Some months ago, I came across two logging stories from Greenstone Region, both told in one magazine article. As the title suggests, the stories deal with danger, death, and grief.
I contacted the author, Ken Plourde, who worked in the Beardmore area in the summer of 1957, staying in the Domtar Staff House. He returned to live in Beardmore in 1960, working for Domtar until 1970. Black Dan, in the article, is the uncle of Ken Plourde’s wife. Black Dan lived with his sister in Beardmore, Merle Smetaniuk.
Both the author and the magazine gave me permission to reprint the article:
Black Dan and Dynamite!
by Ken Plourde
I first worked in the pulpwood industry as a student in northwestern Ontario in 1957, at St Lawrence Corp. (later Domtar), which was originally Brompton Paper. At that time, the companies in the Port Arthur area (now Thunder Bay) were still moving logs by river transportation to lakes and thence across Lake Superior to mills. Others picked up the logs in Lake Superior and transported them by ship to mills like Red Rock, Port Arthur and Thorold. The industry was still cutting pulp by hand, mostly into 4-foot bolts for ease of handling, and for ease of river driving the logs. The 4-foot bolts obviously got hung up less in the rapids, and this length made clearing logjams easier. The downside to 4-foot bolts was the greater amount of handling, and the loads were less stable when hauling pulp on trucks.
Most of eastern Canada used river driving to transport logs to the mill, and many shanty songs and romantic lumberjack tales from the Ottawa Valley area were about these river drives. Indeed, Charlie Chamberlain, of Don Messer & His Islanders, worked and sang in river drive camps in those days. Books have been written about the tough lumberjacks going into town and stirring things up, including the story telling.
One such lumberjack tale involved a logging camp, near Auden, Ontario, east of Lake Nipigon. The camp was owned by Don Clark. Don was a contractor for Great Lakes Lumber and Shipping, and their pulp was hauled to the Sturgeon River for the river drive in the spring. During the winter, the logs were hauled to the riverbank, and piled along the river to be pushed in with a bulldozer at high water. Dan Stasiuk, better known as “Black Dan” because of his dark complexion, was the bulldozer operator who “watered” the logs annually.
In those days, men were not allowed to work alone in the bush without someone with or near them, in case of an accident. Thus, Black Dan had a helper, called a “swamper”, named “Frenchman Lavoie”, and during the course of their work, Black Dan ran over and killed Frenchman Lavoie. This unfortunate accident rested heavily on Black Dan. Sometime later, while Dan was working alone with his bulldozer, he himself was somehow run over by his own machine, and killed. The lumberjack version of the story was that Frenchman Lavoie returned and ran over Black Dan to get his revenge.
In the 1960s, when I worked at Domtar, in Beardmore, they had a depot, office and warehouse to support their operations along the river system from Jellico, Beardmore, Lake Helen, and Nipigon. I was helping out with the river drive when the logs jammed in the rapids on the Sturgeon River. We got out our dynamite, and took the two or three cases to the rapids. We only required a part of a case to free the jam, and since the river drive was almost over, we decided to set off the dynamite rather than store it until next year. There was an old abandoned camp along the river, consisting of three or four buildings, made from lumber and logs, so we decided to set off the dynamite in the camp yard. We set the fuses and piled the boxes together, and looked around for cover. I went behind an old log building about 50 or 60 feet away, then had second thoughts, and moved a bit further away, behind some trees. When we set off the charge, it blew all the buildings away completely, and into small splinters of wood. There was nothing left of the wall that I had first taken refuge behind!
There have been considerable safety changes related to the handling of dynamite over the years. Storage of dynamite storage is much more stringent, requiring locks, metal buildings and chain-link fences etc. The use of dynamite in forestry is now almost exclusively confined to road construction in mountainous terrain (e.g., British Columbia).
(Reprinted with permission of the author & Forest History Society of Ontario – v4, n1, Spring 2013)