Search just our sites by using our customised site search engine

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Click here to learn more about MyHeritage and get free genealogy resources

History of the Lumber Industry of America
Chapter XXI. Nova Scotia—Lumber History

Nova Scotia was the first settled of any of the Canadian provinces, a colony being established at Annapolis, then Port Royal, as early as 1605. At that time and for long afterward it was noted for the density of its forests ; and, in fact, it was over two hundred years before roads were cut through it for any distance into the interior, the settlements being confined to the coast and the land accessible by the rivers. One hundred years ago the country was heavily timbered with spruce, pine, hemlock, fir, poplar, hackmatack and various hardwoods—white birch, yellow birch, red birch, maple, beech and oak.

The lumbering industry was actively pursued in Nova Scotia at a time when the sister Province of New Brunswick, then included within her limits, was an unpeopled wilderness. A return of the several townships of Nova Scotia January 1, 1761, reported among the industries then extant thirty-one sawmills with an aggregate output of J^271,000 feet.of lumber. The first exports were to the United States on a very limited scale, and at a later date a large trade in lumber was built up with the West Indies, under the stimulus of which the industry rapidly developed. The demand for shipbuilding purposes was another factor in encouraging the production of timber.

Joseph Bouchette in his descriptive work, “The British Dominions in North America,” published in 1832, writes as follows regarding conditions in the trade during the early part of the century:

“There are sawmills in every district of the Province, and even as far back as 1785 there were ninety of them in the country. The number has been vastly increased since that period. The quantity of lumber prepared and exported is momentous, and it is considered as good here as in any other part of America. Shipbuilding is carried on to a great extent in every part of the Province. In the ship yards of the peninsula alone there were built in the year 1826 131 vessels containing 15,535 tons, and in 1828, ninety-four vessels containing 6,560 tons. The average quantity of shipbuilding is not less than 10,000 tons per annum, principally sloops, schooners and vessels for the fishery.”

Dr. Abraham Gesner, writing of the “Industrial Resources of Nova Scotia,” in 1849, deplores the tendency of the timber trade to divert the attention of the settlers from agriculture, asserting that, owing to the inducements it held out, thousands of farms had been abandoned or neglected. “ In drawing away great numbers of the active part of the population to the backwoods,” he writes, “ agriculture has languished and the general prosperity of the country has been retarded.”

During those palmy days of the trade every river and log driving stream was followed to its source and the timber cut away after the reckless and improvident fashion of that time. Until, indeed, a comparatively recent period the operators in the Province have in the main followed the policy of making a thorough clearance of all merchantable timber in sight. In this respect they did not differ much from operators elsewhere and, under the conditions then prevailing, had every inducement to realize the resources of their holdings as rapidly as possible, owing to the frequency and extent of forest fires, which usually follow lumbering operations and the progress of settlement, destroying what the ax spares. Later there was a law covering forest protection, but until recently there had been no enforcement of the act.

The destruction of the forests was accelerated by the system of land grants and the readiness of the Provincial government to part, for a very trifling consideration, with the fee simple of large areas of the public domain, the policy in the early history of the country being to get it settled at any cost. Grants were made of large areas to private individuals, and a large number was issued to soldiers to take up wild land. These extensive holdings, secured by the early settlers, usually ran back from the river front near which the farms were located, including a large area of timbered land on the higher ground to the rear, the lots frequently having a depth of several miles. As the timber remaining increased in value it was utilized by small portable sawmills moving from one place to another wherever a cut of a few thousand feet could be secured.

Outside of these individual holdings was a large tract of timber in the interior divided by a watershed running east and west. Here, as in other localities, extensive grants have been made from time to time to large operators, railway companies, etc., until nearly the whole, of the timber land has passed out of the hands of the Government.

Nova Scotia offers an excellent field for forestry operations, as the producing farm lands lie in the valleys, while the foothills and the interior are nonagricultural in character and will always be more valuable for the production of timber than for any other purpose. Forests naturally reproduce themselves more rapidly in Nova Scotia than in almost any other section of the country, due to natural conditions favorable to tree growth.

Owing to the length of time the country has been settled and to the destructive and improvident methods of lumbering pursued, the timber resources, once so great, have been largely exhausted. Cape Breton Island, which forms a portion of the Province, has practically no spruce timber that would make deal stock, though it has considerable hardwood. In the remainder of the Province the area of good timber land is" estimated at about 2,700,000 acres. In an official statement of some years ago, the average stumpage* of the timber lands was estimated at about 2,000 superficial feet an acre of merchantable spruce, 1,500 feet of hemlock and 500 feet of hardwood. This would make about 5,400,000,000 feet of spruce, 4,050,000,000 feet of hemlock and 1,350,000,000 feet of hardwood; but as cutting has been going on steadily in the meantime, it is safe to make a considerable deduction from these figures. This computation was made as an average over the whole territory, as some lands yield only spruce, some hemlock and others hardwood, while in some sections all are to some extent intermingled.

When cutting first began it was almost entirely confined to the white pine, which has now practically disappeared with the exception of some tracts in western Nova Scotia and a scattered young growth which, if preserved, may become valuable some day. Spruce is the mainstay of the Province. The old growth of spruce is confined to the holdings of large operators and scattered tracts in the remoter sections. The average timber is straight and of good size and height, usually produc-j ing three or more logs to each tree. The new growth of the Province is largely spruce and will grow to cutting size in thirty to forty years. ' The pulp mills are taking much of the small spruce, and in addition there is a large export to South America of spruce one inch by two inches up, and two inches by three inches up, for which the small trees are cut. Conservative operators cut down trees twelve to thirteen inches at the butt, or larger, leaving the others standing. With proper care in sawing the very young trees and bushes, they are able to go over these lands every seven to ten years for a new crop, making the yield practically perpetual. Although there is a supply of extra good spruce for pulpwood, this industry had not been developed until recently ; now, however, pulp operators are seeking timber areas in the Province, owing to reasonable prices for lands, large bodies of timber to be secured and favorable water conditions for power to operate and develop mills.

Until a recent period, hemlock had not been largely manufactured and little use had been made of the bark. There are now large tracts of hemlock that command attention and, with the advancing prices of bark, they will be a valuable asset to the lumberman. Fir has been largely killed by insects, but is used to some extent for cooperage. There is practically no cedar. The hardwood as a rule grows mixed and, except in a few localities, pays only to cut as it runs. Birch of the white and yellow varieties, maple and beech are abundant. Oak is scattered, the principal growth being in Queens, Lunenburg and Shelburne counties. There is a scattered growth of poplar of small size, which is cut for pulp and staves. There is practically no elm, and but little ash. Until the present time hardwoods have not been cut for export, except for the English market in moderate quantity. But there has been and still is a large annual cut used for firewood, both locally and for export to the United States, and hardwood is also extensively used for shipbuilding. In the eastern end of the Province there are extensive tracts of birch in Guysborough County, and in the western country hardwood is distributed all through the green wood, much of it being old growth of good proportion. The extension of the railways will make these hardwoods more accessible and will probably lead to a large cutting within a short time.

As the policy of Nova Scotia until recently has been to sell the public lands in fee simple, making no distinction between timber producing and agricultural lands, there are no government dues payable on the cut of timber and no returns made to the Provincial government regarding the annual output. An important change was made in the law in 1899 ,by which it was provided that, instead of granting the lands as theretofore, the Government may issue leases, for the purpose of cutting and removing timber only for the period of twenty years at not less than forty cents an acre for the term, subject to renewal. It was furthermore provided that in case of more than one application for the same tract the lease may be put up to competition and go to the highest bidder. The lessee is entitled to take all timber of not less than ten inches diameter. Leases may be made at fifty cents an acre for the same term permitting the cutting of timber not less than five inches in diameter, and the Government is empowered to lease on other terms where the land is of inferior quality and the lessee is prepared to expend money in the erection of pulp mills, etc. The Government is also authorized to repurchase at not more than twenty-five cents an acre land previously granted for lumbering purposes.

This legislation unfortunately comes too late to have much effect in preserving the government timber resources of the Province, as the area of valuable timber lands remaining under the control of the Government is inconsiderable. In 1903 only 1,464,726 acres of land of any description remained ungranted, of which only five percent was timbered, most of it being a poor description of wild land.

The receipts from Crown lands in Nova Scotia in 1904, left an actual surplus of $13,235.65 after expenses of $10,645.51 had been paid. This $10,000 item includes, as usual, all the cost of surveys, although under a recent act this cost has to be borne by the applicant. The sum received from these new sources has been placed in the treasury of the department. During 1904 no very large leases were issued, there being none of over 10,000 acres, and nearly all of them were issued to persons actually engaged in the lumber business.

The timber of Nova Scotia is now owned by private individuals and corporations. It is estimated that about one-half the wooded lands is in the possession of large holders. The other half is owned by settlers and consists of small holdings of under a thousand acres. The larger holdings are being added to, and their position has been much strengthened during the last two or three years. The owners also control valuable water privileges and shipping facilities. The lands are situated on rivers where there is an opportunity to drive logs to the mills, and, in many cases, to tide water, where they are manufactured and shipped. There is excellent water power all over the Province, sufficient for lumbering and pulp and paper mills. A logging railway is now under construction near Bridgewater to be operated by the Davison Lumber Company, Limited. Many of the rivers furnish water power for electric light, so that manufacturing is no longer confined to the hours of daylight.

As has been mentioned already, there was a law in Nova Scotia regarding the protection of forests from fire, but it was not enforced. The lumbermen’s association of western Nova Scotia, with the help of the boards of trade, has succeeded in having this law amended so that it can be enforced, and, consequently, there has been decided improvement in this regard. It is now believed that it is possible to prevent large forest fires in the future. If this is done there is no doubt but that the growth of wood in Nova Scotia is going to increase the available timber within a short time. The amended law provides for a chief fire ranger in each county who has the privilege of appointing under him other rangers to assist him in his duties. These rangers are periodically to go over their timber district and put out all fires that may occur, and the chief ranger makes a report of each year’s work to the Government. This special work is paid by government salary to the head official, and the municipality pays for the work done. The holders of timber lands in each county owning 1,000 acres and over each are taxed one-fourth cent an acre. This is a special tax levied for the purpose of controlling forest fires, and is paid into the municipality. It is probable that in ordinary seasons this special tax will cover the cost of protection. Any balance left over goes to the credit of the funds ,* but, in case this tax is not sufficient, the municipality is to pay any deficit £hat may occur. The act regarding forest fires has been enforced in the municipalities of Annapolis, Digby, Clare, Yarmouth, Shelburne, Queens, Lunenburg, Colchester and Pictou, where chief rangers have been appointed.


Among lumbermen of Nova Scotia worthy of especial mention is E. D. Davison. He was the founder of the firm of E. D. Davison & Sons, Bridgewater, Nova Scotia, and died in the summer of 1902, in his fifty-seventh year. He was one of the most extensive operators in the Province of Nova Scotia, and is said to have built in 1845 the first steam sawmill erected in the Province. The firm held 200,000 acres of timber lands on branches of the Lahave, Medway and Nictau rivers, where its operations were principally carried on. Mr. Davison spent his lifetime in the trade and was regarded as one of the best authorities in Nova Scotia on all matters connected with lumber and forestry. He took a keen interest in public affairs and was mayor of Bridgewater and representative of Lunenburg County in the Nova Scotia Legislature. In 1903, the business, then known as E. D. Davison & Sons, Limited, was purchased by J. M. Hastings and associates, of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania.

Lewis Miller, a large owner of lumber mills in Scotland and Sweden, finding that his forests in the latter country were becoming exhausted, turned his attention toward British America in 1900. He purchased extensive forests near the center of Newfoundland and at Glenwood and

Red Indian Lake in that colony he built large mills. Upon the receipt of a tempting offer from an American syndicate in 1903, he sold out his Newfoundland interests. In October of the same year he transferred his operations to Nova Scotia, where he purchased the properties of the Dominion Lumber Company, comprising a mill at Ingram Docks, twenty-five miles from Halifax, and 80,000 acres of timber lands. He began operations in June, 1904, and manufactures extensively for the British market. Mr. Miller was born in 1848 at Crieff, Perthshire, Scotland.

The St. Croix Lumber Company, of Hartville, Nova Scotia, was incorporated in December, 1903. The concern began operations by purchasing the mills and limits of T. G. McMullen, of Hartville. The limits comprise 30,000 acres of first class timber lands, heavily covered with pine, spruce, hemlock and birch. David McPherson, the president of the company, was born in Shelburne County, Nova Scotia, in 1834, of Scotch parents. On attaining the age of manhood he went to Halifax and began work as a shipbuilder, soon building up a large trade in the construction of wooden ships, which he owns and runs to this day. At the age of thirty-five he became interested in public affairs, and was shortly afterward elected to the city council of Halifax. Since then he has twice been elected mayor—1892-8. In 1898 he entered the Provincial House and soon distinguished himself, being appointed a member of the Cabinet of Nova Scotia in 1900.

Return to Book Index Page

This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.