Oh the floor it was greasy, all covered with mud. The dishes were dirty, and so was the grub. The bed clothes were lousy; the straw it was damp; Give boarders consumption in Bruce’s log camp.—From song sung by Clare Young of Boiestown in 1960 at the Miramichi Folksong Festival.
This is a story about the days of the lumber camps on the Miramichi. One lumberman by the name of Tom Johnston from Newcastle tells his story of the lumber camps. He was just fourteen years old when he first went into the woods fifty years ago. In those days when a boy was big enough to use an axe and a cross-cut saw, he was a lumberman.
Most of the men in Tom Johnston’s Camp took it easy in the summer. Many of the lumbermen owned a farm and a small piece of land which they farmed after the spring drive to Red Bank. But, most of them had their hearts and life in lumbering for the many saw mills on the banks of the Miramichi. Some of these mills were: Fraser’s Mill, Burchill’s Mill, O’Brien’s, Sullivan’s Ritchie’s and Sinclair’s Mills.
In the year of 1926, the men went into the woods fairly late. It was October 12th. Most falls, they would go in anytime after the first of September. This campsite, the one that Tom Johnston belonged to, had a contract with Frasers Limited. The late-starting date wouldn’t hurt them. The woods was thick and cutting would be easy with a sharp axe.
The first thing the men would do after tracking through the bush was build a camp. This was done by clearing out a campsite with axes and saws. This was called swamping a campsite. “If the road leading to the campsite had to be swamped, and it did in 1926, it was swamped,” said Mr. Johnston. Swamping was a rough clearing process. They used their axes to do the clearing. The real work of setting up the campsite came after the swamping was done. Trees were cut and cleared with axes, and two cabins were built. They were joined together by their roofs. One cabin served as a cook room, the other was the main room with two rows of beds. A big round stove was set in the centre of the room. Even though it was cold outside, the men were sure to be warm inside.