Friday, October 7, 2011

Log Chutes and Family Links

One of the highlights of our weekend at the cottage was going to the Hawk Lake Log Chute.  We have been there several times, but this trip was the first time we went knowing the role my husband's family had in introducing log chutes to Canada.

Back in April, my husband was reunited with his brother and sister after 50 years (which you can read more about here) and, along with meeting his siblings, my husband learned about his ancestors.  It turns out that my husband is a great-great-great-great grandson of Philemon Wright, the man who founded Ottawa and Hull.  One of Philemon Wright's sons, Ruggles Wright (you've got to love a man named Ruggles), went to Norway in the 1820s and observed how they navigated logs over rapids and falls to get them down the river.  He then modified the idea of the log chute when he returned to Canada, to allow wider timber rafts over the falls.

At the Hawk Lake Log Chute we read the historic boards with new eyes and were pleased as punch that they mentioned the log chute my husband's ancestors built over the Chaudière Falls in Ottawa.  

The log chute here in Haliburton is the last one in Ontario, so we were mighty proud to be standing near something that my husband's ancestor had introduced to Canada that had been so important to the early timber trade.

In the 19th century logs were hewn into square timbers and then joined to make cribs, which were then attached together to make large rafts.   The lumbermen lived and worked on these rafts navigating them down the river to Quebec City and then by ship to Europe.  When they came to a rapids or falls, the rafts would be broken apart and sent down the log chutes in separate cribs.  The log chutes prevented the logs from being damaged while going over the falls.

Cookery on a timber raft on the Ottawa River, 1880

Apparently it was not only timber that went down the log chutes, however. A popular activity was to ride down the slides for a small fee.  When the Prince of Wales visited Ottawa in 1860, he rode down the Chaudière Falls log chute right after laying the cornerstone for the new Parliament Building of Canada.  

The Prince of Wales going down the log chute in 1860 from A History of Canada Online
"Slowly at first, but quickly gaining speed, the crib shoots down in a wild spray of water. Riders and spectators roar their excitement, rivaling the thundering of the crib as it sways and bounces in a flurry of flying water."  (Source)
The royal party going down the Chaudiere log chute in 1901
Now does that look like fun, or what?


  1. Wow! What a fascinating piece of family history! My family were sawmill owners for the 100 years until our family mill closed in 2008. The original site of our family mill was at the bottom of a river as the river was used as a means to transport the logs to the mill. So, naturally, I find forestry & sawmill history fascinating! It was a way of life for generations of men. Really interesting post Grace! Angie xo

  2. That is so interesting! Amazing how it takes on a whole new perspective after learning your husband's history.

  3. Early white water rafting! A fascinating Canadian story and very neat that hubby discovered his ancestors. We toured the St. Lawrence seaway with my sister and bil before our kids were born and visited every little and big museum along the seaway all the way to Ottawa. I recall photos of the log chutes in one of the smaller museums, but have not seen the one in Haliburton. Thanks for sharing! Happy Thanksgiving to your family and your Canadian readers.

  4. It looks like LOTS of fun!!! ;D I want to ride!!!!!