Canadian Heritage

Historical Vignettes

Working in the Forest: a Strenuous Routine

Having arrived at the end of the 18th century, the Madawaska settlers slowly become accustomed to their new environment. These new settlers share a region divided by the Saint John River. Therefore, they find themselves culturally and economically united but politically and territorially divided, a reality which still persists to this day.

During the era of colonization, both sides of the river offer tremendously fertile land, and people engage exclusively in agriculture while selling their surplus produce, or working in a combination of agriculture and forestry, to make ends meet. Most of the Madawaska settlers own small farms, a few animals, and mainly devote themselves to cultivating wheat, oats and eventually potatoes.1 Conversely, there are also prosperous farmers who profit from the lumber camps, not as a place to toil but rather to sell their extra produce.2

Because of the fact that agriculture is only feasible during summer and autumn, certain Madawaska settlers take advantage of the new British naval construction market to diversify their economy. The demand for white pine reaches its peak and the trees mainly serve to build ship masts. The Madawaska forests brim over with white pine, and several lumber camps appear on both sides of the Saint John River. Lots of men spend the winter months cutting wood. Then in the spring, they float the wood down waterways in log drives.3

The Saint John Valley could not avoid being scrutinized by clever and shrewd forest explorers. However, were ability and shrewdness vital to discover the strong and robust pinewood, which grew everywhere, even next to the river, as if it were bathing its feet in the water? It was undeniably the king of our forests. The Saint John River offered exceptionally advantageous conditions for the floating of logs, and in this same area, the wood merchant found young men accustomed to the forest, which feared neither cold nor snow of our harsh winters.4