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 together 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 cookhouse, washhouse, 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!

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!

....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 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 between 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 morning. 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. Depending on the weather, quite often
British Columbia Lumberman, December, 1973

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - (. page break )

about the 15th or 20th of December would be before leaving for town —possibly Vancouver—would find an assortment of Lemon Hart Rum, home-brew beer, and possibly even a little brew from back of the cookhouse stove, all combined to bring high spirits to the town-headed crew. A few months’ long frustrations might come to the minds of some and a resultant fight or two develop. But generally the men simply wanted to drown their sorrows of the long, weary and lonesome months—and just “get the hell out of camp.”
....Travel was by steamer—the “Venture” the “John” or the “Catella,” or one of the dozens of ships that plied the coastal waters out of the port of Vancouver. Small gas-boats would take the loggers down the inlet to the nearest port of call of the steamer. Quite often long delays would occur while the ship fought a storm coming up the coast to pick up the loggers. The Christmas shut-down ships were what would be called —active—once the men were aboard.
....But then there were always a few camps that for one reason or another did not close down for Christmas. The crew would simply keep on logging and possibly take off Christmas day. These were the times that called for a bit of innovation. The cook would always fix up a special Xmas dinner—even to the extent of importing a few candles or oranges or such. The old turkey was never better prepared or devoured in the homes of the nobles than in some of those old float camp cookhouses. The pleasures were simple — but ‘oh’ those cookhouse smells the old turk was being prepared during the day.
....Someone in the crew would always bring a small tree for decoration. The trim may not have been too fancy—a few bits of coloured string, some home-made ornaments out of carved wood, and a bit of this and that, made it into a true Christmas tree that lit up the cookhouse.
....Christmas on the float camp. A bit lonely maybe. The loggers would think of other places or friends. But then loggers got used to being in lonesome inlets and bays. This was never a place for city lovers, but for men that could cut the ties of the big lights and go out in the forest around them and do what they were there to do, get logs—Even at Christmas.
....Loggers and float camps—and a wild rugged wind swept coastline of B.C.—Nice memories at Christmas.
....Keep out of the bight,



British Columbia Lumberman, December, 1973