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History of the Lumber Industry of America
Chapter III. Labrador and Newfoundland

In taking up a discussion of the forest resources and lumber history of British North America it seems wise first to dispose of that comparatively small territory which did not in 1867 enter the Canadian Confederacy and thus become a part of the Dominion of Canada. Newfoundland remained independent, accountable only to the Imperial government and, therefore, with its jurisdictional dependency, the Labrador Coast, will be first considered.


A strip of seacoast 1,100 miles in length and, for the most part, consisting of bleak, rocky, forbidding cliffs opposing themselves to the waters of the Atlantic, comprises the present Labrador, under the jurisdiction of Newfoundland. It lies between the parallels of 52 and 61 degrees north latitude (about), and meridians 55 and 65 degrees west longitude from Greenwich, extending from Hudson Strait on the north, in a southeasterly direction to the Strait of Belle Isle on the south, which separates it from Newfoundland. To the southwest is the northeastern extremity of the Province of Quebec and the territory of Ungava, both of which formerly formed a part of Labrador. Previous to 1895 Labrador1 included all that territory extending from Hudson and James bays and Ontario on the west to the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Atlantic on the east, the southern boundary being the “Height of Land,” but during that year a division was made and the eastern coast strip, comprising about 7,000 square miles, was designated as Labrador, and the region to the west as Ungava, which, being a territory of Canada, will be treated under that head, though often referred to as “the Labrador Peninsula,” in accordance with still prevailing habits of thought.

Hundreds of years before the time of Columbus, Labrador is believed to have been visited by Northmen from Greenland and Iceland. In the year 1000 Leif, son of Eric the Red, started out to find an unknown land, which Biame Heriulfson, sailing from Iceland to Greenland in 986 and being driven by a storm to the south, said he saw. Leif was successful, spent the winter in this new land, explored it and named different regions he visited Helluland, Markland and Vinland. Some investigators believed Helluland to be identical with Newfoundland, while others believe Helluland to have been Labrador or the north coast of Newfoundland, and Markland, Newfoundland. To just what extent these Norse records are to be credited is doubtful. Much of fiction has doubtless been woven in with the truth, as the records were made two hundred years after the voyages. Certain it is that no definite proof has ever been found of the presence of the Northmen on the American continent.

Labrador has the honor of being the first of the American continent to be reached by an explorer in modern historical times. Nearly fourteen months before Columbus on his third voyage saw the mainland of the new world he had unknowingly brought to light, and over two years before Amerigo Vespucci sailed west of the Canaries, on June 24, 1497, John Cabot discovered the western continent by sighting the dreary cliffs of Labrador. It was probably at about 56 degrees north latitude that he made his discovery. He skirted the coast for many leagues, coming also to the island of Newfoundland.

In 1500 Cortereal, a Portuguese navigator, voyaged to Newfound-and and Labrador, and is said to have given its name, which means “ laborers’ land,” to Labrador. This name is accounted for in another way, also : A whaler by the name of Labrador penetrated the country as far as a bay, which, in honor of him, was called Labrador, though it is now known as Bradore Bay. In time the whole coast was given the whaler’s name. Gomez, who sailed from Spain in 1525, while searching all along the coast from the sunny shores of Florida and Cuba to the frozen regions of the north in hope of finding a passage to India, came also to Labrador. But the distinction of being the first to make a landing on Canadian soil is given to Jacques Cartier, who landed at Esquimaux Bay, now called Hamilton Inlet, on June 21, 1534.

The history of the lumber industry of Labrador can be given in a single word, “nil.” Comprising, as this country now does, but a narrow strip of sea coast, made up of rocky cliffs and fringed by many stony islands, and having its shores washed by the chilling Arctic current, which gives it an intensely cold and rigorous climate, there is not much chance for the growth of trees. What few there are have a stunted growth and are of practically no commercial value.

An account of the coast of Labrador was found among some papers of Sir Francis Bernard, governor of the province of Massachusetts Bay at the time it was written. The following is taken from this account: “Captain Henry Atkins sailed from Boston in the ship called the Whale, on a voyage to Davis Strait in 1729. ... As Captain Atkins coasted that main, he found the country full of woods, alder, yew, birch and witch-hazel, a light, fine wood for shipbuilding; also fine, large pines for ship-masts, of a much finer grain than in New England, and of course tougher and more durable, though of a slower growth; and no question but naval stores may be produced here.”

If, as the account says, this is a description of the coast of Labrador, it is very different from a true representation of that region today, and it seems from present indications that this must be a description of another coast passed by Captain Atkins on his journey north.

Practically the only industry of Labrador is its fisheries. During the fishing season thousands of fishermen from Canada, the United States and Newfoundland flock to the Labrador coast. The shore itself is adapted to this pursuit, as it is indented along its entire length by deep fiords and inlets. Cod, herring, salmon and seal are the principal fisheries.


Newfoundland with its dependency, Labrador, constitutes one of the oldest colonies of Great Britain. This may be due to the fact that it is the nearest of any point in the western hemisphere to Europe. In size it is the tenth largest island in the world and contains 42,734 square miles, having an area approximating that of the State of New York. It lies at the entrance to the Gulf of St. Lawrence, in the Atlantic Ocean, between the parallels of 46 degrees 37 minutes and 51 degrees 39 minutes north latitude, and in longitude west from Greenwich between 52 degrees 35 minutes and 59 degrees 25 minutes.

Lying, as it does, so near Labrador, from the southern point of which it is separated, at its northern extremity, by the Strait of Belle Isle, ten miles in width, it is not strange that the dates of its early discoveries and explorations are almost identical with those of Labrador. Newfoundland, like Labrador, is supposed to have been visited by the Northmen in the year 1000, and is thought by some to be the Helluland of Leif. In 1497 John Cabot discovered Newfoundland after touching the Labrador coast to the north. In 1500 Gaspar Cortereal, perhaps using Cabot’s charts as a guide, struck the coast of Newfoundland at a point north of Cape Race, on the southeastern coast. For a number of years after Cortereal’s voyage the English continued sending ships to the island, chiefly for the purpose of fisheries. The Portuguese also established fisheries at about the same time. In 1524 Verrazano, in the interest of France, coasted from North Carolina to Newfoundland. In 1525 Gomez, sailing from Spain, reached Cape Race. Jacques Cartier in May, 1534, touched Cape Bonavista, in latitude 46 degrees north, but, finding the land still covered with snow and the shore icebound, he dared not attempt landing.

Several unsuccessful attempts at colonization were made by England, the first being in 1583. Lord Baltimore, who afterward figured in the history of Maryland, was at last successful in planting a colony on the eastern coast about forty miles north of Cape Race in the year 1623. Immigrants came later from Ireland, and colonies prospered, until by 1655 Newfoundland contained a population of about 2,000, distributed in fifteen small settlements along the east coast. These settlements were made up of fishermen of different nationalities, the French being especially active and having established several colonies. France desired possession of the whole island, but by the treaty of Utrecht, in 1713, Newfoundland and its dependencies were declared to be the possessions of Great Britain. Fishing rights were, however, reserved to the French, which rights have been a matter of dispute ever since.

Newfoundland has never joined the Canadian Confederacy, and though attempts have been made repeatedly toward that end it still remains an independent colony of Great Britain.

The coast of Newfoundland is rugged and rocky, and deeply cut by numerous fiords and bays, which furnish a great number of good har-' bors. The coast is practically treeless, but the interior of the island contains valuable forests, especially in the regions of the rivers. The interior is an undulating plateau traversed by ranges of low hills. Near the western coast is the principal mountain range, known as Long Range, which extends nearly the entire length of the island, reaching far into the northwestern part, which is a long peninsula stretching in a northeasterly direction past the Strait of Belle Isle. This peninsula is believed to be barren for the most part and undesirable for settlement. Newfoundland contains a remarkably large number of lakes and rivers. Most of the larger rivers have their source in the lakes in the interior, taking their courses through many fertile valleys in all directions to the ocean. This interior region has not yet been thoroughly explored, and it was not until later than 1880, when railroad construction was begun, that much was known of its physical characteristics. The largest river is the Exploits, which rises in the southwestern part of the island, flows in a northeastern direction, expands near the central part into the Red Indian Lake, and empties into the Bay of Exploits, an inlet from Notre Dame Bay. This river drains an area of between 3,000 and 4,000 square miles, many parts of the valley through which it flows containing forests of fine pine timber. The largest lake of Newfoundland is Grand Lake, about fifty-six miles long and five miles broad; the next in size is Red Indian Lake, nearly thirty-seven miles long and five or six miles in width.

While the east coast of Newfoundland is practically treeless the interior is well wooded. The following is a list of the principal trees found on the island, given in order, beginning with the one covering the least area, or, in other words, the one whose northern limit is the farthest south:

Sugar maple (Acer saccharum).—Of very limited area. Found on the northern and eastern shores of St. George’s Bay, which is on the west coast just north of the southwestern point of the island.

White elm (Ulmus americana).—Found on St. George’s Bay and on the peninsula stretching to the southwest of the bay, as far as Cape Ray, the extreme southwestern point of Newfoundland.

Black ash (Fraxinus nigra or F. sambucifolia).—Grows over the entire Southwestern Peninsula and to the eastward along the southern shore of Newfoundland.

Yellow birch (Betula lutea).—Grows in the central and southern part of the island, covering about .seventy-five percent of the whole area.

White and red pine (Pinus slrobus and P. resinosa).—Occupy about eighty-five percent of the entire area, being found in all parts except the Northern Peninsula and the northeast coast region.

Balsam fir (Abies balsamea).—Found in all parts of the island except the northern half of the Northern Peninsula.

Paper birch (Betulapapyrifera), aspen (Populus tremuloides), balsam poplar (Populus balsamifera), commonly known as balm of Gilead, and larch (Larix laricina or L. americana), commonly called tamarack, are found in all parts of Newfoundland except the northern part of the Northern Peninsula, the limit of each one extending slightly farther to the north than the preceding one.

Black spruce and white spruce (Picea mariana or P. nigra, and P. canadensis or P. alba).—Found over the entire island except the northeastern extremity of the Northern Peninsula.

It is only recently that the immense timber resources of the forests of the interior of Newfoundland have been made available, owing to the want of means of communication. The island is but sparsely settled, the inhabitants being mainly confined to the neighborhood of the coast, where, until recently, they were engaged almost exclusively in the fisheries. Persons to whose interest it was to keep the inhabitants at the fisheries, represented the interior as a barren waste; however, the exact opposite has been proved to be the truth. The lumber industry has been on a small scale until a few years ago, when it began to develop rapidly owing to the stimulus of railway construction, which opened up some of the best lumbering districts in the interior. The Newfoundland railway, which traverses the entire island from St. John’s, on the Southeastern Peninsula, to Port-aux-Basques, in the southwestern extremity, a distance of 548 miles, was opened for traffic over its entire length in 1898. Sections of it had been in operation for some years before that time, which had done a good deal to develop the lumber trade.

Newfoundland contains large tracts of pine, besides great areas of spruce suitable for pulpwood, and fir which is as tough as spruce and has been found by exhaustive tests to make almost as good pulp. The utilization of fir greatly increases the quantity of timber available for pulp purposes. The principal lumbering districts are the Gander, Gambo and Exploits valleys, and on the west coast the Humber valley and St. George’s Bay district.

The “History of Newfoundland,” by D. W. Prowse, published in 1895, contains the following reference to the progress of the lumbering industry as the result of railway construction :

Although only in operation for one season the northern railway has developed splendid granite quarries and a lumber business which bids fair to be one of the greatest industries of the colony, already consisting of several great mills besides smaller operators and hand loggers whose united turn-out this year [1893] will not be less than 20,000,000 feet of lumber. Botwoodville, owned by the Exploits Lumber Company, of London, will cut 6,000,000 feet of lumber; the Benton mill at Soulis Brook, owned by Mr. Reid, another 6,000,000; the Campbell mill at Terra Nova River, 3,000,000; Sterritt’s mill at Gander Crossing, Glenwood, about 1,000,000. At Gambo there are the five mills of Messrs. John Murphy and Osmond; at Gander Arm, Philips’ mill, with unrivaled facilities for collecting and shipping; Arthur’s mill, and some smaller establishments. The whole cut of timber for the season of 1893 may be safely estimated at 20,000,000 feet, which, at the low average price of $15 a thousand feet, amounts to $300,000.

American capital is transforming the lumber business of Newfoundland. A corporation, The Timber Estates Company, headed by H. M. Whitney, of Boston, Massachusetts, acquired several of the largest properties in the island and in 1904 operated them on a scale unequaled before. George J. Barker, of Boston, acquired another large grant and developed it extensively, and an American syndicate in 1904 began negotiating for tracts on the west coast for charcoal manufacture as well as lumbering operations.

One of the largest operators on the island until he sold to The Timber Estates Company in 1903, was Lewis Miller, a Scotchman, who for a quarter of a century was engaged in lumbering operations in Sweden. Owing to the exhaustion of the supply which he controlled there, he removed his plant to Newfoundland about 1900, erected three large sawmills, built twenty-five miles of branch railway and sidings and constructed the largest lumber wharf in the colony at Lewisport, on Notre Dame Bay, on the east coast. His output of lumber was handled over fifty to seventy-five miles of the Newfoundland railway to this wharf. The product of his mills was principally spruce, but included a quantity of white pine and tamarack. The largest of these sawmills, located on Red Indian Lake and reached by a branch line, twenty-one miles in length, connecting with the Newfoundland railway, employed over three hundred people day and night. It is estimated that the limits which he owned, provided that they escape devastation by forest fires, will yield a yearly cut of 40,000,000 feet for the next fifty years.

Latterly Newfoundland has attracted numerous lumbermen who formerly operated in Nova Scotia, but who have been compelled to abandon or limit their business there on account of the depletion of their limits. Another factor which tends to the growth of the industry in this colony is the great advantage which it possesses over the Maritime Provinces of the Dominion in point of nearness to the European markets, the distance being much shorter than that from the most eastern ports of the mainland.

The enormous pulpwood resources of the island are attracting much attention from British manufacturers, owing to the increasing difficulty experienced by English newspaper proprietors in securing adequate supplies of paper. Alfred Harmsworth & Bros., publishers of the Daily Mail and other journals in London, have secured from the Newfoundland Timber Estates Company, for the sum of $500,000, the pulp concession on 2,000 square miles of timber in the interior, for the establishment of a large pulp and paper-making plant.

Accurate information as to the extent of the lumbering industry of Newfoundland is afforded by the census of 1901, according to which there were, in the year previous, 195 sawmills, valued at $292,790, for the supply of which 1,616,449 logs were cut, the output being 43,648,000 superficial feet of sawn lumber, of the value of $480,555, and 16,197,000 shingles. The number of men employed was 1,408 in logging and 2,408 in the mills.

A comparison with the corresponding figures of the census of 1891 shows the rapid development of the industry during the decade and indicates that in all probability there has been an equal rate of increase during the last few years. In 1890 (census of 1891) the number of sawmills reported was fifty-three, valued at $178,510; number of logs cut, 415,600; output, 13,682,000 superficial feet of sawn lumber, valued at $299,634, and 6,275,000 shingles; number of lumberers employed, 625; number employed in mills, 807. [These statistics include Labrador (as that territory is under the government of Newfoundland),-which at that time comprised what is now the territory of Ungava as well as the present Labrador, the division not having been made until 1895; but the lumber industry in that quarter was and is even yet very limited in extent.]

The cut of lumber in 1904 was by far the largest in the lumber history of Newfoundland, being double that of the preceding year, and was divided among the different mills as follows: Newfoundland Timber Estates, Limited, 40,000,000 feet; New Lands Lumber & Pulp Company, 7,000,000; Botwoodville Mills, 10,000,000; Union Lumber Company, 10,000,000; Grand Pond and Deer Lake, 3,000,000; small mills, west coast, 2,500,000; small mills of White Bay, Notre Dame Bay, Bonavista Bay, Trinity Bay, Conception Bay and southwest coast, 3,500,000; total, 76,000,000 feet. Of this amount 35,000,000 feet was exported, Great Britain being the chief market for it, some going to South America, and the remainder used for local demands. As short a time as fifteen years ago, most of the lumber used in Newfoundland was imported from Nova Scotia and other, Canadian provinces, while now enough is manufactured within its own boundaries not only to supply the home demand but also to ship millions of feet to foreign countries.


Until a comparatively recent date no government dues were exacted from those engaging in lumbering. Subsequently a ground tax of $2 a square mile was imposed with Crown dues of fifty cents a thousand feet on the cut, coupled with the condition that the purchasers of limits must put up a mill and begin manufacturing within one year. In 1903 amendments were adopted making the regulations considerably more stringent. Under the law, as it now stands, timber licenses are issued at a bonus of so much a square mile, the amount being fixed according to location and value, but in no case to be less than $2. In addition, an annual ground rent of $2 a square mile is charged, together with a royalty of fifty cents a thousand feet board measure on all trees cut— except in Labrador, where the royalty is fixed at twenty-five cents a thousand. The licensee is bound to'erect a sawmill of a capacity of 1,000 feet a day for every five square miles in his limit, or, as an alternative, to establish such manufactory of wood goods as may be considered an equivalent. The license may be granted for fifty years or for a longer period if deemed necessary. The licensee is bound to take from every tree cut all the timber fit for use and manufacture the same into sawn lumber or other salable products, to prevent all unnecessary destruction of growing timber and to exercise strict supervision to prevent .fires.

Licenses to cut timber for pulp and paper manufacture may be granted for ninety-nine years or longer for areas of not less than five or more than one hundred and fifty square miles, at a charge of $5 a mile and subsequent payments of $3 a mile a year. The licensee must spend $20,000 in the erection of buildings and machinery. No holder of either a timber or pulp license is allowed to remove for exportation any unmanufactured logs or timber.

Every indication points to a very extensive development of the lumbering and pulp-making industries of Newfoundland in the near future, as, in addition to abundance of the raw material, the island possesses unrivaled water power, cheaper labor than is obtainable elsewhere in North America and a shorter sea voyage to the principal markets than any rival. The principal danger to be feared is that of the destruction of her forests by fire as the country is opened up. It is estimated that the loss in 1904 from this source amounted to about $20,000,000. Unless some better means of meeting this cause of annual loss be adopted than those now in force, it is certain to prove a serious drawback to the anticipated prosperity of the trade.

Forest fires were not unknown in this colony as early as 1818, as the following account of the voyage of H. M. S. Rosamond in that year to Newfoundland and the southern coast of Labrador, given by Edward Chappelle, will show:

“On the third day after our arrival one of our seamen, while employed in felling timber for the ship’s use, was so imprudent as to kindle a fire in the forest, in the hope that, by the smoke, he would probably rid himself and his companions of the innumerable myriads of mosquitoes, which tormented them almost to madness. This scheme succeeded to their utmost wish, and they were rejoicing at their deliverance, when, in an instant, the whole country appeared enveloped in fire! A high wind drove the flames from tree to tree with the rapidity of lightning; and had it not been for the intervention of the river, the whole of the forest must have been inevitably reduced to ashes. . . . The rapidity with which the flames spread in the forests of these countries has been noticed by many early writers.”

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