CPR Section House

CPR Section House

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Highway 533

Across the Ottawa River from the CPR line Runs Hwy 533 . The history of this road has a significant bearing on this part of my True Tales .

Julian Ralph gives an accurate account of what the road was like in 1889 in his Harper's article ' Antoine's Moose-yard' . The initial part of the road he describes was in good form because it was continually used by horse drawn wagons and sleds between Mattawa and the portage at LaCave .
 The Steam boats only operated part of the year . Winter ( determined by snow and ice , not the calendar ) and high Spring melt waters prevented forwarding on the River so a regular well maintained road existed . Horse-drawn sleds regularly hauled small logs for local use - firewood and building projects . Larger logs stacked along the banks of the River during winter by lumbermen
waited  to be rolled into the Spring melt . During this time , the road allowed business of 'supplying' to go on all year . This is how Ralph and Remington found it in early winter , December 1889 , and if they hadn't turned off onto the new road, they would have arrived at LaCave.

Ralph describes the new road very well. He should have pondered the warning by his guide "  'cause you get every sort riding, then you sure be suited." means 'If you can survive this you can survive anything' and ' Boy , I'm going to get a good laugh out of this one .' Ralph equates the experience to someone going over Niagara Falls in a barrel . I would equate to riding the hardest rapids in a canoe -experience theses guides would know from spring and summer on the River and tales of their ancestors . After the ride and occasionally during the ride , the guides partook of 'high wine' a custom and term introduced by Company (HBC) men who rode with the Metis Voyageurs in the large cargo canoes -a reward for a particularly hard run-a double ration .

What kind of road was it ? Lumbermen scouted the forest looking for stands of trees - white pine and red pine - 2 or more feet in diameter . Some in the virgin forest around Mattawa were as much as 5 feet across . Then they would slash a path wide enough to accommodate a team of horses and sled . Cutting these slash paths were done during the months without snow , so stumps were cut and pulled out by workhorses . It was then called a road . The road traced the contours of the land - Canadian Sheild land in all its variance- locating the stands for cutting . The only prerequisite for its course was ease of access to the river directly or via creeks and rivers of the Ottawa River watershed. In winter , when the snow deepened the sled could be accommodated with much discomfort to all concerned . The December Hunting trip would not have had a lot of snowfill making it an even wilder ride .

  Occasionally, to cross a narrow creek with steep banks , two large, long trees were felled across the gap some distance apart . Then shorter logs were arranged to cover the space between the logs in a rudimentary bridge . It was held together by the weight of the logs and gravity . The remnants of a few old bridges remain on the old logging side roads off 533 .

Eventually , the logging road met up with others coming out of Temiscaming and North Bay .These roads were improved substantially to become travelable gravel road...a tertiary highway Hwy 63 at least by 1935. However, the logging trail to Mattawa was not considered fit for travel in 1935 by Shell . It was nothing but a mislocated dotted line on that year's road map . It would have been an isolated adventure that only the wreckless might undertake by automobile with a few days to spare and enough gear for all contingencies . The River still was the only option available for moving logs . No vehicles made to that point were strong enough for the job .

But WW II changed the focus of need , large vehicles made for war found new markets in lumbering . Logging roads were improved somewhat for quicker removal of trees . Roads , rails and River were employed through the war and after to get the trees out . The economy more and more took a north/south focus on highways and manufacturing. Post war population growth made a fast growing consumers market hungry for finished goods .
 Mills in the region began processing logs into lumber and shipping it out any direction by rail . By the late 40's , the big wood could not be easily accessed and smaller trees were being used . Pulp & paper and veneer& plywood plants that used lesser grade wood for production were built to keep the lumbering going .

The great stands of virgin pine were gone . Old trees were gathered as opportunity permitted and floated out on the river .The competition was dwindling as big Lumber Companies began moving on to greener forests in other areas . Still , log booms were formed near Mattawa to float logs downstream for processing in places like Pembroke while the water was still high enough . Even as late as the 1960's , one could see a boom on the river in the spring , but it was an oddity - not the common sight of just three decades earlier .

The log road was active as such but the plans on the River that confronted my parents were reaching to affect it , too . The building of a Dam at LaCave meant access would be needed to feed its growth as well as a route directly between Mattawa and Temiscaming . The project needed gravel which would be trucked in from all over . That meant roads . The people would need to lose reliance on the River . That meant roads . The CPR run between LaCave would be closed for rebuilding . That meant roads .

Highway 533 came officially into existence just prior to construction of the Dam when the old logging road was reformed into a usable gravel road . It was a dangerous place for small vehicle traffic as it became crowded with fast moving, recklessly driven big trucks of loggers and Dam builders . Another boom in the area !?.

Booms Periods in Mattawa
Furs- 150 years
Lumber-50 years
Electric Dam Building-4 years

I am talking actual Boom lengths- not the period of existence.

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