here was no other time of year
quite like it. Everyone in camp got edgy and would count the days –
some even the hours. For the Christmas shutdown, a few days before Christmas,
in the float camps up and down the B.C. coastline was a special event.
Something like being sprung from jail!
....I’m talking now about those far
away days of the 1930s and 1940s – and even the very early 1950s,
when a logger’s stay in camp could be from 10 months to four months.
Anything less than that was not to be taken too seriously by the old-timers
in camp. Yes, a nice six-month stake could tide a fellow over the first
two weeks in the big city – that is – if he were careful.
....Shutdowns depended on the weather and
the market – but in a normal year without a big dumping of snow
in early December, most coastal camps would close about a week before
Christmas and re-open three to four weeks later – again depending
....Most of the inlet float camps did not
have families living in them – or if they did there were only
a few. There was the excepted one like the floating Holberg camp of
the B.C. Pulp and Paper Co. – that had a big crew plus quite a
few floating family houses – or shacks. It was called the world’s
largest floating logging camp.
....Of course there were other shutdowns
in other times of the year – fire season, or other seasonal conditions
such as “going broke on the cedar market” – or just
....These conditions, though they war-ranted
a watchman – did not give the same status to a watchman that a
Christmas shutdown would bring.
....There’s a stillness and an eeriness
to a deserted logging camp that defies description. You have to have
been there – alone – to understand it. I rem-
ember when I was young, my father told me to watch camp while he went
to the big city to line up things for the spring opening.
....I had work to do during the day –
but by gosh it sure scared hell out of me around that little float camp
....Planks would creak with movement of the
log floats, waves would lap and strange noises would come from the beach.
Wind would whistle between the little wooden bunkhouses and the darkness
seemed darker than usual. Silent snow would fall on the little camp and
cover it in a clean blanket of white-ness. I came of the opinion that
I was not cut out to be a camp watchman.
....We had one chap in camp who didn’t
seem to mind such duties as watchman. During the working year he was “Mike
the Blacksmith,” working at his forge and anvil, hammering out iron
into logging rigging of heavy duty size.
....Mike was a Yugoslavian and had learned
his trade well as an apprentice in his homeland. Like many others he had
left his homeland – to get away from the then dire poverty of Europe
and found his way to Canada. In the 1920s and early 1930s such men came
to Canada by the thousands and it was our gain to get such qualified people
for our industries.
....Mike had a good sense of humor and he
used to tell one story about his watchman days that bears retelling. It
was about the Big Swede who spent Christmas Eve with him in the quiet
....It seems like one of the early log barges
on the coast was forced by winter weather into our protective west coast
bay, where it dropped anchor. The tug that towed the loaded barge took
off for other work and left a watchman on the barge to look after things.
He was left a small rowboat and some grub – but the poor fellow
was a heavy Copenhagen Snuff chewer – and
they didn’t leave him enough of that.
was called ‘Big Swede’ – and Mike says he was near
seven feet tall – and a chewer from hell. He soon exhausted what
little Copenhagen the one local store – ashore – had and
began asking the few local fishermen where he might get some “snooze.”
One of them mentioned “the loggin’ outfit up the inlet”
that just might have some “snooze” in their commissary.
He told the big fellow the camp was closed but maybe the watchman would
help him out.
....What the fisherman didn’t tell
him was that our outfit was six miles up the inlet and there was a strong,
mile-long tidal narrows part way up.
....Well the Big Swede started rowing and
as luck would have it, he hit the mouth of the narrows just after the
tide had turned and was going out. It was a cold wintry day –
but Mike said the Swede told him later that he could smell the “snooze”
three miles away, rowing against the tide in the narrows!
....He bucked the tide for six hours, until
finally it turned – and about eight o’clock that cold, wet,
blowy Chris-tmas Eve – he pulled in to the little float camp.
....Mike was just getting ready to sit
down to a goose dinner and had prepared all the trimmings for himself.
He had a little Christmas tree on the table – and a few candles
lit in the dining room that would normally seat about 40 men.
....Mike heard the holler of someone and
went to the cookhouse door and looked down at the Big Swede in the little
rowboat. The Swede looked up at Mike with a big grin and said –
“You got snooze, ya!”
....So Mike the Yugoslavian black-smith
had company for Christmas Eve dinner in the person of the Big Swede.
After dinner Mike said his guest loaded up with “snooze”
and they had a most