Lum­ber­men clashed for river rights

The Gananoque Reporter - - COMMENT - Su­sanna McLeod is a writer liv­ing in Kingston.

Splin­ters of bark and wood flew with each thunk of the tim­ber axe. Clear­ing thick forests near La­nark inthe 1840s, mus­cles rip­pled and grunts em­anated with vig­or­ous swings of the axe. Trees crashed to the ground and then were de­limbed, pre­pared to be sent to the mills. One teenager de­lighted in lum­ber­ing and later in com­merce. Peter McLaren found his call­ing.

Wilder­ness in­all di­rec­tions, set­tlers to Up­per Canada cleared bush land for homes, towns and busi­nesses, and for con­struct­ing wag­ons, ships, rail­ways and more. Mills sprung up to pro­duce sawed lum­ber and squared tim­bers, for lo­cal use and to sell to grow­ing re­gions. Winter was the best sea­son to har­vest as trees were dor­mant, the sap was not run­ning, and snowand ice made trans­port­ing logs to wa­ter­ways much eas­ier.

The Gil lies Com­pany hired 14-year-old McLaren (born Sept. 22, 1831), teach­ing him the pre­cise skills of a lum­ber­jack and log driver. Shanties be­came the boy’s home, large log bunkhouses in the woods, with room for 25 to 50 men per tem­po­rary struc­ture.

“To heat the shanty, an open fire­place, called a ‘cam­boose’, stood near the cen­tre of the roomona base of sand ,” said Perth and Dis­trict His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety in “Mis­sis­sippi Lum­ber Baron: Peter McLaren (18311919).” Hot sand “was scooped out and place dat the corner of the ‘cam­boose’ to form a pit in­which meals of pork and beans with mo­lasses were cooked, and where huge loaves of bread were baked .” Ket­tleshung over the fire­place as well, for cook­ing and hot water.

About eight years later, John Gil­lies se­lected McLaren as his busi­ness part­ner. The Gil­lies and McLaren Com­pany flour­ished and in 1862 pur­chased nearly 777 square kilo­me­tres of log­ging lim­its on the up­per Mis­sis­sippi River, past Maz­i­naw Lake.

The Mis­sis­sippi pre­sented chal­lenges for log drives, with “sharp turns, nar­row chan­nels, long shal­low rapids and sub­stan­tial water falls ,” the his­tor­i­cal so­ci­ety said.

Work­ers made nec­es­sary ad­just­ments for log driv­ing by dredg­ing “chan­nels, dams to con­trol water lev­els, tim­ber slides around rapids and falls, sluice ways and boo ms to cor­ral the logs af­ter they had passed through.” In1869, the­com­pany also pur­chased an­dre built Gil mo ur Mills at Car­leton Place. Twoyears later, Gil­lies sold his share of the firm to McLaren for the tidy sum of $330,000, well over $6 mil­lion in to­day’ s dol­lars.

A bach­e­lor un­til 36, McLaren mar­ried Sophia El­iz­a­beth Lees (born 1845) on Nov. 22, 1867. Set­tling down af­ter years in bush camp shanties and at his mother’s house, McLaren pur­chased a large stone home in Perth named Ne­vis Cot­tage, along­with 600 acres.

As their fam­ily grew, the McLarens made al­ter­ations to the­house, in­clud­ing a two-storey ad­di­tion with ser­vant squar­ters, and a spa­cious car­riage house with tur­ret.

The fam­ily with five chil­dren had a com­fort­able life­style, en­joy­ing fine qual­ity fur­ni­ture and paint­ings by renowned artists. (Built in 1842, the grace­ful Ne­vis Cot­tage is now a bed and­break­fast inn.)

For years, logs moved smoothly down­river, with com­peti­tors pay­ing tolls touse McLaren’s im­proved Mis­sis­sippi River sec­tion when the way was clear. Abrupt change to the co-op­er­a­tive spirit burst out in1875.

With­out the landowner’s con­sent, work men of the Buck & Ste­wart Com­pany rushed their spring log drive through the Mis­sis­sippi to the Ot­tawa River “af­ter cut­ting a pas­sage through a McLaren boom at the Ragged Chute in Palmer­ston, and a 20-foot gap through a closed McLaren dam at High Falls in North S her brooke ,” noted Howard Mor­ton Brown in “Mis­sis­sippi ,” Car­leton Place Lo­cal His­tory.

McLaren im­me­di­ately sued, but co-op­er­a­tion soon reigned again… for awhile.

The flick­er­ing se ar of flames nearly brought McLaren’s op­er­a­tions to its knees in 1879. In­dus­tri­ous mill work­ers pumped out thou­sands upon thou­sands of feet of lum­ber in Car­leton Place, the board spiled in yards un­til needed. The CPR’s tiesand rails were stacked nearby, close to the rail lines. The­blaze feasted on more than 13 mil­lion feet of lum­ber.

Men and fire en­gines came from far and wide, and lo­cal res­i­dents raced into help putout the in­sa­tiable fire. When it was allover, in­sur­ance cov­ered$50,000 of losses. An­other $100,000 was paid by the CPR— af­ter a five-year lit­i­ga­tion ended with Eng­land’s Privy Coun­cil de­ci­sion that sparks from a pass­ing lo­co­mo­tive prob­a­bly ig­nited the blaze.

Ag­gra­va­tions resur­faced when Boyd Cald­well and the Cald­well Lum­ber Com­pany pur­chased lim­its along the Mis­sis­sippi River. Push­ing log drives throughthe river in early 1880, Cald­well’ s men cut McLaren booms and dams.

McLaren pur­sued an in junc­tion. He con­sid­ered the im­proved sec­tion of the Mis­sis­sippi ex­clu­sively un­der his con­trol.

Court de­ci­sions ric­o­cheted back and forth. Cald well “won the ap­proval of the On­tario gov­ern­ment three times to use the Mis­sis­sippi water way for his log sand square tim­ber ,” Alan Ray burn said in “Nam­ing Canada: Sto­ries about Cana­dian Place Names ”( Univer­sity of Toronto Press, 2001).

Early into the court chal­lenges, Premier Oliver Mo wat leg­is­lated An Act for Pro­tect­ing the Pub­lic In­ter­est in Rivers, Streams and Creeks in 1881. The act en­sured that “dur­ing the spring, sum­merand au­tumn freshets, the right to float and trans­mit sawlogs and other tim­ber, rafts and crafts, dow­nall such rivers, creeks or streams, and through and over such con­struc­tions and im­prove­ments…”

The per­mis­sion to use the water way was “sub­ject to the pay­ment to the per­son who has made such con­struc­tion sand im­prove­ments, of rea­son­able tolls.”

How­ever, time af­ter time, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment dis­agreed with the pro­vin­cial rul­ings, over­turn­ing them with de­ci­sions for McLaren and prop­erty own­ers.

The dis­pute came to end­when the Ju­di­cial Com­mit­tee of Eng­land’s Privy Coun­cil agreed with Cald­well. The Rivers and Streams Act came into full, un­ob­structed force in 1884. Not only en­sur­ing water way pro­tec­tion against pri­vate in­ter­ests, the lum­ber­men’s case­was far-reach­ing, play­ing “a cru­cial role in es­tab­lish­ing fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ples in fed­eral pro­vin­cial re­la­tions ,” said then- Cul­ture Min­is­ter Aileen Car­roll in Ci­sion, on the un­veil­ing of an On­tario Her­itage Trust plaque at Cen­ten­nial Beach, Car­leton Place.

Three years later, re­tir­ing lum­ber mag nate “McLaren sold his in­ter­ests in the area. Boyd Cald­well’ s death fol­lowed in 1888, mark­ing the end of one of the most in­flu­en­tial dis­agree­ments in Cana­dian le­gal his­tory,” ac­cord­ing to Ci­sion.

McLaren wasn’t slow­ing in busi­ness by any means. His thoughts were al­ready con­cen­trated on the west, in Al­berta.

Pur­chas­ing the failed Moun­tain Mill op­er­a­tion near Pin cher Creek in 1881, the in­dus­tri­al­ist in­stalled his brother-in-law as man­ager. The­com­pany soon turned prof­its, lead­ing to an­other mill pur­chase at Fort Mac leod.Mc La r en was just in­time to hap­pily sell rail­way ties to the CPR for con­struc­tion of the Crowsnest Pass, with his firm re­garded as first in­dus­try inthe area.

Build­ing a saw mill at Blair more was also a pro­pi­tious de­ci­sion. Coal seams were dis­cov­ered nearby and the new mines opened a mar­ket for lum­ber.

Tak­ing a turn at pol­i­tics, McLaren was ap­pointed to the Sen­ate rep­re­sent­ing Perth on Feb. 21,1890, by Prime Min­is­ter John A. Mac­don­ald. McLaren was a mem­ber of the Up­per Cham­ber for close to three decades.

In1902, Moun­tain Mill closed due to flood­ing. Eight years later, for­est fires en­gulfed the western Al­berta re­gion. “The loss of tim­ber was also ex­ten­sive and the McLaren Lum­ber Com­pany saw most its re­serves de­stroyed,” de­scribed Perth and Dis­trict His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety. In1911, McLaren sold his Al­berta hold­ings.

An in­ter­est in min­ing sparked McLaren to pur­chase an enor­mous par­cel of land in Vir­ginia. Fea­tur­ing tim­ber and brown he ma ti te iron ore, the sale in­cluded leases of min­ing op­er­a­tions. The new min­ing op­er­a­tor also pur­chased hold­ings near Per thin North Burgess Town­ship. Orig­i­nally mined for phos­phate, mi ca min­ing took over. (McLaren­gave the prop­erty to his son Wil­liam and his bride as a wed­ding gift in 1910.)

At age 87, Peter McLaren died at his Perth home on May 23, 1919. From lum­ber camp teen, bir­ling logs down river, to re­spected in­dus­tri­al­ist and Sen­a­tor, the busi­ness­man was hon­oured in 1962with the des­ig­na­tion of Mount McLaren in the Crowsnest Pass.


Peter McLaren of Perth, Ont., by per­mis­sion of David McLaren, Find a Grave Me­mo­rial

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