Logging in Algonquin Park
a reading list

This note comprises a reading list of books pertaining to the history of logging in Algonquin Park and the Ottawa Valley.

The economic history of Canada, until well into the twentieth century, is the history of the fur trade succeeded by the history of the timber trade. The Ottawa River and its valley played a central role throughout this period.

tree hugger with large White pine

Most of Algonquin Park lies within the Ottawa River watershed and its history, traditions and culture are shared with the upper Ottawa Valley. That heritage is based on harvesting the forest. There was no other way. To attempt to eke out a living by farming alone was mostly an exercise in futility.

But logging within Algonquin Park is a contentious issue. Whichever side of the debate you're on, you should be familiar with the history of the Ottawa Valley and logging in what is now Algonquin Park, whether to bolster your arguments against the "tree huggers" or "to know your enemy". Or more constructively, to educate yourself and have a good read. I would like to suggest the following books:

With respect to the authors: Roy MacGregor has been a journalist for more than 30 years and is a columnist for the Globe and Mail. He is the author of several award-winning and best-selling books (including A Life in the Bush). Donald Lloyd was one of the original directors of The Friends of Algonquin Park and served in that capacity for 23 years. He is also the author of Canoeing Algonquin Park, which in my opinion, is the best canoeing guidebook to Algonquin Park currently available. Brent Connelly was one of the first foresters hired to work in the newly established Algonquin Forestry Authority and over the next 25 years until his retirement, he held the positions of area supervisor, operations manager and acting general manager. David Lee worked as a historian for Parks Canada and has published numerous articles on Canadian History. Vernon Price is an old time logger who worked in McCools' Camp on the Schyan — a little remote from Algonquin Park, but representative of the Valley.

The copy below is taken from the books themselves. All of these books are well worth reading. Enjoy!

Dust jacket of a Life in the Bush by Roy MacGregor

Roy MacGregor (2007), A Life in the Bush - Lessons from my Father, Penguin Canada. (first published 1999).

In 1929, at the age of twenty-two, Duncan MacGregor, the son of a lumberman, great-grandson of a voyageur, and an avid reader and baseball fan, headed off into the largest tract of preserved bush in the world: Ontario's Algonquin Park. When he got there, he was home for the rest of his life.

From the true nature of fishing to the harsh realities of raising a family in the woods, from the role of fear in the bush to the small nuances of family relationships, A Life in the Bush is painted on a canvas both vast and richly detailed. A story that captures the tough physical demands, the rich life of the senses, and the unselfconscious freedom that comes from living apart from town and city.

In this beautiful crafted memoir of his father, Roy MacGregor paints an intimate portrait of an unusual man and spins a spellbinding tale of a boy's complex relationship with his father. He also evokes, perhaps for the first time in Canadian literature, the bush the way bush people see it, an insider's view of life in the totemic Canadian wilderness.

Dust jacket of Algonquin Harvest by Donald L. Lloyd

Donald L. Loyd (2006), Algonquin Harvest — The History of the McRae Lumber Company, published by Robert D. McRae, Whitney.

From the forward by Roy MacGregor:
... What Don Lloyd has done is to bring those places back into focus and the people back to life. He has written a living history that is filled with character and drama and which, like the best of stories, carries well beyond the last page. While at first glance, this may seem like the story of a single lumber operation, it is so much more than that: it is the story of an industry, the story of a province — and most of all — the story of all of us who have been touched, and in many ways, formed by Ontario's glorious Algonquin Park.


All of this has been captured by Don Lloyd: the history, the tensions, the resolutions, the future. He has written a book that speaks to those who work in the park as well as to those who play in the park. He has given a crash course in the history of logging and in the methods of logging, but he has done so in such a way that you do not feel you are learning. If the best that can ever be said of a book is that it is a good read, then this is a good read indeed.

Dust jacket of Holy Old Whistlin' by Brent A. Connelly

Brent A. Connelly (2006), Holy Old Whistlin' — Yarns About Algonquin Park Loggers, General Store Publishing House, Renfrew.

The snow was axle deep to a ferris wheel, so we had to shut down the logging operation and go home — unknown Algonquin Park Logger.

Tall trees and tall tales — that's life in the Bush and Brent Connelly wouldn't have it any other way. A forester for nearly forty years, Brent was never happier than when in the company of loggers and truck drivers, timber cruisers and cookees — especially when the office was his beloved "Algonquin Park". And after a long, hard day nurturing and harvesting the forest, what better way to spend the evening than back at the bunk house with a mug of tea, a piece of warm raisin pie, and a session of storytelling.

Jack McRae, Duncan MacGregor, Johnie Shaw, Walter Dombroski, Joe Bird, and Ray Townsend are just some of the "rogues and rascals" whom Brent Connelly has gathered around the stove to share a laugh and shed a tear. Because, by the "holy old whistlin'", there hasn't been a good day in the lumber business "not since Noah went on a shopping spree to build himself an ark".

Dust jacket of Lumber Kings & Shantymen by David Lee

David Lee (2006), Lumber Kings & Shantymen — Logging and Lumbering in The Ottawa Valley, James Lorimer & Company Ltd, Toronto.

The mythical image of the rough and rugged lumberjack looms large in Canadian History. Shantymen working in the woods through the harsh winter, axemen felling mighty trees and the great log drives downriver are keys to Ontario's history in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The Ottawa Valley was home to one of the world's richest coniferous forests, which gave rise to flowing timber, lumber, and pulp and paper industries — and a major theme in Canadian social and cultural history.

Lumber Kings and Shantymen follows the Ottawa River from the economic hub of Montreal through the rapidly developing cities of Ottawa and Hull, and out to the settlements of Arnprior, Renfrew and Pembroke. The book chronicles Philemon Wright's timber fortune, the rapidly growing pulp and paper industry, and the government that grew around these industries.

It also tells of the people who built the industry with their own hands: The French and Irish shantymen and lumberjacks who spent their days weathering harsh conditions and dangerous jobs, and who had a reputation for going to town for drinking and brawling.

Examining both the businesses and the people, as well as their environmental impact on the region's natural resources, Lumber Kings & Shantymen explores a fascinating period of Canadian History.

Dust jacket of Logging on the Schyan by Vernon Price

Vernon Price (2000), Logging on the Schyan, General Store Publishing House, Renfrew. (first published 1986).

On September 22, 1938, Vernon Price took a boat from Deep River, Ontario across the Ottawa River to the Depot on the Quebec side where the Schyan River enters the Ottawa. Hitching a ride on a tote wagon which delivered supplies to a number of lumbering camps along the Schyan, the enterprising 22-year old arrived at Willie McCool's Camp and was taken on.

Logging on the Schyan is a collection of memories and photographs of that winter's logging.

Dust jacket of Finer than Hair on a Frog by Brent A. Connelly

Brent A. Connelly (2007), Finer than Hair on a Frog — More Yarns about Loggers and the Like, General Store Publishing House, Renfrew.

I mind the time I was snowshoeing through some timber in an area north of Splashy Lake when I came across an albino bull moose. I would have run right into the potlucker, if I hadn't spotted his red tail flashing in the sun. — A bunkhouse yarn.

The plates are scraped and the smokes are lit, so it's time to pull up a chair in the old bunkhouse and swap some tales. Storyteller extraordinaire Brent Connelly is back with more yarns about life in the bush. This time, in addition to his beloved Algonquin Park, Brent takes us north to Algoma and east to the Laurentians, not to mention "inbacka" a few other places in between. Familiar characters Jack McRae and Johnie Shaw, pop in for a word or two, while new faces such as Tony Vorlicek, Art Chapman, Charlie Downing and Davis MacVicar, set themselves down and make themselves at home. For as Brent says, "You know that you are having a good day day when you are greeted by somebody that tells you they are finer than hair on a frog."

This collection will have you getting out your magnifying glass, it's so fine.

Dust jacket of Great Forests and Mighty Men by David Lee

David Lee (2007), Great Forests and Mighty Men — Early years in Canada's vast woodlands, James Lorimer & Company Ltd, Toronto.

Shantymen, river drivers, timbermen, and lumber barons lived in a wilderness where trees stretched as far as the imagination. These men possessed mythic strength and daring, and were immortalized in folk song and tale. The colourful and dangerous days of loggers and lumbermen in the old-growth forests of Ontario, Quebec, and the Maritimes are explored in this richly illustrated account of their lives.

David Lee describes the work in shanties and camboose camps, in thew woods, on the river, and in the sawmills. With more than 100 illustrations, many in colour, Great Forests and Mighty Men is a very human history of almost of almost legendary figures.

Also of interest:

K.A. Armson (2001), Ontario Forests — A Historical Perspective, Fitzhenry & Whiteside, Toronto.

Joan Finnigan (2004), Life Along the Opeongo Line — The Story of a Canadian Colonization Road, Penumbra Press.

Robert Legget (1975), Ottawa Waterway, Gateway to a Continent, University of Toronto Press.

Donald MacKay (1978), The Lumberjacks, McGraw-Hill Ryerson.

Roderick Mackay (1996), Spirits of the Little Bonnechere, The Friends of Bonnechere Parks.

Jennifer Mercer (1998), Staying the Run, A History of the United Townships of Rolph, Buchanan, Wylie and McKay, The Rolph, Buchanan, Wylie and McKay Historical Society.

I.C.M. Place (2002), 75 Years of Research in the Woods, A History of Petawawa Forest Experiment Station and Petawawa National Forestry Institute, General Store Publishing House, Renfrew.