Rhymes, Rants & Accolades from North Central BC

STELLAKO RIVER LOG DRIVES

The Good Old Days by Doris Ray [Fraser Lake Bugle 1981-82)

For thirteen seasons Harvey MacDonald was the foreman of Fraser Lake Sawmill’s annual log drive on the Stellako River. The logs were floated from Francois Lake down the six mile, rough and tumble waterway to where the river flows calmly and sedately into the west end of Fraser Lake. Harvey remembers there was usually only one drive (in June when the river was high) although “sometimes there were two.”

The longest drive that Harvey was on took about two weeks. “On one drive, we got it down to nine days. It was a big drive but the water was just right…” This is Harvey’s story.

“There were two Hanson-Stake boys (Hans Hanson-Stake and Bror Hanson-Stake) and their dad. They were with me most of the times. They were good river men. The old man took the cook boat and did the cooking; he was good with a riverboat too. He took our bedrolls in the cook boat for when we camped down the river…. Lloyd Ray was with me pretty nearly every time.

It was pretty tough and you worked long hours. You’d buy a pair of corked boots and they were only good for one drive. You’d wear the corks right out!

The logs would jam up. There are three sets of rapids down the river where the logs always jammed. Gunning Rapids are almost a mile long….they’d bank up along a corner of the river or if there was a big rock.

When you came to a jam, you had to break it in the front and it was dangerous. When you got the key log, everything went! You had to head for the back end because you’d get ground up in front.

The center jams were the worst. Lloyd and I would usually break those. We’d take a boat (rowboat) out there and put it at the back of the jam. Once it started going, we’d run for the boat or, sometimes, we’d jump in the river and swim ashore.

You didn’t need a boat for the wing jams because they were out on the shore. You just took the peevies and rolled the right log out. When it went, everybody had to get off the logs because it went – Swoosh! The logs would go up sometimes end for end!

Sometimes they’d jam up clear across the river and there’d be a lake behind. In front, there would hardly be any water at all. The only way you could get that loose was to bust them loose on the bank.

We’d have to dig a hole through the logs to let the water through. If you let it back up too much, your logs would be out in the bush.

The water was cold at that time of the year. When we started out in the mornings, everybody would be walking gingerly over the logs. They’d try and keep dry as long as they could but they wouldn’t get warm until they fell in. Once you get into the water, you’re all right. I used to walk right in and the Hanson boys did too….

An old seafaring man named Henry Bellack used to live near Glenannan on Francois Lake. One day he came up to me and said, “How about me getting a job there?”

I said, “Can you handle a boat?”

He said, “I’ve been a seafaring man all my life. I rode all over the Pacific Ocean and that little spit of water….!”  (referring derisively to the Stellako River) He apologized and I said, “Okay, you give it a try.”

Well, he pretty nearly drowned in the boat in Carlson’s Rapids. Lloyd was with him and kept telling him to get out in the middle. (There was debris floating closer to shore.) He lost the boat, the peevies and all the rigging; pretty near lost Henry too.

When the boat capsized Lloyd grabbed onto a big willow. Henry grabbed one too but it was one of those willows that float up and down above and below the water.

Lloyd went down the river to where Henry was. Henry had a big, shiny head and he smoked a pipe. Always had a pipe in his mouth. Lloyd said, “I could see what looked like a fish coming up; his head would come up and go back down.” Lloyd grabbed him and pulled him ashore….he still had his pipe in his mouth – never lost his pipe.

One time there was a dead horse caught up in the drive. Felix Johansson was there and he had a queasy stomach. I’d send a bunch of guys on one side of the river and another bunch on the other. Poor Felix, he always ran into the jam where this horse was.

“I’d say, ‘Which side do you want?’ and it seemed he always picked the wrong side!”

Lloyd got his legs caught between the logs on one drive we were on. We’d broke up this jam and he was behind me… I was fast on my feet – faster than Lloyd was. He yelled something and I looked back and he’d slipped between the logs. They were going, you know! I grabbed the double bitted axe from the bow of the boat in case I had to cut his legs off. He got out just before I got there. I would have cut a leg off, too…If he’d have gotten pulled under, he would have been a goner anyway.

Lloyd said later, “I wonder if you would have?”

I said, “Before you went down I would have cut your leg off. That way I’d save part of you anyways!”

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