Logging has long been a major BC industry, but it looks very different now than it did when it began in the 1880s. While today loggers have trucks and modern machinery to make the job easier, early fallers had to use tools that would likely confound modern workers. According to the Campbell River Museum, the coastal area known as the “Jungles,” a region on the northern shore of the Queen Charlotte Sound, was partly responsible for shaping the idea of the “independent logger.”
In early days, logging teams in the “Jungles” worked in groups of three, bringing down massive trees in staggeringly large sweeps of land––and they did it with axes, saws, a couple of springboards, some wedges, and a bottle of oil. This work was not only difficult––and for reasons that should be obvious––but it was also quite dangerous. Fallers needed to be experts in determining the direction in which the tree would fall as they wielded their fairly rudimentary equipment.
Reports from people who actually witnessed these men work relate how the fallers were a sight to be seen. Their movements were reputedly almost mechanical, and their brawn was worth some acclaim. In addition to their array of what now seem to be rather basic tools––and their ability to use them with efficiency and speed––these early loggers were accompanied by a herd of oxen, yoked together in as many as 14 at a time. These animals––quite brawny themselves––hauled the logs (up to 4 or 5 at once) after the men had felled them.
While this might sound like a charming team of Herculean creatures working together to make a daunting task more manageable, the oxen were a challenge all in themselves. Not withstanding the obvious advantage the oxen afforded the fallers (because, despite their own burliness, the men certainly couldn’t move all those logs alone), the oxen posed problems because of their leaden-footed pace and their notorious stubbornness. Sometimes, just getting them to reach the water, where the logs would then be transported by sea, was a struggle.
Eventually, oxen were replaced by horses, which were in turn replaced by the steam engine. By the 1920s, there were steam engines involved in logging operations all over coastal BC, and in the same decade logging trucks came into use. While modern technology is, perhaps, more efficient, it is certainly worthwhile to reflect on both the difficulty of earlier operations, and on the skill of those who carried them out.