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History of the Lumber Industry of America
Chapter IV. Canada—Its Commercial Forests

Before taking up in detail the provinces and territories constituting the Dominion of Canada, it is well to review briefly the extent and location of the commercial forests of that country and to discuss various matters concerning the lumber interests of the Dominion as a whole.

The commercial forests of Canada are divided into two great sections—the eastern and the western. The western, which is included in the Rocky Mountain region and on the Pacific slope, will be reserved for detailed treatment in connection with the history of the lumber industry of the Pacific Coast of the United States, with which it is so closely connected and which have been developed together.

These western forests of commercial importance are practically all contained within the Province of British Columbia, the outlying woodlands and forests east and north of the Province being comparatively unimportant. The coast region of British Columbia, however, including Vancouver and other islands, is wonderfully rich in timber resources, probably being excelled in this respect by no section of similar size in the world.

British Columbia includes nearly all the Pacific Coast species particularly treated in the previous chapter. The leading woods are red fir (Pseudotsuga taxi folia), giant arborvitse, or red cedar, western hemlock, bull pine (Pinus ponderosa), Engelmann spruce, tideland spruce, white pine (Pinus monticola), lowland fir (Abies grandis), etc. Between the western and eastern timber regions is the plains country of Alberta, Saskatchewan, etc., which is either open prairie, or a country of scattered groves and trees, or, in the north, a practically continuous forest of subarctic species and characteristics.

The timbered region of eastern Canada stretches in a continuous body from Manitoba east to the Atlantic, and north to Hudson Bay and the northern treeline described in Chapter II. As has before been remarked, there is no dividing line in tree growth between Canada and the United States corresponding to the international boundary, and in all the territory in which grow the commercial forests of Canada, and especially those suited for lumber purposes, the species represented all exist south of the boundary line and, conversely, all, or practically all, of the commercial timbers of the northern United States are represented in the flora of Canada.

If this timber were equal in its quality to the area it covers and to its quantity, it would constitute one of the greatest forests on the globe ; but as it is, with much of it dwarfed by climate and perhaps to some extent by inhospitable soil, it has an enormous quantity of merchantable timber. The most valuable part of these forests consists of white pine (Pinus strobus), red or Norway pine (Pinus resinosa) and spruce.

Formerly there was an almost solid forest of hardwoods in southern Ontario, in that peninsula bounded by Lake Erie, Lake Huron and. Georgian Bay and extending along the northern shores of Lake Ontario, but as these hardwood lands were particularly attractive to the farmer, they have been largely cleared and the result is an agricultural section seldom excelled in its productiveness and beauty. In these early years of the Twentieth Century, therefore, the hardwood resources and production of the Dominion are comparatively insignificant, though there is a considerable quantity of oak, maple, elm, ash, etc., yet remaining. There is still a sufficient supply to meet most of the domestic requirements, though for some of the more exacting classes of industries hardwoods are imported from the United States. Canada formerly exported hardwoods in considerable quantities, but the magnitude of that business has been much reduced.

The Height of Land, which is the dividing ridge or boundary line between the waters which flow into Hudson Bay or into the Atlantic north of the Strait of Belle Isle, and those which by the Great Lakes find their way through the St. Lawrence to the ocean, marks a somewhat clearly defined northern boundary of the most valuable soft woods. South of that line are found white and red pine, hemlock, tamarack, spruce, etc., of sizes which fit them for sawmill use. North of that line white and norway pine practically disappear and other species decrease in size as one goes north until, of commercial woods, spruce of diminished size is left standing in a continuous forest, extending to Hudson Bay—that great inland sea, which has been the dream of navigators, but which is not likely ever to assume large commercial importance—and to the northern treeline of the continent.

The basis of value of the present forests is the white pine, and it is, perhaps, worthy of note that the center of timber value is found in a latitude corresponding somewhat closely to the best growth of white pine in the United States, which was in the lower peninsula of Michigan and in Wisconsin. Within the rough triangle bounded by the Ottawa River on the northeast, Georgian Bay and Lake Huron on the west and Lake Erie and Lake Ontario on the south, grow the finest forests of the Dominion. The pines in former years used to reach well down toward Lake Erie, but they have largely been cut away from that section, as the hardwoods were at a later date. Now this forest of especial value is restricted to the northern portion of this territory, reaching north to Lake Nipissing and the Ottawa River, and beyond.

As one goes in any direction from this favored district, the forests change in character and decrease in value. Going east from the Ottawa River the woodsman finds a decrease in the amount of pine and an increase in the amount of spruce, until below the City of Quebec the vast tulk of it is of the latter species. Perhaps the best spruce of the Dominion is found between the St. Lawrence River and the United States boundary, but there is also much fine log spruce north of the river, though as one goes north it decreases in size. Going north, northwest and west from the Georgian Bay district white and red pine constitute the bulk of the forests all the way to Manitoba, except through a district north of Lake Superior, where they are replaced largely by banksian or jack pine and other inferior timbers, but nowhere do they show such high quality as in the Georgian Bay and Ottawa River districts.

Spruce is the prevailing timber north of the Height of Land and grows in substantially solid forests. It is not, however, in that part of the Dominion, of log size to any great extent, but, nevertheless, constitutes a magnificent supply of pulpwood whose quantity can only be guessed at, but which will probably be sufficient to supply the needs of the world for generations. Comparatively little of that territory has been surveyed and much of it is totally unexplored. Even the latest maps of Ontario, issued by the Crown Lands Department of the Province, represent the course of streams by dotted lines only, indicating that their exact course is a matter of conjecture. While both pine and spruce were found in the original forests of both Ontario and Quebec, Ontario was, emphatically, the pine province and Quebec the spruce province. It is a matter of some dispute as to which of the two has the larger amount of spruce, but there is no question that the Quebec spruce forest is superior in the quality and availability of its spruce supply and particularly in the proportion of it that is of sawlog size.

The Maritime Provinces were originally heavily timbered, with, perhaps, the most dense forests in Nova Scotia.

The present condition of the individual timber resources of the provinces will be treated in connection with the lumber history of each of them, and it is enough to say here that the entire area of Canada south of the Height of Land from the Atlantic to Manitoba was originally covered with commercial lumber timber.

An outline definition of the leading lumber districts of the Dominion of Canada, is as follows: The Nova Scotia district, of which Halifax is the commercial, though not manufacturing, lumber center; the St. John River district, in New Brunswick, of which the center is the City of St. John; the Miramichi district, of eastern New Brunswick, of which Chatham is the center; the Chaleur Bay district, of northern New Brunswick and southeastern Quebec, of which Bathurst, Dalhousie and other points are centers; on the St. Lawrence River, the Quebec district, of which the City of Quebec is the commercial center; the Ottawa River district, of which Ottawa, with its environs, is the chief manufacturing center and Montreal the chief center from the standpoint of export trade; the Georgian Bay district, which includes all the territory draining into Georgian Bay, with many milling points, but its commercial interests most definitely centering at Toronto, and what may be called the western Ontario district, lying to the northwest of Lake Superior, having as manufacturing and commercial centers such points as Port Arthur and Pigeon River.

The commercial forests of Canada have been and are so located that they have been singularly independent, either from a logging standpoint or for marketing their product, of railroads. Indeed, it was not until the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway that the railroad was to any important extent a primary means of marketing the product of Canadian mills; and even today its use is practically confined to the western provinces and territories. The great St. Lawrence water system, reaching from the head of Lake Superior to the Atlantic, with the never-failing streams flowing into it from the north, gives an adequate outlet for the timber and lumber production of Quebec and Ontario, while the Maritime Provinces, with their deeply indented coasts, find marine transportation sufficient.

British North America advanced much more rapidly in respect to the exportation of forest products than did the United States. There were two reasons for this: One was that the forests north of the United States were, relative to population and domestic requirements, much more important than those of the United States ; and, the second, that the ample system of waterways connecting with the Atlantic naturally led Canada to look abroad for its markets, especially as, until within the last fifty years, the market in the United States was almost completely supplied from domestic sources. Indeed, up to the time of the construction of the Champlain Canal, connecting Lake Champlain with the Hudson River, which was completed in 1822, and of the Oswego Canal, connecting Lake Ontario at Oswego with the Erie Canal at Syracuse, N. Y., completed in 1828, timber grown on the St. Lawrence watershed of New York, Vermont and New Hampshire, largely went to Montreal or Quebec and thence abroad.

Not only can the forests of Canada be logged by water, and its mills be located at the mouths of logging streams on deep water, but also the chief markets Of the Dominion, in all that territory from the head of Lake Superior to the Atlantic, can be reached by water. Hence it is that Canada, at the time of this publication, was still pursuing methods of logging and of lumber transportation that largely obtained in the United States until twenty-five years ago, when the development of lumbering operations away from the water courses gradually brought about an increased use of the railroad in that country. British Columbia also is, to a considerable extent, served in its lumber interests by waterways; but there is a vast extent of rapidly developing country lying between Lake Superior and the Rocky Mountains and reaching from the national boundary north to the Peace River, that is dependent upon the railroads for its supply of building material, which must be furnished from the forests of western Ontario or from British Columbia, or to a certain extent from the smaller sized, but still available, timber north of Manitoba.

The following table gives the names of the several provinces and territories of the Dominion, the dates of their creation or admission into the confederation, their land area and total area, and the estimated area remaining afforested in 1904. All the columns relating to areas show variations from other tables, differences in forested areas being due to different estimates, while in the other columns the figures are changed1 from time to time as the boundaries of the provinces and territories are changed or defined, and as the surveys become more accurate :



Date o f

Area in Square Miles.







or Creation.










July 1. 1867





July 1,1867




Nova Scotia.....................................

July 1,1867




New Brunswick.................................

July 1,1867





July 15,1870




British Columbia................................

July20. 1871




Prince Edward Island...........................

July 1,1873










Apr. 12,1876






May 17.18S2






May 17,1882






May 17.1882





Athabaska ......................................

May 17.18S2






Oct 2,1895






Oct. 2.1895






Oct. 2,1895
















An outline sketch of the Canadian provinces and territories, with the distribution of timber in each, compiled from Canadian official sources, is as follows:


Nova Scotia, which embraces 21,068 square miles of land, and New Brunswick, with 27,911 square miles, have large areas of spruce, hemlock, larch, pine, oak, elm, maple, beech and birch. Lumber makes up about two-thirds of their total exports.

Prince Edward Island, lying between the two, is about 150 miles long and much indented by bays. It has an area of 2,184 square miles. Agriculture has progressed in this Province and the remaining timber is chiefly confined to the northern end of the island, where there are small lumbering operations. The woods are the white and the black spruce, larch, elm and oak.

Quebec embraces a land area of 341,756 square miles. The forest

lands are of great magnitude and include most of the staple woods common to the eastern and central states.

Ontario has a land area of 220,508 square miles and a water area of 40,354 square miles. There are large areas of forest.

Manitoba includes 73,732 square miles, of which 64,327 are land. The principal timber is poplar, with some white elm, green ash, box elder and mossycup oak, the latter forming a scrub growth in most parts of the Province. White spruce is also found over a limited area. The trees in the northern part of Manitoba are large enough to be merchantable.

The Northwestern Territories, which adjoin Manitoba, in many respects resemble that Province. They consist of four provincial districts: Assiniboia, with a total area of 88,879 square miles, Saskatchewan, embracing 107,618 square miles, Athabaska, with 251,965 square miles and Alberta with 101,883 square miles. The greater part of the southern portion, from the United States boundary for about two hundred miles north, is flat or rolling prairie, a large part being treeless.

The Province of British Columbia is heavily timbered and contains 372,630 square miles. The heaviest timber growth is found west of the coast range, and embraces an area of 100 to 150 miles wide and 700 miles long. There is little hardwood of any sort.

An interesting review of the lumber resources and situation of Canada was made some years ago by Mr. E. Stewart, Superintendent of Forestry of the Dominion of Canada. It is particularly of value as showing in a graphic way the important place which spruce holds and will continue to hold in the timber resources of the Dominion. While the policy of the Dominion, as expressed in its forest reserves and its method of leasing timber limits, whereby the title to the land is retained by the Government and cutting is done under restrictions, will undoubtedly prolong the productive life of the pine forests and perhaps enable them to contribute in perpetuity to the welfare of the nation, it is spruce which, to the greatest extent, will supply the demand for forest products and under intelligent direction will never be exhausted. Mr. Stewart said in part:

“Though we have lost vast quantities of timber by fire, still Canada undoubtedly stands at the head of those countries from which a future supply may be expected. It is true that our virgin white pine can not last very many years longer, but we have other varieties of great value. In British Columbia we have the Douglas fir, the cedar, the western white pine, and a hemlock very much superior to our eastern hemlock, but above all we have the spruce, the most widely distributed of all our forest trees. If we visit the mills of the Maritime Provinces we find them cutting that timber for export to Europe, and so fast is its natural reproduction in the moist climate of the coast that the same territory can in the ordinary way of lumbering be recut about every twenty years.

“Starting west from the Atlantic in Nova Scotia we find the white and black spruce in all the older provinces and in all the districts of our Northwest Territories, while in the interior of British Columbia another variety, the Engelmann spruce, a very useful tree, is found in great abundance, and west of this and extending to the coast, the giant of this species is found in the Menzies or Sitka spruce,2 which almost rivals in size and utility the giant Douglas fir of the same district.

“Not only is the range of the different varieties of the spruce bounded only by the Atlantic and Pacific on the east and west, but it also extends over more degrees of latitude than any other of our native trees, reaching practically across the whole country from its southern boundary up to the limit of tree growth, in some places extending beyond the Arctic Circle. It must not be inferred that the whole of this vast area is covered with merchantable timber, but on the other hand there can be no question that this country possesses an immense quantity of spruce timber which probably no other country can equal. A very large portion of it is growing on land which, from its rough character and also from its severe climate, is unsuited for the growth of agricultural products and should be kept permanently for the production of timber.

“In addition to the utility of spruce for lumber it is of all varieties the one best adapted for pulp, an article which is now being applied to such a variety of purposes that the demand for pulpwood is enormously increasing every year, and there seems little question that this industry is only in its infancy and that our northern forest regions with the unlimited water power they possess will in the not distant future be the home of important and lasting industries.”

It would be interesting to know what the forest area of Canada means as to total present supply of commercial timber and the annual product which, under favorable conditions and intelligent management, might be expected for the future. Unfortunately, no estimate has been made, nor is likely soon to be made, as to these points that is more than guesswork.

According to the next preceding table, the forest area of Canada, not including Newfoundland and the Labrador Coast, is 1,351,505 square miles, equivalent to about 865,000,000 acres. Such ah area, reasonably well covered with forest, has, in any event, enormous possibilities. If it should be admitted that it will average only 1,000 feet an acre of sawmill timber, the total quantity would be 865,000,000,000 feet. If the long period of 100 years were allowed for cutting this quantity for reproduction, we would have an annual production of 8,650,000,000 feet, or about one-quarter the present output of lumber and timber of the United States and a quantity about fifty percent greater than the output of Canadian mills and of hewn timber in its various forms. But if the period of cutting should be limited to fifty years, as, under intelligent forestry management it could be, the product would be increased to 17,300,000,000 feet annually without deterioration or diminution of the stand. If the estimate should be 2,000 feet of sawmill timber to the acre, the maximum product on the basis of fifty years’ cutting would be nearly 35,000,000,000 feet annually, or more than is now produced by the United States.

Looking at the matter in another way, ignoring the territories, if there be taken the reported forested areas of Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and British Columbia, there would be found a total area of forests of 654,553 square miles, or 418,914,000 acres. An estimate of 2,500 feet per acre of commercial timber would give a total of 1,047,285,000,000 feet, which, on the basis of 100 years’ cutting, is equivalent to the product of 10,472,850,000 feet annually, or, on the basis of fifty years’ cutting, would provide over 20,000,000,000 feet annually.

These speculations are extremely general, but they serve the purpose of pointing out the fact that Canada is enormously rich in timber resources and that the possibilities of long continued production < are almost incalculable. To the estimates of sawmill timber should, of course, be added that timber which is of value in the shape of cord-wood, poles, railroad ties, pulpwood and for miscellaneous uses, local or general.

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