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Eastern Forestry, 1850-1931

The square-timber industry peaked in the 1860s. Although it continued to provide important exports in subsequent decades, it focused increasingly on Ontario and had a large hardwood component. The major growth sector of the forest industry was sawn lumber, which developed strongly in New Brunswick with the production of deals for the British market, followed after mid-century in Ontario and Quebec with the production of planks and boards for both domestic and American markets. With this sustained attack on the forest, the quantity and quality of the preferred white pine declined, first in New Brunswick, then in Quebec, and finally in Ontario.

The concentration of sawmills reflected, in part, the accessibility of white pine. At mid-century the mills were concentrated on the lower reaches of the St Croix and Saint John rivers in New Brunswick, the Saint-Maurice and tributaries to the lower St Lawrence in Quebec, and in counties along the northern shore of Lake Erie in Ontario. By 1870 the main focus in Ontario and Quebec was the Chaudière Falls at Ottawa-Hull. Much of the production from New Brunswick mills moved to market from seaports, whereas most of Ontario’s and Quebec’s output went by canal barge to the major wholesale market at Albany, New York. Railway transport was used along certain links, becoming more widespread towards the end of the century.

The increasing size of the forest industry’s operations was reflected in the multiplication of mill capacity and the industry’s visible dominance of the local landscape. The central machine in use in the mill in the last half of the century was the gang saw, which sawed as many as four logs into 1” boards at each pass. Logs and lumber moved efficiently over rollers from one stage to another, and piling grounds for freshly sawn lumber covered large areas. As concern for stream pollution mounted, sawdust burners appeared, towering over the mill towns. Complementing the strongly growing export industry in sawn lumber was a rising wood-based manufacturing sector. By 1891 a sash, door, and blind (shutter) industry was concentrated in Montréal and Québec City with other important centres in Ottawa, Amherst, and Winnipeg, all linked to national markets by the railway. Furniture and cabinetry production settled firmly into factories in Toronto and smaller communities in southwestern Ontario.

In the early decades of the 20th century lumbering was replaced by the pulp and paper industry as New Brunswick’s leading generator of manufacturing employment and profit. Sawmilling remained important in some localities; new technology increased sawmill capacity and concentrated the industry near major export centres.

Click here for information about more recent foresty activity in Atlantic Canada and the Boreal Shield.


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British Columbia, 1891-1931

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Quiz :

Who was BC's largest lumber producer in the early 20th century?

MacMillan Bloedel
Canadian Western Lumber Company