The following article was published in "The Ottawa Journal" newspaper. A copy was forwarded by my Lanark cousin, David James McLaren, and is undated. It is transcribed here. I have highlighted the McLaren name throughout.
The lumberman "Peter McLaren" mentioned in the article is Senator Peter McLaren, a direct descendent of both our original John and Peter McLaren (because his parents were first cousins, children of John and Peter). Also mentioned is Senator Peter's cousin, David McLaren, who was the second son of "Big" Peter, grandson of the original Peter, and grandfather to cousin David James.
Early Eighties One of Most Strenuous Periods in Development-Rival Factions on Mississippi-Boyds, McLarens, Gilmours and, McLachlns Make History.
By HOWARD NOYES.
A MERE half 'century ago lumbering was one of the greatest industries of the Ottawa Valley. Those were days of grim struggle with the elemental forces of nature. Face to face as they were with the wind, the snow, the storms and river-currents, the shantymen learned to feel the very pulse of nature. They developed an alertness of mind, a keenness of perception, and a broad human sympathy which stamped many of them as nature's gentlemen.
Between employer and employee there was often developed a strong bond of loyalty which would shame our modern factory system. Men long associated with a firm would follow their leaders with blind, unreasoning loyalty, even though they might not understand the cause of a dispute between them and their rivals.
Picturesque indeed was the life of a lumberman. If he knew how to estimate the amount of timber in any given area he might be sent as a timber "cruiser." These men went into the virgin forest-new timber limits; they noted the size and density of the timber, and chose suitable locations for shanties, taking into consideration the convenience to the rivers, suitability for securing supplies, and other like factors.
During the next summer or early autumn the advance gang would break into the new limits, and pitch their tents, where later the "shanty" was to rise. With characteristic energy they set about making improvements-dams, slides and sluiceways to be used the coming spring. The dams were to retain water on which logs might be floated when the spring freshet came in all its violence and flood. The slides, sometimes even a. quarter of a mile in length, were for the timber to pass through as it floated on its long journey down stream through rivers and lakes to its far-off destination. Sluiceways were means of letting out excess water. They were fitted with stop logs, which were taken out or replaced by chain "wenches" as occasion arose.
It was quite natural for the idea to grow up and become generally accepted that any timber-owner who improved a stream for lumbering purposes might look upon it as his private property. Frequently the "owners" considered that they had the right to prevent others from using their "improvements," or at least to charge for them.
When they had carefully completed the necessary dams, sluiceways and slides, the advance gang carved out the required main roads through the forest wilderness and set about the construction of the shanty-their winter abode. This was an extensive building erected with large logs notched and fitted together at the corners. Chinks between the logs were fitted with splints of cedar or pine, and the smaller spaces stopped with moss from the forest trees and lightly "caulked" to repel the cold winds of winter. The roof was covered with "scoops"-flat timber six inches thick with one side scooped out. They were fitted alternately, concave and convex, forming what was called a "scoop" roof.
The shanty served as a common room where perhaps fifty stalwart shantymen would pass the long winter evenings. A spacious "camboose," or open fireplace, served for both heating and cooking. Piles of four-foot logs fed its great flames which leaped skyward, shedding a warm rosy glow over the bronzed faces. Sand placed beneath the fire served a unique purpose. The heated sand was scooped up and placed at the corner of the "camboose" to serve as a sandpit; in this beans, bread and other "shanty delicacies" were placed to bake. At one corner of the camboose stood the "cremiere," a post fitted with an arm from which were suspended pots for heating other food.
Along the sides of this great room were placed two tiers of bunks where the men slept soundly, each wrapped in his blanket. In front of the lower bunks was a low bench. Here they ate their meals or played cards, or sang when the day's work was over. The "Van" or store, usually situated in the centre of one side of the shanty, was the distributing centre for merchandise. It supplied articles such as socks, mitts, moccasins, tobacco, patent medicines. The cook's headquarters were at one end of the shanty, or near the "Van."
The roaring blaze of the huge camboose reflected its fitful glare on scenes that have passed with those bygone days-the evening meal with its pork, beans, molasses, huge slices of bread, devoured heartily by rough-clad, rugged men. There followed the grinding of axes, the filing of saws, and other preparations necessary for the strenuous work Of the next day. Here and there groups of two, or sometimes four, became absorbed with games of two-hand euchre, as they sat astride the bench. Occasionally bets for tobacco enlivened the sport. Someone might "fiddle," or provide a mouth-organ selection. The loud applause would be followed by "Come on, Dick-give us a song!"
If Dick refused, Tom or Harry or Mac would be persuaded to strike up the "Com' All Ye," a universal shanty song, or "Johnnie Troy," "The Black Velvet Band," .or some other old-time, favorite. A real spirit of comradeship was developed. Rough and unpolished as they often seemed, underneath their mackinaws were usually kind, loyal and generous hearts
The winter work consisted chiefly of cutting, skidding and hauling logs. At the end of March came the break-up season. Those men who were retained for spring work moved to a spring shanty and used the recess to make pike poles, handspikes and other small instruments used in their work. Most important of all were the cribs. There were three kinds of cribs-cooking, sleeping and kedging cribs. When the ice was all cleared, it was a sight to see these three followed by a large boom of logs slowly kedging their way across a lake. In the few moments of leisure, the crew beguiled the time by singing, playing cards, or swapping stories and experiences
From the dimness of those rugged days two gigantic figures stand out-the two Lumber Kings of the Mississippi. Many a tale of the old days is centred about them. Both were Scottish and both had in their natures a trace of the stern hardness of the granite of their native land.
Boyd Caldwell (Sr.) was born at Lochwinnoch, Scotland. His was a stalwart, commanding figure. His face, usually pleasant, could become very stern on occasion, and the shrewd twinkle of his eye bespoke the keen business mind which successfully directed a huge enterprise, and yet won obedience, industry and loyalty from those under his command.
His one-time foreman and later rival was Peter McLaren-the late Senator McLaren-a man of medium height, wiry build, and ruddy complexion. Peter was a shrewd, hard-headed business man with a strong and rugged personality. Yet he, too, won in an amazing degree the unswerving loyalty of his employees.
Like all lumber kings of the period, each had his "agent" or general manager. These important and responsible positions were usually held by men of outstanding personality. For many years Peter McLaren's agent was his cousin, David McLaren, an outstanding figure of remarkable physique and of trained intellect-one who through his native ability and oratorical powers was a real leader.
One of Boyd Caldwell's most remarkable managers was John Johnston, a man from Glengarry; under him worked as foreman Larry Frost, a giant in stature, and the daring son of a Hudson Bay factor, whose presence confirmed the general belief in his prowess and strength.
For years Peter McLaren had been Boyd Caldwell's foreman. The Crimean War was indirectly responsible for changing these allies into keen business competitors. The bottom had quite dropped out the lumber industry and many old firms sold out. Among them was Gilmour's, of Ottawa, one of the oldest and strongest lumber firms of Canada. Boyd Caldwell went to Ottawa hoping to purchase this timber limits. At "Grahams," a favorite rendezvous of the lumbermen he met Gilmour's agent--the father of Col. J. E. deHertel, of Perth. As an old friend of Caldwell's, he gave him sound advice, telling him not to buy as the future of the lumbering industry was too uncertain. Some little time afterwards the Gilmour limits were sold to Mr. John Gillies, an Ottawa man of means. As he lacked technical knowledge of the lumbering game, Gillies took Peter McLaren as his partner. The end of the Crimean War brought a great boom in the lumbering industry, and the new firm prospered beyond all expectation. In time the partnership was dissolved and McLaren gained control of the upper Mississippi. He improved it with up-to-date dams, sluiceways and slides.
This work completed, he controlled the district with firm but liberal hand. No other timber owner was permitted to bring down logs through his improvements, without Peter's consent. If they attempted to do so, they would find themselves in difficulties.
Senator Skead of Ottawa, lumberman, sold out his limits in the Mississippi to Boyd Caldwell and McLaughlin Bros., of Arnprior. Later when the new firm wished to float logs down from the upper reaches of the Mississippi, McLaren's refusal to permit the use of the stream and his improvements, led to a momentous conflict. The case was taken to the Supreme Court of Ontario, later to the Supreme Court of Canada, and finally to the Privy Council. It became a matter of Dominion vs. Provincial control, as Sir Oliver Mowat championed the Caldwell view, and the Dominion courts supported McLaren. The two leading lumbermen became famous throughout the Dominion, and out of their dispute grew our present Rivers and Streams Act, passed in 1884.
While the whole question on the use of streams by various timber owners was a subject of sharp dispute, and injunctions preventing the use of the streams were common, much excitement arose and many an interesting incident took place. One example will suffice.
Caldwell's wished to get logs from Rugged Chutes over High Falls while an injunction preventing their doing so, was temporarily lifted. But the water was shut off above them, and they seemed beaten. The late T. B. Caldwell and a few of his men wished to go up to Crotch Lake to pull out the stop logs and release the needed water. They drove up to Ompah for rope to use in pulling out the logs, then tried to borrow a boat from people in the vicinity. All were loyal McLaren supporters and refused to lend a boat.
Waiting till darkness fell, Caldwell and his men appropriated a boat and used it. All night long the five men rowed across Crotch Lake. Just at dawn on a May morning they came in sight of the dam. On each side of it were McLaren men on guard-but all sound asleep! Led by T. B., they tip-toed cautiously over their sleeping rivals, mounted the dam, and began to haul out the stop logs. The noise aroused the sleeping McLaren group, and they prepared for an instant rush to sweep off the small number of intruders. But owing to the narrowness of the passage a few could easily hold he dam against a larger number. In doubt, the leading sentry went for Mr. David McLaren. Back he came leading a formidable army of 25 stalwarts, armed with peevies. But so great was their respect for the law and their desire to avoid bloodshed, that David McLaren restrained his followers, even though they had to watch their labor of weeks being destroyed.
When T. B. Caldwell and his men had destroyed the usefulness of the dam, it was almost evening. The silence was tense and seemed fraught with possibilities of bloodshed, as they left the dam and began to walk to their boat. But with remarkable self-control Mr. McLaren checked his group, and no blow was struck.
All such incidents, however, did not end so happily, and fighting and feuds were common between the different factions. Often the McLaren groups were victorious and in turn the Caldwells, until the whole dispute was definitely and amicably settled by legislation.
Time, that greatest of healers, took away the bitterness engendered at the time of the conflict and the two leaders lived in the same district as friends for many years.
Today the warmest of friendships exist between the descendants of these two fine old Lanark pioneers, and both are justly proud of the great part their sturdy ancestors played in the development of Ontario and the Dominion.
Return to the Clearing the Trees page - or - return to A McLaren Migration homepage.
This site, A McLaren Migration, is maintained by David J. McLaren.
Updated March 28, 2021
Copyright © 2021 David J. McLaren, all rights reserved.
Commercial use of the material on this site is prohibited.