The Life of a Mineral Lake Logger

Interior view of Mineral Lake Sawmill c.1950 : Kootenay Spruce Mills was owned & operated by Cranbrook Sash & Door.
Interior view of Mineral Lake Sawmill c.1950

Young men looking for adventure and career, often found themselves in logging camps as the industry in British Columbia emerged in the late 1890s. The interior was host to numerous camps with men seeking opportunities at sawmills.

Once logs were harvested from forests near the millsite, they were transported to a logging pond usually by horse sledding or by floating them down river. The logging pond was adjacent to the sawmill. Logs were hauled from the pond by a jack ladder that carried them upward to the interior of the mill. Through a careful mechanical process, saws reduced logs to boards.

Kootenay Spruce Mill at Mineral Lake c.1945 : Owned & operated by Cranbrook Sash & Door.
Kootenay Spruce Mill at Mineral Lake c.1945

A kicker would move the logs from the conveyor trough to the saw. Bark was cut off by large chainsaws exposing the wood beneath and mechanical hands referred to as ‘niggers’ (a logging term, not to be confused with the racial slur) rotated the wood for saws to remove the bark completely.

An assembly line fed log after log into circular, rip, and cut off saws before finally entering the edger machine to expedite production. Even widths and sizes of lumber were produced by industrial workers for commercial use and transported to lumber yards.

One-Man Chainsaw at Kootenay Spruce Mills c.1957 : This Mill was owned Cranbrook Sash & Door which later became Crestbrook & Tembec
One-Man Chainsaw at Kootenay Spruce Mills c.1957

One such logging camp was Kootenay Spruce at Mineral Lake that was owned by Cranbrook Sash & Door (CS&D), later known as Crestbrook Forest Industries Ltd. It was located at Mineral Lake near Cranbrook.

It was located at Mineral Lake near Cranbrook. Life at Mineral Lake was a challenging venture that started with the inception of CS&D in 1898. The construction industry and prairie markets brought on by the railway demanded vast quantities of lumber, a demand the company filled after building sawmills and planermills. By 1943, the logging operation was in full swing, employing a workforce that endured long and arduous hours.

Shifts would begin at 6 a.m. and end around 6 p.m. A twelve-hour workday could stretch well into the evening if there were unfinished jobs to be completed for the next day's production. A six-day work-week was standard for loggers with Sundays generally allocated as a day of rest, though there were maintenance jobs to be done. Sunday chores included chopping wood for cabins, sharpening axes and crosscut saws, cleaning, and preparing for the week ahead. Mineral Lake's typical workday involved the manual falling and hauling of trees with gangs of men, braving the wrath of falling timber. Chainsaws were in use by 1930, but not widespread at Mineral Lake, and falling was done by hand. Two men (or a gang) were charged with the task of using a crosscut saw to fall trees. The undercut was chopped by hand and was used to direct the tree as it fell. The entire process took approximately five minutes for a tree with a 30-inch butt. Ten thousand board feet was customary for a daily harvest.

Interior view of saw-filing room at Kootenay Spruce Mills c.1949 : A finished circular saw blade for use in the mill.
Interior view of saw-filing room at Kootenay Spruce Mills c.1949

Once a tree collapsed, a swamper would use an axe to limb it and top it while keeping pace with the gang of fallers to produce logs. Logs were then transported to a landing area by a cat skidder after being choked. The front end of the logs were kept off the ground by a logging arch (a small tracked crawler device) that was towed by the cat. They were dropped by the skidder and hauled by the haulback line to a trough where they were marked by a marker man to cut into standard lengths, followed by a cut-off saw operator that would cut them with a four-foot stationary chainsaw.