Driftnetting in Canada’s West Coast Forest, 1950

Note from Editor/Daughter: My dad’s stories of when he first came from Denmark to Canada, taken in by a bunch of ‘fancy’ recruiting ads that promised the world but turned out to be about finding cheap labour.

Driftnetting in the Forest

At Harbour Lights in Vancouver, a Salvation Army clubhouse for seamen, I met a Swede who had jumped ship; he had done so numerous times before in other countries, and stayed until they kicked him out.

Together we went to a forestry company office, applied for a job and were sent to Kelsey Bay on a ship hauling supplies up the coast.

In the logging camp we became chokermen. That means we applied steel cable chokes to the biggest cedar logs I had ever seen, up to twelve feet in diameter. Some cedars when felled would shatter in to three to five foot pieces that would be easier to handle.Dad's painting of driftnet logging off of Vancouver Island, 1950The logs were hauled by winches up to a bulldozed-out area and there they were loaded onto trucks. It was dangerous work as we could not see end to end of the one-inch steel cable hauling in the logs.

A whistle punk would stand at a vantage point where he could see the machine or so-called donkey, and from there signal warnings to us when the cables went every which way.

Once I saw a young Indian step into a loop of the haul back and pushed him off just before the cable tightened so he did not lose his foot.

My nickname there was ‘dolly face’ because of my looks after two months in the steamy pulp mill. But I was used to heavy lifting and when I packed the heavy cable pulley across the bush to a new anchor location without ever letting it down to rest, they cheered.

As the forest had dried out over the summer the fire season came and we were all shipped out by bus.

Going up in to the highlands from the coastal forest we seemed to drive twenty miles through clear-cut forest like the one I had just helped create. It was desolate and such an obvious exploitation of a forest and people. I often wondered who the people were who became wealthy on such slaughter.

My Swedish friend had gotten hurt and went to hospital and did not come back to camp as the law caught up with him. I went to the immigration lock-up in Vancouver and was allowed to see him but had to talk to him through steel bars, with a jail guard at my side. That black Swede was still waiting for the right ship to come along for his next destination.

A Danish seaman was there too. He had lost his ID so could not prove who he was, and was suspected of being an American Navy deserter. He asked me to go to the Danish consulate and speak for him, which I did, but they would not acknowledge that he was Danish. For heaven’s sake I said, the man speaks a dialect he could only have learned in Denmark! And with that I left and never heard any more about it.

I went to work for a small logger on Hollyburn mountain but he too was soon closed down because of the dry season and the dangers of fire.

So it was on to the employment office again, who sent me off to the infamous Ocean Falls once more.

An insane HR man interviewed me and accused me of being a communist who had persuaded 25 guys to leave the job the last time I worked there.* So I asked the idiot if they had a new communist doing that every week, and as a result of my sassy attitude I was placed in the boiler room from hell.

In the boiler room I knocked klinkers off the grid in 130°F, drank gallons of water and downed salt pills with the water.

After two weeks I announced that I would be leaving the job and never come back as even the boss in this hell hole seemed insane.

*From dad’s story of his previous employment at Ocean Falls he wrote: “We were some twenty-five newcomers and apparently that was the turnover of workers every week.” I can’t find anywhere the total number of workers employed there so have no idea what percentage of the workforce that represents.

2 responses to “Driftnetting in Canada’s West Coast Forest, 1950

  1. Pingback: Arriving at Canada’s West Coast, 1950 | Albatz Travel Adventures·

  2. Pingback: The Cedar Mill at False Creek in Vancouver, 1950 | Albatz Travel Adventures·

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