............THE FOREST






‘The Christmas Shutdown’

T 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 on snow.
....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 going broke.
....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 at night.
....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 camp.
....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.
....He 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


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continued from p. 14

pleasant evening.
....Christmas shutdown in our part of the country – the north end of Van-couver Island – meant the crew had to leave camp on a couple of chartered 36-foot fishboats and take an eight hour trip that would eventually get them to Port Hardy. Here at this loggers’ watering hole they would wait for a CPR or a Union Steamship that would carry them on to the ‘big smoke’ – Vancouver.
....For those were the days before roads covered our area – and before float planes. It was also a time when nearly all the loggers in the area hired out from employment offices in Van-couver. Local labor as it exists in small towns and villages now – was near non-existent then.
....The little coastal steamers would leave Port Hardy in the evenings – twice a week – so there would be quite a gathering of loggers from all over the area. Old friends and sometimes not-so-friends – would meet at the beer


parlor or the local bootlegger’s and from these meetings would come some of the grandest logging ever done by man or beast in the big wood country of B.C.
....The little Union boats would be crowded beyond their capacity and it was not uncommon for five or six loggers to share a stateroom meant for two people. They slept in the corridors on laundry bags and you dare not leave a chair, for it was grabbed by some long- suffering standee.
....Because it was near Christmas and the loggers were flush and generous – and too often void of a bottle of John Barleycorn – the stewards on the little ships would charge what the traffic would bear. A $4 bottle of Jockey Cap Rye could easily bring $25 and a tray of sandwiches brought Waldorf prices.”
....It was a very different era – of poor transportation, generally poor housing and a far simpler life. It was also a time when loggers were not really a part of the “good social order” – they were different somehow. There were so many who were lonesome men – in lonesome inlets on a wild rugged coast. There were not too many bright spots in their


....But Christmas shutdown was a bright spot. They were “sprung” – and for a brief while they could join their city cousins and be – people.
....And while they did – the little camps were looked after by the Mikes, who ate their Christmas dinners alone – unless they were lucky enough to be visited by a seven-foot Scandinavian known as the Big Swede’ – who loved his “snooze.” Like they say – those were the days?
....And a Merry Christmas to those who still dwell on a small float camp. I hope your satellite TV reception from New York is working okay.
....Oh yes – and do see my friend Burke of the World if you are planning on sending your mother-in-law on a nice round-the-world trip.

Merry Christmas – and
Keep out of the bight – Dutch!

Bill Moore