From right to left, an axe, a peeve, and a two man cross cut saw.

From right to left, an axe, a peeve, and a two man cross cut saw.

Following the Napoleonic Wars in Europe from 1803 to 1815, Britain was cut off from its timber supply in the Baltics. Unable to rely on traditional sources of timber, Britain quickly turned to its North American colony as a new supply source. Albert County in particular was well suited to meet this demand, thanks to the geography of the area.

Photo of George & Meredith Bogle using a two man cross cut saw to harvest a spruce tree. Alma, New Brunswick, Canada  1915

Photo of George & Meredith Bogle using a two man cross cut saw to harvest a spruce tree.

Alma, New Brunswick, Canada  1915

Albert County with its large tracts of virgin timber, located on steep hills surrounded by river valleys which empty out into the Bay was an ideal location to harvest timber. By the 1820's a number of rivers had been dammed and water wheels built to power the sawmills. Timber from these mills could be utilized to build wooden ships by local shipbuilding companies or transported by sailing vessels to other markets. Demand for timber grew to the point that the 1851 census for Albert County recorded 97 sawmills operating in the County. Many of these mills were smaller operations with wood being cutwithin a mile or two of the sawmill.

Spruce and Tamarack were two of the species cut down and sent to the mills but White Pine was especially valuable since it was used to make the masts of wooden ships. All settlers of the area since the arrival of the first English and German settlers had been forbidden in their land deeds to cut white pine on their lands. All of the white pine in the province was reserved for the King and his Royal Navy. The men of the area would farm in the summer then in the winter they would leave their families and go to live and work at lumberjack camps in the woods. Timber would be harvested by chopping down trees using an axe, or two men would work together using a two man cross cut saw to fell the tree.

Next the logs would be hauled by teams of horses to the banks of the river.

The logs would then be piled up in large ‘brows' which often covered the entire side of a hill.\

During the spring freshets these logs would be ‘river drove', or floated, down the river to large millponds at the mouth of the river.

In the spring when the water level at the dams up stream had reached a certain level the gates would be hoisted and a wall of water would rush down the river collecting the logs already in the river and hurdling them down stream towards the mill. Men along the river banks would work feverishly to make sure that all the logs piled up in ‘brows' along the river were pushed into the river before the rushing water subsided. This was a very dangerous time, and watch men along the river would yell to the people down river "Dam Water" when the dam waters began to rush. Those who did not hear the cry would soon hear a great roar as a wall of logs and water rushed down stream. Large sawmills at the mouth of the river would then saw the logs into lumber and often load the lumber directly onto sailing schooners docked at the mill.

If that was not possible smaller ships called scows would transport the lumber from the mill to ships waiting to be loaded out in the Bay.

During the 1840's and 1850's, demand for lumber increased and larger operations which could meet this demand began to be established. In Albert County, the major ‘driving rivers' were the Point Wolfe, Alma, Crooked Creek, and Pollett Rivers.

The mills built on these rivers generally sawed from 5 to 6 million board feet per year, compared to the smaller mills in the area which generally sawed a few hundred thousand board feet per year. The largest of these mills was the C.T. White sawmill at Point Wolfe, it operated twenty-four hours a day. By the 1880's most of the bigger mills had converted from water power to steam power. The last ‘river drive' in Albert County was in 1951 on the Alma River. By that time many of the lumbering operations in the area had changed back to smaller ‘portable sawmills' that sawed the lumber close to where it was harvested instead of ‘river driving' the logs over great distances by water to the mills. The sawmills of this era were powered by both steam and diesel/gas engines. The sawed lumber was then hauled by teams of horses or by trucks to the railways or seaports for shipment to market. The end of the era of wooden ships during the early twentieth century greatly reduced the demand for timber. At the same time, the large lumber companies, rather than modernizing timber operations to harvest smaller trees or to harvest timber farther away from the mills, instead shifted operations to the untouched timber lands of Northwestern North America. Although lumbering is still an important part of the economy of Albert County, the days of the great river drives are over.