later met for din­ner and then took in a show called “Three Coins in the Foun­tain.” This turned out to be our first date and led to our mar­riage three months later. The rapid growth of the trees in the re­gion seemed to re­flect our rapid ro­mance, which has lasted more than 60 years and ex­panded to a fam­ily of four chil­dren and many grand­chil­dren.

That in­con­spic­u­ous ad in the lo­cal news­pa­per so long ago had a far-reach­ing ef­fect on my life, tak­ing me around the world and then full cir­cle back to Canada. Upon our re­turn, we spent a year in Bri­tain vis­it­ing my wife Mar­garet’s fam­ily and friends, and then we crossed the rough seas on the Queen El­iz­a­beth I, and took a train back to my home­town of Port Arthur, now part of Thun­der Bay. ■

Ken­neth met his wife-to-be, Mar­garet, while he was log­ging in New Zealand. They cel­e­brated their 60th an­niver­sary (above) in Oc­to­ber 2015.

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