Atlantic ForestryNovember 2018

Ill-fated logging venture

AFR: My wife’s Uncle Bill Cochrane was born in Falmouth, N.S., and died a few years ago in Surrey, B.C. Uncle Bill was full of exaggerated stories of the various places he had worked and the various jobs he had held. In his retirement years, he and his wife Marjorie often visited us for a few weeks. During one of these visits, he told us of a very interesting logging venture into Newfoundland. On several occasions he promised to write up the story, but he never did. Finally, about 20 years ago I decided to take some notes, which I recently uncovered. Perhaps the time has come for me to write what I have, and request readers to supply additional info, to correct or update it.

Around 1920, the Crow Lumber Co., of Bridgewater, purchased 12 teams of oxen in western Nova Scotia. One large Hereford team was from Middleton, and the teamster was Ezra Hamilton from Meteghan. A one-armed man from Bridgewater by name of Taylor, and Uncle Bill, were also teamsters. Yoke-makers and blacksmiths also formed part of the crew.

The unshod cattle were loaded on the icebreaker Caribou at Halifax. The cattle were packed tightly in the hold of the ship, and they headed for Port aux Basques. The crossing was very rough, and even the ship’s crew became seasick. Uncle Bill had to walk on the backs of the cattle in order to give each animal some water. It was a real smelly mess.

The ship pulled into Sandy Point to ride out the storm, and the crew took advantage of a local dance that night. The next day, the ship proceeded to Port aux Basques, where the cattle and crew were placed on a train and taken to the end of the line. Here they were placed on a scow in a lake, and towed by motorboat to the end of the lake. A guide guided them across barrens and muskeg toward their destination.

In some cases, the teamsters’ suitcases were tied to to the oxen’s horns, and sometimes they would break open and the following cattle would tramp the contents into the mud. The cattle soon found the soft muskeg very tiresome, and would lie down on the trail. The teamsters would cover them up with brush, and leave them. The cattle were also carrying meager rations of hay, which added to their plight. They spent at least one night on the trail before reaching the village of White’s Bay. The cattle that were left behind would catch up after having a rest.

The village people were frightened when these 12 teams of long-haired Herefords, with their large clanging bells, paraded by.

The Crow Lumber Company had a string of 13 logging camps, with their headquarters at White’s Lake. Hay and food suppliers were to arrive within a few days, but they were apparently lost in a later storm. Hay and food soon became scarce, and the camps became infested with lice. Uncle Bill could not tolerate this, so he slept with his cattle. They soon started killing the cattle for meat, to conserve hay.

One day, a ship arrived in the port. It was believed to be the last ship before freeze-up, and Uncle Bill had his feet firmly planted on the deck when it departed. It appears that this logging expedition to Newfoundland was a complete failure, but the story does not seem to have ended here. Hopefully some knowledgeable Nova Scotians or Newfoundlanders will supply the missing or inaccurate details.

R.S. Johnson’s book, Forests of Nova Scotia, states that the Alfred Dickie Lumber Co. went bankrupt as a failed lumbering adventure into Labrador in 1912. I doubt that Uncle Bill was old enough to be an ox teamster at that time – 1904-1989. A mistake in the 1912 date?

Les Corkum

Falmouth, N.S.