During construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway line in the region, the Fraser company arrived ahead of the unskilled road workers to open logging sites (because the railroad demanded tremendous quantities of railroad ties and telegraph poles). It was then that R. Thompson opened the first sawmill in the Village of Chelmsford. Others soon followed including Phineas Coyne who also built a sawmill on the Whitson River. In Rayside Township, Booth & Gordon Mill was established on Whitewater Lake and in 1885, George Morgan and James Craig purchased large woodlots and formed the Morgan Lumber Company Ltd.
In those days, trees were felled during the winter. Horses dragged the logs to a frozen stream where they were dumped until the spring breakup. With spring came the drive, during which the logs were floated to the various mills down the lakes and rivers. Work on the logging sites was dangerous and the doctor visited the logging camp only once a month. In the event of serious accidents, the patient had to be taken elsewhere, sometimes even as far away as Mattawa.
A logger's work was hard and the hours of daylight determined the length of the workday. Fortunately, days are short in the wintertime! Back at camp, they were fed hearty meals of beans, pork, fish, bread and molasses. This simple but nourishing food is part of the traditional cuisine of the region.
While winter days were short, the evenings were long. In the logging camps, evenings were spent singing and telling stories. Musicians and storytellers were sought after by logging camp bosses because they kept morale up, preventing many quarrels among the men who were isolated from their families for many months. Folk songs, legends and traditional tales were particularly appreciated and so were passed from generation to generation.
Once the railroad had been built, the forest industry supplied the mining companies with lumber and firewood for the roasting yards and the paper manufacturers with pulpwood. The presence of many streams facilitated transportation from the forest to the sawmill and the proximity of the railroad provided access to markets in the south.
The forest industry was also a source of extra income for local farmers. During the winter months, farmers would work in the logging camps or sawmills. They would cut the trees on their own land (because once the trees had been felled, they could clear the land and farm). Just as logging contributed largely to the disappearance of the fur trade in the region by destroying the animals' habitat, the arrival of the mining industry would mean the end of the forestry industry.