The Forest Around Us



Bill Moore

Christmas and the float camps

There was something about those old float camps—especially near Christmas —that for those who lived in them—will never be forgotten. Call it nostalgia—or the memory of a rather different way of life—but it was a part of the scene on the west coast of B.C. that deserves to be recorded for those who remember.
From Howe Sound to Prince Rupert, hundreds of such floating logging camps existed from the twenties on through to the early fifties. Logs were lashed to-gether with wire rope so they were quite rigid. Then houses were built or moved onto them. Depending on the size of the operation, these floats were then tied to each other and generally held in place to the shore of a quiet bay or inlet, as much out of the winds as possible. Plank walks would be laid on the logs for getting around and hand rails were quite often built near the edges.
In what was typical of so many small to medium sized float camps a cook-house, wash-house, blacksmith shop and bunkhouses made up the little floating village. Sometimes a family house of the owner or foreman plus a couple of employees small shacks would be added to the string of floats. The garbage dump was the saltchuck and the gulls and the crows made short work of anything thrown out that floated.
In the earlier days stoves were fired with wood cut right on the floats. Later with the advent of oil-fired stoves, someone was spared the after-work job of splitting wood for the night. The cookhouse stove always got the choice heartwood, for this place above all else in camp was the number one building. No hotcakes—no crew!
Life was simple on the floats. No luxuries in the bunkhouse—just a row of narrow bunks, a barrelwood heater and the delectable odor of drying socks or

ALBERT MOORE’S Camp in Winter Harbour, Vancouver Island, in 1939. From right to left, the owner’s house, office, cookhouse, wash-house, number five to eight bunkhouses, and on the end is the blacksmith’s shop and the camp tender boat. Bill, son of Albert, now lives in a more luxurious surroundings at Winter Harbour having just completed his ultra-modern house!
Stanfields underwear. Men wore their caulk boots into the Bunkhouse so the wood floors were always slivery for the barefoot midnight wanderer. The toilets were outside—two holers or three holers —and the draft was cold in the winter.
Lights were just coal oil lamps—then came the wonderous Coleman gas lamps with their delicate silk mantles that the big mosquitoes used to destroy, as they buzzed their last flight into the flame. The advent of the small electric power plant was a miracle, for it lit up the outside walkways and dark corners where the unwary used to occasionally fall in be-tween the float logs.
The float camps were towed from inlet to inlet, always being close to the job site. Quite often a floating log tied from camp to shore was the only means of getting to the beach. More than one logger felt the cold sting of salt water as he missed his footing when walking the log to shore on
his way to work on a dark December mor ning. It was a rough way to start the day.
In the warm summer evening the logger could sit outside on the walks or float logs and talk or maybe fish for a perch or codfish. But the rains and the winds of the west coast generally kept them confined to their bunkhouses with cribbage board—a deck of cards—or just laying on their bunks.
It was the habit of most men to go to the camps and put in a pretty long stay, maybe three to six months. The mono-tony was a bit relieved by the hard work and tiredness of the loggers after a day in the woods. As long as the cookhouse turned out good grub, and things weren’t too haywire in the woods, the loggers would stay. Grumble of course—but they’d stay.
But there is a time of year that is remembered by those, like myself, that lived on the floathouses—it was the Christmas season. Most camps closed for at least a few weeks at Christmas. Dep-ending on the weather, quite often about the 15th or 20th of December would be
British Columbia Lumberman, November, 1973

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no avail. Where do we go from here? ....A recent demonstration by concer-ned people was held at the Peace Arch on the border of B.C. and Washington. For this vital issue, about 300 people showed up. What has happened — where are the voices? Possibly beaten down by the rebuffs of the U.S. or the real inaction of our federal govern-ment—or the plain apathy of the public toward this issue.
....And where does the forest industry come into this issue? Is it really their business to take a stand on this issue? Would they suffer if an oil spill from a 120,000 ton tanker occurred as the ship plied the waters (and they will ply daily) of our lower mainland into Puget Sound? Yes, this is where the forest industry of B.C. would feel the effect of an oil spill. For with that large a spill—really unimaginable to our minds—it is hard to estimate the losses in booming grounds alone. Imagine a good southerly storm blowing in the Straits of Juan De Fuca and a tanker spill anywhere near Victoria. Just thirty miles north, lie Duncan and Nanaimo, two of the large pulp mill sites of our forest industry. Inside that thirty mile distance lie innumerable coastal sawmills and booming grounds.
....It does not take too much imagination to see that the disaster that would occur in our waterways could be enormous to our forest industry, to say nothing of all our other coastal industries affected.
....Well, where are the voices of that forest industry on this vital issue? They surely have much at stake—and they surely hold great economic influence in our province. They have friends in Ottawa and in the U.S.A. They have, many of them, parent companies in the U.S. And they have some pretty darned intelligent leaders. So what are they doing? Will they wait like everyone else for the event to happen? Or is the pressure too great on them to really come out—stand in line with the environment-alists and concerned citizens—and fight this issue before it is too late?
....This issue is not similar to the problems of a pulp mills’ effluent or a sawmills smoke. This is a big one—and one spill will do more damage than all the pulp mills and all the sawmills could do in ten years. And it stares us in the face. And it is likely to happen.

....Money is needed to fight this issue. Space should be bought in every major newspaper in the United States to tell those citizens of our fears. Speeches need to be made by men of influence to show our concern. And political parties should be told they will be in

disfavour if they don’t mount a real crusade on this issue. It’s not too late. It’s never too late. It is apparent from the Canadian writers in Washington D.C. that we have not really made an impression of our unanimous dislike for this method of transporting oil in such huge ships. That impression must be driven home to the American people. I think they will respond and pressure their politicians. Therein lies our hopes for our American neighbours just possibly don’t know of the extent of our fears. But it will take money, voices and a determined effort.
....The leaders of our forest industry can help rally that determination and
will receive the thanks of a concerned public And possibly that thanks could come in handy—industry is not always the favoured son these days.
....May we hear from the Council of Forest Industries, the Truck Logger’s Association, Crown Zellerbach, B.C. Forest Co. M.&B. and all the others. Their voices are needed if the forest industry in this forest around us in B.C. is to stand with its people and be counted on this vital issue to us all—the supertankers.

....Keep out of the bight,

British Columbia Lumberman, November, 1973