Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

The Raftsmen of the Ottawa and St Lawrence Rivers

Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

The Raftsmen of the Ottawa and St Lawrence Rivers

Article excerpt

Léon A. Robidoux, The Raftsmen of the Ottawa and St Lawrence Rivers (Sainte-Annede- Bellevue: Shoreline, 2008), 198 pp. Paper. $22.95. ISBN 978-1-896754-38-3.

I confess that I have never given much thought to the reality behind that fine traditional song 'The Gay Raftsmen', although I have on occasion, with a few pints inside me, joined in the chorus with gusto:

The gay raftsmen, oh, where are they?

Across Bytown they went today.

Bing on the ring!

Hear the raftsmen loudly sing!

Bing on the ring! Bing bang!

Certainly, I had no inkling of the significance of those raftsmen who, throughout the nineteenth century, took rafts of timber as far as the Port of Quebec. Robidoux's study (dedicated to the memory of his great-grandfather, Aimé Guérin, one of the greatest raftsmen on the St Lawrence) has opened my eyes. The story he has to tell, of men whose work, to echo a felicitous line from the cover blurb, 'helped shape Canada and then faded into history', is a hugely compelling one. The use of rafts to shift timber over long distances was initiated by Philemon Wright (the founder of the settlement that would become Hull) early in the 1800s. Wright first floated some 700 logs and thousands of barrel staves from the Ottawa River to Quebec to be sold for export to Britain. The development of the timber trade (growing from an initial need to clear new land for cultivation) saw a concomitant exploitation of rafting as the only feasible means of getting the logs to Quebec and subsequent export. …

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