Canadian Geographic
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Future of forestry


Canada was founded on its rich natural resources, starting with the Atlantic fisheries during the 16th century. Forestry rose to economic prominence during the early 19th century, and by 1870, forest products were the country’s leading export, accounting for an estimated 20 percent of the Canadian economy.

Powerful entrepreneurs
During the booming 1800s, energetic entrepreneurs quickly established empires by taking full advantage of the nation’s abundant forests and fast-moving rivers. An example of this entrepreneurial drive is revealed in the history of Bytown. After the Rideau Canal was completed in 1832, Bytown was sustained by the forest industry on the Ottawa River. In 1855, the young, growing town was renamed Ottawa and, two years later, became Canada’s capital. Today, the influence of the former forest industry is evident in Ottawa’s many heritage buildings, constructed for lumber barons, the period’s elite.

Among the more prominent lumber barons were E. B. Eddy, who launched one of the world’s largest match companies in 1854, and John R. Booth, who built a formidable industrial empire. Booth’s mill at the Chaudière Falls, on the Ottawa River, produced more lumber than anywhere else in the world at that time.

Industrial evolution
As the lumber industry peaked in the late 19th century, pulpwood production became a prosperous sector, making up for some of the loss in the industry’s growth. Rapid industry development in British Columbia offset the decline in eastern Canada.

Between 1910 and the early 1920s, the nation’s forest industry heavily invested in pulp-and-paper production. But by the late 1920s, the sector was suffering from overcapacity. Still, with strong exports through the 1950s, the pulp-and-paper sector led all others in the value of Canadian manufacturing production.

Through the second half of the 20th century, efficiency and productivity became overriding concerns for the forest industry, as innovations in other industries challenged its competitive position and relevance.

Furthermore, the forest industry’s export orientation was tested with our long-running softwood-lumber dispute with the United States, which was resolved by the Softwood Lumber Agreement in 2006.

Environmental issues
For years, Canada’s resources were considered vast and everlasting. No coherent methods of forestry regulation were established until the licensing system in the mid-1820s. However, these regulations did not halt forest exploitation, and throughout the mid-1800s, the quantity and quality of the desirable white pine declined quickly in Canada.

By the 20th century, recognizing the need to protect the nation’s natural resources, government and industry leaders established the Canadian Forestry Association to begin conservation efforts, including planting trees and researching sound forestry practices.

As the environmental movement gained momentum during the 1970s, confrontations between environmentalists and the industry over clear-cutting, old-growth forests and habitat destruction became frequent headlines.


This piece allows users to select from a scrolling bar of paintings and photographs, depicting scenes throughout Canada that were common to the forest-products industry in the 19th century.


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Quiz :

What was the 'title' given to successful forestry entrepreneurs in the 1900s?

Timber lord
Lumber baron