This documentary is quite a time-capsule of a by-gone era, that of Québec’s legendary former loggers.
It is a lifestyle which no longer exists. These days, logging camps are far and few between (modern loggers can “drive to work” from home), and logging methods are much different (there are no longer log-runs on rivers or lakes).
In Québec, there are many traditional stories, songs, poems and legends about this former life-style, which lasted from the 1700s until the mid-20th century. That is why this documentary is quite special. It is the last window we have into this former life-style. Had television / film been invented even 15 years later, we may have missed the opportunity to have had a documentary like this (which is why I believe it is so special).
The documentary was made in 1962 by the National Film Board of Canada.
It is set in the Haute Mauricie region of Québec. It is a region which remains sparsely populated. The town of La Tuque is the only community of any notable size in the region.
Above: Haute-Mauricie on a map
Below: The town of La Tuque
You can watch the documentary online, via the National Film Board’s website, by CLICKING BELOW
Some things in the film which stand out for me :
- The men in the film are from all regions of Québec. They congregated in the camps in search of work. Thus, you can hear various different French accents in the film (from Gaspé, Lac St-Jean, Côte Nord, and La Beace regions). These accents stand out because the documentary was from a time when regional accents continued to be much more prevalent than a standardized Québec accent.
- On that same topic (of a standardized accent), in 1962 Québec had not yet achieved a point of speaking wth today’s standardized accent. Thus, up until the early 1960’s, Québec’s television announcers and documentary narrators spoke with a very “European” intonation. This documentary is a very good example of what I mean. Narrators today would have a more noticeable “Québec” characteristic to their accent than this “faux European” accent with which the narrator speaks. I spoke about this phenomenon in an early post on accents. You can read it by clicking HERE.
- The film makes me thing of today’s modern oil & gas camps in the West and North. Especially the fact that the camps are filled from people from all parts of the country (much like these old logging camps were filled with people from all parts of Québec).
I translated the first part of the documentary, so that you can understand the generally meaning of what is being said. Here is the translation (after my translation, the scenes in the documentary speak for themselves):
0:51 – Travailleur / Worker : On dit que le thermomètre est à 23, 24 sur la route. Plus que ça, 27. Aïe, que c’est fort! T’ends un peu là. Entre 25 et 30. Entre 25 et 30. Comme la semaine passée.
Worker : You’d think the thermometre is -23 or -24 on the road. More than that, -27. Wow, that hits hard! Wait a sec. Between -25 and -30. Between -25 and -30, like last week.
2:42 – Sur la carte, un désert. Une forêt à faucher, une forêt vierge continue qui couvrirait sept fois la France. À vol d’oiseau, Trois-Rivières n’est qu’à 120 miles au sud, Montréal et Québec à 150.
On a map, it’s a desert. A forest to fell, a continuous virgin forest seven times the size of France. As the crow flies, Trois-Rivières is 120 miles to the south, Montréal and Québec City are 150 miles.
2:50 – Pourtant, avant d’atteindre la première route marquée sur la carte, il faut parcourir 140 miles de chemins privés, ou prendre le train.
Yet, before arriving to the first marked road on the map, you have to work your way through 140 miles of private roads, or take the train.
3:02 – Pour moissonner épinettes et sapins, ce matin comme les autres matins de la semaine, 165 scies de cultivateurs ont quitté leurs baraquements à 06h45.
To harvest spruce and fir trees, this morning like all the other mornings of the week, 165 harvesting saws live their camp barracks at 6:45am.
3:28 – Deux par deux, quatre par quatre, les Breton, Le Guen, Kérisoré et Naffe, venus de vieux pays du Morbihan et Finistère (des régions en Breton en France)… Et le cuisinier Émile, et l’assistant cuisinier Lucien dit Beau-Sourire, Alphonse Lacasse, Candide Malenfant, Julien Gagnon, Marcel Piché, Henri Frenette, Jean-Charles Charon, Guy Charon, Flavien Charon, Normand Lafontaine, Henri-Paul Labonté – tous venus de vieilles paroisses aux sols maigres et revêches…
Two-by-two, four-by-four, the (Family names) Bretons, Le Guen, Kérisoré, Naffe, from the old country of Morbihan and Finistère (regions of Breton in France), and Émile the cook, Lucien the assistant cook who is nicknamed Cute-Smile, Alphonse Lacasse, Candide Malenfant, Julien Gagnon, Marcel Piché, Henri Frenette, Jean-Charles Charon, Guy Charon, Flavien Charon, Normand Lafontaine, Henri-Paul Labonté – all have comme from parishes with poor and unproductive soil…
4:00 – … Des Laurentides à la Gaspésie, de la Beauce au Lac St-Jean, pour accomplir des travaux exemplaires.
From the Laurentians to Gaspé, from the Beauce region to Lac St-Jean, they have come to do what could be held up as a model of work.
5:36 – Dallaire, il est canadien français. Il ne parle pas anglais. Il ignore Cuba et le marché commun, le Congo et l’Algérie. Il coupe le bois pour six dollars la corde à neuf miles du camp.
Dallaire is French Canadian. He doesn’t speak English. He knows nothing of Cuba or the free market, nor the Congo nor Algeria. He cuts wood for six dollars a cord, nine miles from camp.
6:06 – Son ami A.S. Pérot (?) dépique les arbres et empile la pitoune de quatre pieds. Une chorde, quatre pieds de large, 8 pieds de longue, quatre pieds de haut, cent billots et six dollars à partager entre deux.
His friend A.S.(?) Pérot takes the branches off the trees and piles the pitoune (a 4 x 8 ft cord or wood). A cord, 4 feet wide, 8 feet long, 4 feet high, 100 blocks and six dollars to share between the two of them.
7:30 – Travailleur / worker : Il y a des moyens l’bois ça vend.
There are ways to sell the wood.
7:37 – La Rochelle et son ami sont aussi entrepreneurs. 3,55$ par corde transporté sur une distance de six miles. 2,35$ pour le camion, 60 sous pour chacun. Quatre cordes par voyage. Et, avec de la chance, six voyages par jour.
La Rochelle (family name) and his friend are also entrepreneurs. They receive $3.55 per cord which is transported at a distance of six miles. $2.35 for the truck, 60 cents each. For cords per trip, and with any luck, six trips per day.
8:01 – C’était le 1e février. Le dernier voyage en bateau sur la (rivière) Manouane en aval du barrage. En amont, sur la glace du lac Chateauvert, des tracteurs à chenille remorquaient des trainouches rangés de bois.
It was February 1st. The last trip by boat on the Manouane River downstream from the dam. Downstream on the ice of Lake Chateauver, tank-track tractors which were pulling chain-trains full of wood.
En aval, dans l’eau courante, 35 camions jetaient 52,000 cordes de bois à la rivière, de quoi alimenter en papier en 18 mois le quotidien la Presse, et pendant les deux mois le New York Times.
Downstream, in flowing water, 35 trucks were dumping 52,000 cords of wood into the river, serving to supply 18 months worth of paper to the daily La Presse newspaper, and two months worth for the New York Times.
Flotterons ainsi sur la Manouane, puis sur la St-Maurice, et rejoindrons les deux millions d’arbres coupés pas huit mille bûcherons.
Let’s sail down the Manouane, and then to the St-Maurice river to meet up with 2 million felled trees by 8000 loggers.
Les 125 million de billes de quatre pieds qui chaque année voguent vers La Tuque, Grande Mère, Shawinigan, et Trois-Rivières pour produire autant de papier que l’en exporte toute la Scandanavie.
The 125 bundles of 4 foot logs, which each year sail down to (the towns of) La Tuque, Grande Mère, Shawinigan, and Trois-rivières to produce as much paper as what Scandanavia exports.
8:58 – Vingt-deux indiens de la tribu des Têtes de bulls travaillent ici pendant quinze jours. Ils vivent sous la tente. Albert Connolly est leur chef et son jeune fils l’aide à empiler un bois dont la coupe est peu rentable car il est petit.
22 indians from the Bulls Head tribe work here for 15 days. They live in tents. Albert Connolly is their Chief, and his young son helps him to pile wood which has little value because it is too small.
9:43 – Trente-cinq camions, soixante-cinq chevaux, huit tracteurs à chenille, 165 hommes pendant neuf mois, 22 indiens pendant 20 jours, et six ans de labeur pour jeter dans la rivière quarante miles carrés de forêt.
Thirty five trucks, sixty five horses, eight tank-track tractors, 165 men during 9 month, 22 indians during 20 days, and six years of (combined) labour to dump 40 square miles of forest into the river.
11:47 – Travailleur / worker : En hiver dans l’bois on va manger de bonne viande. À part d’t’ (de) ça un couple de bières tranquillement pas vite. La première fois que j’étais en chantier de l’hiver de bois je me demandais qu’est-ce que je fais. Je vais me prendre une assiettée de bines, pis un bon petit bone steak, pis je va leur montrer aux bines comment je mange ça un steak!
Travailleur / worker (in a very heavy accent which I think is from North-East of Baie Commeau, further East along the North Coast region of Québec, if I’m not mistaken) : In the woods in the winter, we’s be eatin’ good meat, along with a couple beers which we down nice ‘n slow. The first time I was in the winter camp, I wondered how the heck I’d I find my way. I just took a plate of (pork and) beans, and a ‘lil chunk of T-bone, and I showed ‘em all (my co-workers) how to down a steak! (Laughs).
Once my translation stops…
In the documentary, they later they talk about how the aboriginals workers came to eat in the camp once, how they live in their own camps outside with their families. The narrator says they continue to eat food they hunt.
At 21:20 they show workers who have been injured and are left to their own misery because they have no medical insurance (and no means to purchase medicine). Basically, you were screwed if you fell ill.
Later they talk about what different men plan to do during the summer for work once the camp closes. The camp only operates in the winter (when the ground is frozen and it is easier to work). Many men will be without work if they cannot pre-arrange summer jobs.