Big River Header


The Mill Story and Big River Lumber

With excerpts from Timber Trails with additions

A survey of Northern Saskatchewan, by the Department of the Interior, revealed that this land was of prime importance in the area of natural resources. Also at this time, the beginning of the nineteen hundreds, the Canadian National Railway was building many east-western lines through the southern part of Canada, and in particular, southern Saskatchewan. The Canadian Northern Railway saw the potential that could be developed in Northern Saskatchewan and seriously considered building a northern spur from Shellbrook to Big River.

Under the Companies Act in 1902, the Secretary of State of Canada, may, by Letters Patent, under his Seal of Office, grant a Charter to any number of persons, not less than five, who have complied with the requirements of the Act.

On May 4, 1903, Richard William Scott, Secretary of State of Canada, officially incorporated the Big River Lumber Company. Five men made an application for the charter under the act, constituting them and such others that became shareholders in the company, a Body Corporate and Politic under the name of the Big River Lumber Company. These five men were: Theodore Arthur Burrows, Land Commissioner of Winnipeg, Manitoba; William Cowan, lumberman of the Village of Prince Albert, District of Saskatchewan, in the North West Territories of Canada; Edward H. Moore, lumberman of the Village of Prince Albert; Horace Edgar Crawford, Barrister at Law, of Winnipeg; and George Arthur Mantle, accountant of Winnipeg. The capital stock was two hundred and fifty thousand dollars.

Cowan, acting on behalf of the Big River Lumber Company, made a trip up north and applied for a timber berth from the Federal Government. He received the contract in 1903 with the stipulation that the Indians, because of a prior application, were to remove eight thousand saw logs from the same berth before Cowan could begin logging. It happened that, at this time, neither the Indians nor Cowan took out any logs and therefore, the contracts were cancelled. In 1904 and 1905 Cowan re-applied and got a license for the same timber berth, and again he did not produce. In 1906, a permit was applied for under the name of the Big River Lumber Company, and Cowan signed for the timber berth.

Cowan began logging in the Debden area, which at that time, was covered by a lake, known as Winslow Lake. He used this lake to dump the cut logs into. An agent from the Department of the Interior came and inspected Cowan's operation at this time and found everything in order.

In 1908, Cowan moved further north into the future area of the town of Big River to continue logging. Simultaneously, the Canadian Northern Railway began construction of a northern spur from Shellbrook. This expansion of the railway was an indication of the seriousness of the Big River Lumber Company's plan to tap the timber source. The train would serve as a means of hauling out the processed lumber, and besides, it would provide for passenger service and a means of communication with the southern prairies.

To construct the large mill, it was necessary to build a small temporary unit that would provide the necessary lumber for the Big River Lumber Company mill. Therefore, in 1908, William Cowan built the first mill on the southeastern tip of the shores of Big River. In 1909, William Cowan was President of the Company, D. H. Laird was Secretary, and John Henry Munson of Winnipeg was tested as a shareholder. The capital stock had increased to one million dollars.

Horse and wagon brought in the equipment for the Big River Lumber Company mill since the railway was not completed until 1910. Also used in the construction of the mill were bricks, prepared by the local Big River brickyard. Joe Nicholson, an early resident in Big River, was responsible for securing the clay and preparing the brick. EC Brownfield hauled stones from Stoney Lake that were used in the foundation of the mill.

By 1911, the Big River Lumber Company was in full operation, under the superintendence of Oscar Sharpe. The Directors of the Company were listed as follows: President Colonel AD Davidson, Toronto; Secretary George Luckhurst, Winnipeg, A.M Nanton, Winnipeg; J.H Munson KC, Winnipeg; William Cowan, Prince Albert; RJ of and Mann, Winnipeg.

This new sawmill, was, at that time, the largest in the British Empire, with a capacity of producing one million board feet every twenty-four hours? The mill consisted of an engine room, sawmill, planing mill, dry shed, and piling yard. The planing mill was one hundred feet long and one hundred and twenty-five feet wide. Four hundred feet away was the drying and storage shed for finished lumber. This building measured approximately one hundred and seventy-five feet long and seventy-five feet wide. The sawmill building was two hundred and twenty-five feet long and seventy-five feet wide (lakeside). A one hundred and twenty-foot sorting shed extended from the sawmills south side, while the refuse was conveyed from the north side to the one hundred and forty-two-foot tall burner. The mill was powered by three steam engines housed in the engine room to the immediate north of the sawmill building. The largest engine, rated at eighteen hundred horsepower, had one piston, sixty inches in diameter. A belt, one and a half inches thick and five feet wide, transferred the power from the engine thirty-four-foot diameter flywheel to the sawmill.

The burner was constructed with double walls and water was stored between these walls during the winter months. The heat from the burner would bring this water to near boiling point and then the hot water would be released around the boom logs to keep the lake open and the logs free. In this way, the mill could continue operating into December. This method was used only once, as the process was not very efficient.

Mill Fire.
Big River Sawmill on fire, May 6, 1969.

The building and operation of the mill, as well as the bush work, offered steady employment for more than one thousand men. Wages for a ten-hour day ranged from one dollar and fifty cents to eight dollars, depending on the job.

Before this exceptionally large mill could be used it was damaged by fire. A second mill was built immediately, but it had only half the capacity as the first.

During the years of the early nineteen hundreds, the government urged people west and into northern parts of Canada, with stories that their fortune could be found in the new land. Also, with the erection of the Big River Lumber Company mill, employment could be readily attained. Newspapers in eastern Canada ran articles about the good jobs that could be secured around Big River, and the publicity excited many people, resulting in mass migration into the Big River area. Overnight, Big River boomed to a population of three thousand to four thousand people.

The Company owned the entire mill site, and when the workers and their families began moving in, the Lumber Company began constructing houses for accommodation. Row upon row of identical houses was the trademark of a company town. Nearly everything was owned by the company, even the school, and except for the Roman Catholic Church, so were the churches. The Company can also be accredited with operating the first Post Office.

Old-timers often talk of those 'rip-roaring' mill days, when jostling, fighting, hard-working lumberjacks held sway in the streets. They also talk of the great two-day contests when logrolling and other sawing and lumbering feats were the sources of keen competition between these expert lumbermen.

On June 11, 1913, the Big River Lumber Company suffered a severe fire, which resulted in the termination of the mill. It was also at this time that the Canadian Northern Railway was in financial straits, and since MacKenzie and Mann were involved in both operations, they needed to sell. They sold the 'town' in 1914 to an American Company from Minnesota, the Winton Brothers. The transaction was finalized and the Winton Brothers established the Ladder Lake Lumber Company. The Big River Lumber Company continued as a Company until December 1922, at which time they were struck off the register of joint-stock companies as they had ceased to carry on business in Saskatchewan.

Big River Sawmill.
Big River Sawmill.

The Winton Brothers were set back temporarily the same year when lightning struck the planer, but they managed to rebuild the mill and have it in full operation by May 1915. The opening of the sawmill retained the majority of the population and soon the town continued to develop. The Ladder Lake Lumber Company purchased two boats to help in the sawmill operation. One was named "Alice Mattes" while the other was referred to as "The Alligator". The Alice Mattes had been used on the Saskatchewan River and when purchased by the Lumber Company, it was dismantled and moved to Big River. Mr Mattes, who at this time, worked for the Winton Brothers, was responsible for getting the boat to Big River. The boat was thereafter, christened and named after his daughter, Alice. The Alice Mattes was responsible for hauling boom logs down Cowan Lake. The boat was a sternwheeler with a wood-burning engine, and used a center pole anchor, drawing the log booms by a winch. Then there was the Alligator, a somewhat antiquated version of the modern duck, which could move from one lake to another. Constructed on heavily shod iron skids, the crew would unreel its cable and fasten it to a 'dead man', an anchor buried some five or six feet in the ground. The Alligator then winched itself slowly over the ground to its anchor, during which time the crew was on ahead fixing another 'dead man'.

In 1919, disaster struck the Big River area when a forest fire surrounded the town. It happened in the summer months of May and June and the fire ranged over upwards of fifty square miles in the dense northern bushland and hay meadow. The flames were so intense that not even Cowan Lake offered a means of protection. Mrs EC Brownfield saw the flames jump across the river and sweep around the town. The fire was in such proximity that it posed a severe threat to the town and its inhabitants. It was necessary to evacuate.

A special train was provided to transport the women and children south, away from the danger of the fire. Two men responsible for organizing the evacuation were Billy Cornell, the policeman, and Doctor Fenton. Ernest Gamache took those who did not go out by train to his scow on Ladder Lake. Mr Gamache used a large wooden horse-drawn grain tank and had to make several trips. He said the women and children had to stay on the scow for several days. They left the town with thoughts that nothing would be remaining when they returned. All available men stayed, refusing to be defeated.

Recollections of those days are still etched vividly in the memories of the people who were involved.

Mrs John Swanson, realizing that the fire was getting too close to her homestead, began to bury some of the family's more valuable possessions, those that one could never afford to purchase again. Her next concern was leaving the homestead before the fury of the fire destroyed her home. She quickly hitched up the horses to the wagon and loaded herself and the children on it. Upon arrival at Big River, Mrs Swanson discovered that the evacuation train had already departed. However, as a result of a major wind shift, Mrs Swanson was able to return home.

When Mrs Gilbert found out about the evacuation of the town she also wanted to save some possessions. In her panic, however, she threw two bread pans and her husband's hat into the well, while more valuable items were left. Mrs Nicholson's two-year-old daughter observed the commotion of the fire. She ran to save something and when she returned from the house she held the strap that was used for punishing her, securely under her arm.

One very prim and dignified English lady had to be properly dressed even though the fire was in the middle of the night. She brought her son to the train and was fully attired with gloves and a hat. However, the heat in the boxcar was so intense that it caused the dye in her straw hat to run down her face. Later, it was found that she had dyed her hat with black shoe polish. During the evacuation, the Company had made a large lunch for the weary train travellers. Mr Ernest Ethier remembers that this was the first time that he ate peanut butter. His brother, suffering from a broken leg, had to be transferred from the hospital to the evacuation train.

Mrs George McKnight had just arrived from England on April 24 with her husband and a sixteen-month-old baby daughter, Freda. Living in a tiny shack a little way down the railroad tracks, she saw the evacuation train pull slowly past but did not realize she should have been on it. Then she noticed her mother-in-law, Mrs McKnight, leading a little boy, Joseph Gilbert, down the tracks. Her most vivid memory of the fire is a picture of her furniture being dumped into the swamp.

In the absence of any proper fire fighting equipment, the men were forced to haul water with teams and try to control the fire with meagre pails of water. When the fire got completely out of control, the men were forced to retreat from the bush. They returned to town and buried their most cherished possessions. They continued to fight the fire to prevent it from destroying the town. Miraculously, the fire was stopped before it reached the lumberyard, where reserves of lumber and cordwood were kept. The town, even though it was surrounded, managed to escape the fire's ravages.

For several days the mill was closed and the school did not meet. Those who had evacuated the town waited in tense anticipation, hoping, yet fearing the worst. They returned when the fire had eventually burnt itself out. The sight of the town, standing stark among the blackened timber was depressing, but even more so was facing the reality of the situation. Big River was a mill town, and without timber, the prospects for the future looked dangerously dark.

The fire had burnt almost as far north as Green Lake. It had left small patches of trees, and it was this surviving timber that allowed the mill to continue operating until 1920. After this source was depleted the Winton Brothers began to dismantle the Ladder Lake Lumber Company Mill. In 1921, the machinery from the mill was divided up among the Winton Brothers and was used in sawmills at The Pas, Manitoba, Giscolme, BC, and Lumberton, BC All that remained was the burner, a landmark that was to last many more years.

The loss of the mill left most of Big River's population unemployed. Many of the people followed the mill to its new location while some took the chance and remained. Without a source of income, the people had to find an alternate source of providing for their families. They turned to homesteading, fishing, freighting and trapping, and in the absence of a major sawmill, small privately-owned mills began operation. The Company sold the "Town to the Big River Development Company, for the sum of twenty thousand dollars and took their departure, ending an era of relative prosperity and leaving the town in an economic slump.

The lumbering industry continued, however not on such an elevated scale as when the Company owned the town. Small private mills sprang up, owned by men who still thought they could receive an adequate income from this business.

Some of these people who owned sawmills included: Oscar Eikel, George Anderson, Harry Boyd, Andy Sundby, Hank Mottes, Tom Michel, Jack Rae, J.K. Johnson, and the IC Fish Company which was owned by Rizer and OP Godin. Several of the mills were located near Delaronde Lake while J.K. Johnson's mill was located on Cowan Lake.

Mike Skopyk's Sawmill.
Mike Skopyk's Sawmill at Timberlost, 1940s.

The private mills received their permits from the D.N.R. and then they would seek out a profitable timber area and begin logging. These men were involved in making rough lumber that was later sold to planing mills; or another person, or company, that wished to purchase it. Contracts were also taken out for cutting railway ties. The process of cutting ties was tedious and required much manual labour. First, the felling of the trees commenced, and then hewers were responsible for cutting two faces off of the trees. This was done manually with axes. The trees, now faced on two sides were cut into appropriate lengths. The ties were then hauled into Big River and were delivered to stockpiles. They could be sold in this state of completion or, before being loaded on the train, could be squared, that is, being faced on the remaining two sides. The excess material that was hewed off the trees was used for many building purposes, such as slab fences and sheds.

In 1945, there was a change in government and their policy was one of central control and therefore, the private sawmill business was gradually phased out.

The government set up a Timber Board in 1945 and all timber contracts for spruce were under their authority. In 1946, the Saskatchewan Timber Board made plans to rebuild the lumber industry in the village of Big River. The mill that J.K. Johnson had built along the shore of Cowan Lake was the ideal place for the location of the planned future mill. This property was purchased from J.K. Johnson by the Saskatchewan Timber Board in the mid-forties; however, the burner was not included in this transaction. Mr Johnson received an offer to have the burner dismantled for scrap-iron during the war years, but he declined the offer.

Big River Mill construction crew, summer, 1950.
Big River Mill construction crew, summer, 1950.

In 1948, under the management of J.K. Johnson, the new planer mill began to produce. The official opening of the Saskatchewan Timber Board Mill was held June 22, 1950, with several public figures in attendance. The community of Big River, once again, felt the satisfaction of industry.

Small private mills that were still in operation in the bush brought their log cuts into Big River and dumped them on the ice of Cowan Lake during the winter. In the spring and summer, they were boomed down the lake and were prepared for the sawmill.

In May 1969, disaster struck the lumber mill industry once again. A spark from a welder's torch ignited and the Saskatchewan Timber Board sawmill burned to the ground.

The planer mill continued to operate during the rebuilding of a new mill. The new mill was relocated to Sixth Avenue North, at the end of the railway spur. It opened in 1970 and in 1971 the people of Big River witnessed a tragic event. The "old" burner, erected in 1909, was dismantled and sold for scrap iron. Many people thought this was a degradation of a landmark that had existed for so many years.

In 1976, the latest and the most successful of the sawmills were established at Bodmin, approximately 10 kilometres south of the town of Big River.

Weyerhaeuser Canada acquired the Big River Lumber operations in 1986 from the Saskatchewan Government. Soon after the acquisition, a multimillion-dollar upgrade program was launched. Incorporating advanced technologies has allowed Big River Lumber to meet customer's demands for increased production and superior quality lumber products. Two processes-machine stress rating and mechanically evaluated lumber grading-are increasing the portion of lumber achieving high-value grading based on strength and appearance factors.

Weyerhaeuser Has Grown it's Presence in Saskatchewan.

Weyerhaeuser came to Saskatchewan in 1986 with the purchase of Prince Albert Pulp Company from the Saskatchewan government, including the Prince Albert Pulp Mill and Saskatoon Chemicals (sold in 1997 to Sterling Pulp Chemicals). Also acquired from the province was a sawmill near Big River.

As part of the acquisition agreement, Weyerhaeuser committed to construct an uncoated free sheet fine paper mill in Prince Albert. Construction of the paper mill was completed in August 1988. Two sheeting machines to supply the customer size sheet market were added in 1990 and 1991.

Since 1986, Weyerhaeuser has upgraded and optimized its Saskatchewan facilities.

Modern Sawmill.
Modern Sawmill.

Dry Kilns.
Dry Kilns.

Chip Hoppers.
Chip Hoppers.

Weyerhaeuser Plant.
Weyerhaeuser Plant.

The largest investment was an economic and environmental enhancement project at Prince Albert Pulp and Paper that was completed in 2000. This $315 million project reduces the amount of electricity and natural gas that Weyerhaeuser purchases to operate the pulp and paper mill. This reduction in energy purchases is achieved through a bubbling fluidized base boiler that burns wood waste to create electricity for use at the mill.

In May 1999, the Wapawekka Lumber Ltd. Sawmill near Prince Albert was opened. This is a $22.5 million joint venture between Weyerhaeuser and the Lac La Ronge Indian Band, Montreal Lake Cree Nation and Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation.

An upgrade of Weyerhaeuser's Big River sawmill was completed in March 2001. That $90 million project increased the sawmill's annual capacity to 250 million board feet of dimensional softwood lumber from 90 million board feet.

The November 1, 1999 acquisition of MacMillan Bloedel by Weyerhaeuser added the Carrot River sawmill, Hudson Bay plywood mill and two oriented strand board mills in Hudson Bay to Weyerhaeuser's holding in Saskatchewan.

The newer oriented strand board mill in Hudson Bay-OSB 2000- was officially opened on June 2001. One of the most modern oriented strand board mills in North America, OSB 2000 is a $200-million project. The mill has an annual production capacity of 600 million square feet of OSB.

The older of the oriented strand board mills-OSB 1000-was permanently closed in May of this year. That mill had an annual capacity of 200 million square feet of oriented strand board. Weyerhaeuser directly employs more than 1,600 Saskatchewan residents at its manufacturing facilities in the province.

Weyerhaeuser is licensed to operate on 13.1 million acres of forest in Saskatchewan.

Weyerhaeuser Company (NYSE: WY), one of the world's largest integrated forest products companies, was incorporated in 1900. In 2002, sales were Cdn$29.1 billion (US$18.5 billion). It has offices or operations in 18 countries, with customers worldwide. Weyerhaeuser is principally engaged in the growing and harvesting of timber; the manufacture, distribution and sale of forest products; and real estate construction, development and related activities. Weyerhaeuser Company Limited, a wholly-owned subsidiary, has Exchangeable Shares listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange under the symbol WYL.

Timber has always played a key role in the history of Big River and continues as an important element to this present day.

Forestry and Logging Operations

With each new mill and change in the ownership there was the introduction of a large amount of technology in a short period.

The Early Days

There is not much information readily available for logging in the Big River area at the turn of the century. But we do know several things, because of the marks left on the land and from the pictures available. It is given that the cutting, bucking and loading of the logs was done with manpower. Two-man crosscut saws and axes were the only things available at the time.

The first big mill built in Big River was capable of producing a million board feet per shift and the replacement mill was capable of producing half that amount. For either mill, the wood basket required to keep these mills operating was phenomenal for the times.

Logging with horses.
Logging with horses.

Dinkey Engine.
Dinkey Engine.

The manpower required to produce these logs would have been in the hundreds. The number of horses required and the amount of feed needed to keep them would also be staggering. Both the horses and the feed would have had to be sourced from outside the community as agriculture was in the infancy stages.

One of the marks left on the land is Cowan Lake. The dam was built to raise the water level so that logs could be boomed to the mill. The lake was required not only for the transportation of wood to the mill but also to feed the jack ladder going into the mill as this was the time before any type of moveable loader was available. The higher water levels were also needed so that logs could be floated from the Otter Lake area through Sharpe Lake and on to Cowan.

The "Alice Mattes" was a paddlewheel steam-powered boat that was used to winch the booms on the lake to the mill. An Alligator was also used in the Big River area. This was a boat built on skids capable of winching itself from one lake to another. After the loss of the mill in 1920 the dam was maintained and would again be used as the main source of transportation to supply the mill in the 1950's.

The other landmark is the haul road west of Big River that was called the Dinkey Road, which leads toward the Block. When the snowmobile club opened the trail west to Leoville in the early 1990s this was the trail that they mostly followed. If one takes the time to search, you will find a few wells that were dug to supply water for the horses and to fill the water tanks on the steam dinkey engines that were used to skid the sleds loaded with logs.

These log haul sleds carried loads that were twelve feet wide and up to twenty feet high. These were loaded by hand; logs would be placed against the side of the load to make a ramp. With a gin pole and block and tackle set up, logs would be hoisted to the top of the load. The roads required to handle these loads would be trenched, making a pathway for the runners to follow. They would then be watered down so that when iced up these roads would be very slippery and several sleds could be hooked one behind the other.

The Years in Between

Prior to 1950 and the formation of the crown corporation of the Saskatchewan Timber Board and the building of the mill in Big River, there were several small mills in the area located on the shores of Cowan and Delaronde lakes. Most of these mills were capable of producing fifteen to twenty thousand board feet of lumber per shift. The log supplies for these mills would be cut in the wintertime and hauled onto the ice by a sled drawn by horses or small Caterpillars, and then boomed to the mill when the ice went out.

With the building of the Timber Board mill, these smaller operations were unable to obtain cutting permits and were soon out of business.

Delaronde to Big River.
80,000 board feet from Delaronde to Big River.

Small Caterpillar in Logging.
Small Caterpillar in Logging.

With the war over, the pace of life and living seemed to pick up a notch. The manufacturing plants no longer making materials required for the war effort, the baby boom, the mechanical knowledge returning servicemen brought home with them, the improvements to the gasoline engine and the availability to secure funding, all seem to collide to springboard mankind into the modern era. In the early 1950s, the Timber Board had the "Government Camp" in the Smoothstone area. This camp was a relatively large one. There were on average sixty-seventy men working there and at any given time stabled thirty to forty horses. To supply this many horses, brokers went as far away as Ontario to obtain stock. Feed was usually supplied from the Big River area. The Timber Board and contractors also maintained five or six smaller camps throughout the area.

Messhall at Smoothstone Lake.
The Mess hall at Smoothstone Lake.

Sask. Timber Board's Drott Loader.
Sask. Timber Board's Drott Loader.

Line Skidder.
Line Skidder.

Hand Falling - William Garnot.
Hand Falling - William Garnot.

Logging truck.
Hauling logs, 1950s or 1960s.

Mill pond.
Mill Pond.

Log Boom.
Big River Mill Boat.

The advancements of the time also made their way into the forest harvesting operations, though horses were still used in the bush until the early sixties. Small caterpillars used for loading and line skidders soon made them obsolete. Ted McKenzie is reported to have brought the first skidder into the area in 1960. Blacksmiths turned into mechanics and the horse barns turned into garages, the requirement for hay and grain turned into the need for fuel.

The coming of the Timber Board also brought the power saw into the area. Logging at this time was selective, that is only full-sized trees were cut and the very best ones were left standing to supply seed for natural reforestation. Tandem trucks were the order of the day, hauling bucked logs from the bush onto Cowan Lake, which were then boomed to the mill in the summertime.

This was a normal procedure until the mill burnt in 1969. Small mills were used to clean up the unused log supply that was left in the lake for the next couple of years. One of the last operators of the tugboat was Lester Kilbreath who operated it for thirteen years. The last tugboat was sold to an identity planning to use the boat on the West Coast. Tires were put under the old girl and the trip west was started and problems ensued. The boat made it as far as Bodmin, to Marcel Lamothe's yard, where she has sat ever since. There are plans to restore the old tug and maybe return it to Cowan where she belongs.

Cherry pickers that are self-contained hydraulic cranes were mounted on some trucks, to haul and stack eight-foot pulpwood and cordwood into open-topped boxcars. This then went by rail to Prince Albert.

With the mill being built on the hill, north of the elementary schools log requirements changed. Logs were now being hauled directly to the mill "tree length" by semi-trailer units. Large rubber-tired loaders had replaced the cat for the log handling requirements.

Logging in the Modern Area

Early in the 1980's technology advances changed things again. The Pulp mill had developed systems that were able to make use of hardwoods in the pulp operations. Poplar up until now had always been considered a weed, something that you had to push through to get at the spruce. This weed now became a valuable product with no reforestation costs. Large tracts of clear-cutting soon became the mode of normal operations.

With the coming of Weyerhaeuser in the fall of 1986, things changed again in the forestry operations. The company, to reduce cash flow requirements had a belief in "just in time" inventory control, and a big yard of logs purchased and not used until the fall did not make economic sense. Up until this time, bush work had always been done in the winter months. Crews were big, and log requirements for the mill were harvested and were hauled into the mills before the spring thaw. The crews would repair equipment and then go on to other things or enjoy the summer off. Things soon changed, better all-season roads were built and the logging industry turned into a year-round operation. Gone were the days of fifty or so trucks hauling around the clock to get the logs into the mill. Bush crews after the break-up, return to the bush to produce a steady inventory of product. There has been a couple of wet years that the log inventory got to the "just in time" level, but the mill hasn't run out of logs YET!

The 1980s brought a change to bush operations; At the start of the decade power saws and line, skidders were the normal mode of operations in the bush. The larger operations had crews of twenty to thirty men, with camps and cooks and all the other options that came along with keeping that amount of men fed and working.

New equipment was being developed that would change the way the bush was harvested. One of the first automation to come was the snipper, a large track machine capable of shearing the tree off, then placing it in a pile. This machine was suitable for producing pulp but the shearing caused splitting in the butt of the log, which then caused a lot of degrading in the sawmill. But times were changing; the snipper soon made way for the present mechanical harvester with a saw head capable of cutting, sorting, and bunching the trees.

With the trees being bunched, grapple skidders replaced the line skidder. Men are now capable of hauling trees to the landing and returning to the bush for another load without getting out of the cab of the machine.

On the landing, the stick delimber replaced power saws and loaders. The delimber is capable of picking up trees, removing the limbs, bucking the tops, and sorting out the pulp.

Cn Train Hauling Cordwood.
Pulpwood, 1960s or 70s.

Wilson's logging equipment.
Wilson's logging equipment, 1975-1980.

Truck hauling logs.
Load of tree-length logs.


Stick Delimber.
Stick Delimber.

With this new equipment, men working in the bush have never had such comfort. This machinery has enclosed cabs, with heaters, air conditioning and stereos. The incidents of men getting badly injured or killed in the bush have been reduced to nil, which are the benefits of mechanization. But, with all the good, there are a few detriments. Gone are the days of the big bush camps. Machinery has reduced the number of men needed to harvest the forest by more than 50%. The Paul Bunyan image of loggers are gone as well. Six foot, 200-pound men, are no longer needed to push buttons.

Hawn Processor.
Hawn Wood Processor.

Timberjack Forwarder 2000.


Tree planting and forest nurseries in Big River get a mention early in the history of our community. It seems as if the first silviculture work was started because of the mill and the 1919 fire.

With the early selective logging practises, some tree planting was done, but not to the degree that is done in modern times. Logging is an important part of Saskatchewan's economic engine, creating nearly 8,000 direct jobs and pumping 900-million dollars into the economy. Saskatchewan's current forestry legislation says all logged areas must be regenerated.

This legislation and practices came about because of the heavier demand on the province's forests. Large tracts of clear-cutting are very noticeable and people demanded better husbandry of the forests. Saskatchewan Environment and the province's forest companies currently do a lot of silviculture work, including planting almost 16-million seedlings annually.

In the 1980s, local people started into the tree planting business. As the demand grew a couple of companies developed. Roots Reforestation and Smokey Lake Tree Planters have grown with the times and are not only working in the Big River area but have also serviced contracts in all three prairie provinces.


Author: Webmaster -
"Date Modified - March 17, 2024"

Links to all Webpages:

| Ausland Lake |
Northern Saskatchewan

| Deep River Fur Farm |

| Deep River Trapping Page |

| Deep River Fishing Page |

| My Norwegian Roots |

| Early Mink of People Canada |
E. Rendle Bowness

| The Manager's Tale |
Hugh McKay Ross

| Sakitawak Bi-Centennial |
200 Year History.

| Lost Land of the Caribou |
Ed Theriau

| A History of Buffalo Narrows |

| Hugh (Lefty) McLeod |
Bush Pilot

| George Greening |
Bush Pilot

| Timber Trails |
A History of Big River

| Joe Anstett, Trapper |

| Bill Windrum, Bush Pilot |

| Face the North Wind |
By Art Karas

| North to Cree Lake |
By Art Karas

| Look at the Past |
A History Dore Lake

| George Abbott |
A Family History

| These Are The Prairies |

| William A. A. Jay, Trapper |

| John Hedlund, Trapper |

| Deep River Photo Gallery |

| Cyril Mahoney, Trapper |

| Saskatchewan |
A Pictorial History

| Who's Who in furs |
1952 to 1956

| A Century in the Making |
A Big River History

| Wings Beyond Road's End |

| The Northern Trapper, 1923 |

| My Various Links Page |

| Ron Clancy, Author |

| Roman Catholic Church |
A History from 1849

| Frontier Characters - Ron Clancy |

| Northern Trader - Ron Clancy |

| Various Deep River Videos |

| How the Indians Used the Birch |

| The Death of Albert Johnson |

| A Mink and Fish Story |
Buffalo Narrows

| Gold and Other Stories |
Berry Richards