She enjoyed lumber camp experience

from our February 2013 issue

By Edith (Ariss) StephensenStrathmore, Alta.

My father, George Ariss (1907-1996), farmed at Isabella and Crandall in the RM of Miniota, Manitoba. In the fall of 1933 the average wage on the farm was about $5 a month but the wages in the lumber camp in the Riding Mountains were a little better so a friend and I made some enquiries at Kippan’s Mill.

Kippan had a large outfit and required a large amount of beef to feed the gang of 60-80 men. He would take meat at 5¢ cents a pound in exchange for lumber. This was better than the Winnipeg market for beef at the time.

My friend Sam butchered three big heifers into quarters. We left Isabella at 6 a.m. on Dec. 6 with over a ton of meat, our equipment on one sleigh, and a load of oats for the horses on another. The trip of about 60 miles took two full days and we spent the night in the livery barn along with the horses at Strathclair as we couldn’t afford the hotel.

The next morning while going through Elphinstone it was minus 42°F and the breath from the horses froze in the air. We arrived after dark, left the meat at the storage room, and bunked down in a brand new bunkhouse with about 30 other men.

For the next two days we gave the teams a rest while we made wide bunks and sway bars for hauling logs. Kippan had several gangs of cutters in the woods so we just loaded, hauled, and piled two loads of logs at the mill site each day.

The mill ran year-round, 18 hours a day, so there was enough logs stockpiled during the winter to last all summer. In those days we had to make our own entertainment so we played cribbage and poker mostly. The big shots played for money but we played mostly for matches.

The meals were all prepared by four lady cooks in the kitchen, a man for the heavy work, and a man who made two trips a week to town for supplies. Meals were good and there was always dessert of some kind. Christmas and New Year’s was turkey with all the trimmings.

Toward spring some of the men started to haul lumber home and they brought distemper into the camp. This was a near disaster as many of the over 100 teams of horses were sick for over a week.

Also at this time we were sent out to clear a fire killed bluff. Once we got off the main trail we were in coarse snow up to the horses bellies. The snow completely covered the stumps of the trees that had been cut the year before and the loads got caught up easily.

During this same winter the Manitoba government had a large number of men on relief clearing the underbrush for the Clear Lake campsite. Those men cut enough wood to keep themselves warm all winter.

On the March 17, myself and six other men left camp on a very mild morning and by noon our loaded sleighs were breaking through the soft roads. Some men had to help each other over long pieces of bare ground. One load got stuck and had to be left until the next morning.

After digging out the load we continued on to McConnell where we spent the night at the home of one of the men. The next day the roads were getting worse so we left the lumber at a farm at Lavinia and stayed there the night.

On the morning of March 21, all the snow was gone off the roads and we still had another 12 miles to go with the horses.

That winter was the only winter off the farm I had until I retired in the fall of 1973. It was a real change and I enjoyed every hour.