Life Among the Loggers
I needed a job to last me through the winter of 1907, so I went to the Eau Clair and Bow River Logging Camp near Banff, where John MecDermid hired me at $21 per month. The first day at work he handed me an axe and a cant hook. I had used an axe little enough, but this was the first time I had seen a cant hook. I was told to follow two other men and help them with what they were doing. I watched them chop the limbs off the pine and spruce trees, using the cant hook to turn the trees so that every limb was removed. I soon caught on and enjoyed the work. It gave me a good appetite.
Several days later, McDermid came to me and said, "Come along with me and bring your axe and cant hook. I've got a better job for you." He took me to the site of a new logging road where all the trees had been felled and cleared away, leaving the tree stumps. "Start in chopping out the tree stumps at this east end, and carry on until you have them all out." McDermid left me with scores of big tree stumps. I got to work with my axe. I don't know how many stumps I had chopped off level with the ground when I heard someone behind me remark, "Well, I didn't know there were any beavers around at this time of year." I must admit that a blind man would have given a lot to have seen those tree stumps after I had chopped them off level to the ground. Not wanting to favor any one side of a stump, I chopped around it until it fell over. John McDermid said, "Give me your axe, I'll show you how to chop out a tree stump." He went to the nearest stump. He planted his feet wide apart and chopped, first on the right side, then on the left side. His feet never moved at all. I granted that his method was a distinct improvement over mine and thanked him for enlightening me.
The next morning I was instructed to butcher hogs. I asked the foreman how many hogs he wanted me to butcher that day. "Get out of bed and start butchering. The bull cook and saw-filer will help you," he said. There was every convenience on the south side of the bunkhouse for scalding and dressing. I got plenty of boiling water ready and with the bull cook and filer went to work. Later as I was hanging up the third hog, along came the foreman. "My Gawd, man," he exclaimed, "are you going to kill all the hogs we have?" Then the cook told me that never was more than one hog butchered in one day.
One evening as I was having a cup of coffee and a chat with the camp cook, John McDonald, he told me he would be losing his job as cook. It seemed that he had some business that would require his presence at his homestead for three weeks. He figured it would be impossible to get a good replacement for that length of time. I suggested that I could do the cooking for 94 men, providing the foreman agreed. My job would entail making bread, buns, cookies, pies, flapjacks, and carving meat. The second cook would attend to the cooking of meat, vegetables, and tea, while the two cookees would attend to setting the tables and washing up. The foreman agreed to try me out for several days, and when I proved satisfactory I became the head cook for three weeks. Sunday mornings I generally washed my soiled clothes. During the afternoon, if the weather was not too cold, I would get a bit of raw red meat, a fish hook, some fish line, a suitable stick, and do a bit of trout fishing upstream where the water was open. The trout were small but delicious.
On March 17, St. Patrick's Day, 1908, the men were paid off. I was the last man to be paid and when I looked at my cheque, I saw that I was paid at $35 per month. This surprised me, since I had been hired to work for $21 per month. I told the foreman that a mistake had been made, He replied, "You earned it. Come back for the River Drive and I'll give you top pay at $2.50 per day." I was the first man to return for the River Drive and the last to be paid when we arrived withthe logs at the sawmill in Calgary.
After the finish of the River Drive in the summer of 1908, Gover Davis and John Hood, two friends from the logging camp, accompanied me to my homestead at Battle Lake. We built a log house 18 x 24 feet. During the next several years, I worked in logging operations in the winter and homesteaded in the summer. I was elected Councilor for the Local Improvement District of Battle Lake in the fall of 1908. The next year I was appointed a Justice of the Peace and notary public. I was also appointed game warden at no salary.