View Full Version : Life in Canada 1920-

15-09-03, 12:56
My grandmother had a brother - Johan Werner Förars (called John Werner Fors in Canada) - who emigrated to Canada 1920 (18 years old), where he died unmarried and without children 1959.

He lived, and died, in Essondale, B.C., Canada. He never wrote home; I guess that life didn't turn out like he expected. My father told me that when Werner emigrated, he was so self confident and full of hope - he was going to Canada to get wealthy and famous. He was declared dead in Vörå 1944 because they never heard from him. Only later did they get a note from Canada, saying that he actually died December 10, 1959.

I've been told that he worked as a lumberjack. What was life like for him? Does anybody know a good source about life in Canada in the mid/early 20-century? Are there any good books, biographies or other sources, that could help me understand how he lived?

/anders enges

15-09-03, 19:42
Certainly the life of every immigrant is unique and does not lend much to generalizations, but here is a biography mostly on the basis of the letters he sent to his wife in Finland. I read the book some years ago and remember that this immigrant worked as a miner. The book is written by his son.

Storhannus, Erik, I Canadas ödemarker och i fädernebygden : axplock ur en brevväxling 1926-1933. - Kramfors : E. Storhannus, 1998. – 240 s.

June Pelo
16-09-03, 22:52

SFHS (The Swedish Finn Historical Society) has a book they are selling - written by Agnes Rands "Where the Huckleberries Grow". It's about the life of an immigrant family and their experiences in the logging camps of northwestern Washington. It has 299 pages and costs $15 plus $3 shipping. You can order the book from SFHS, P.O. Box 17264, Seattle, WA 98127-0964 Attention: June Smith. Checks in US funds, payable to SFHS.

Some of my relatives were loggers in the lumber camps in Michigan, but I don't know enough about their living conditions in the camps - except that it was rugged and primitive.


20-09-03, 05:05
Dear Anders,
The book which has given me the clearest picture of life in the woods was written in 1949 by Randolph L. Haig-Brown, titled "Timber - a novel about Pacific Northwest logging". I read it some years ago, and still remember it clearly. Haig-Brown actually spent some time in the woods out of Vancouver, timber-cruising I think, so he based the novel on much of his own experiences and those of the men he worked with. He does pontificate some about the poor working conditions, but since they were so lousy, I can understand his point. The terms he uses about the equipment and procedures helped me understand my father's logging operations as a gypo in the 1940's, and my grandfather's several stints in Hoquiam woods as a railroad car loader for Polson Lumber at the turn of the century.

"Huckleberries" gives a clear picture of the loggin camp life. "Thirteen Swedes" explains logging terms very clearly. "More Dangerous than War" is a PhD dissertation which explored working conditions in sawmills, and in logging which resulted in death or dismemberment over about 40 years.
I see www.Amazon.com has a book about logging in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. In preparing an exhibit for Swedish Finns in Minnesota in 2000, I read a lot of material about logging and the forests. One of the factoids which stuck with me was:
It took 200 years to clearcut the pine from the East Coast. Every farmer had a woodlot, and so cutting moved slowly. When logging became an industry, the logging companies moved into the Northwoods (Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin.) It took them less than 75 years to clear cut the pine, using more modern machinery, and teams of men. Arriving in the West, where the woods had been declared endless, fewer than 5 decades passed before the land ownership had been consolidated in the hands of a few corporations, and logging had to be transformed into treefarming. All the big ones outside of national parks had been cut."
It was a fascinating world, high-pressured and competitive on an individual level. The men were independent, and if the cook wasn't the best, they piled their belongings in the blanket and hit out. If a logger was blackballed by a big company, they couldn't get work for anything. The newest man got the worst work: whistlepunk. He signalled the steam donkey engineer to start the cable reel to tow in a log when the loggers signed to him that the log was trimmed and ready to be loaded. A lot of young men who knew hardly any English and had no experience of high-lead logging were injured or killed by cables breaking and whipping through the forest in that process. (Including one of my paternal relatives.)

Happy research!
Syrene Forsman

June Pelo
20-09-03, 17:25
One of my relatives sent me a book "Log Marks" by Neil Thornton about logging in Iosco County and Lake Huron shore in Michigan. He wrote about visiting logging camps on the AuGres River, the big fire of 1911, the use of railroads and how log marks were identified, including pictures. And there are pictures of the lumbermen of Lake Huron. Very interesting. In 1932 a Lumbermen's Monument was erected on the AuSable River in Iosco County, dedicated to the lumbermen. It's an impressive monument located in Huron National Forest.


Roy Lager
02-10-03, 10:05
Essondale is the old name for the BC Provincial Mental Hospital. it is now called Riverview and it's found in Coquitlam BC.

02-10-03, 14:59
No wonder why I was unable to find Essondale on my maps. I guess this explains a lot.


02-10-03, 17:23
I also have a relative that died in Essondale, B.C. That was the location of a home for the mentally ill in the early days. If your relative was indeed a patient there,you may find a file for your relative has since been moved to the Provincial Archives, as I did.
You may contact the Provincial Archives in Victoria, British Columbia for that file. A copy may be sent to you. They will need to establish that you are a relative.
I hope this may be helpful to you.