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March 15, 2002

Horse Logging: Yesterday and Today

Using single horses, or teams of horses, was fundamental to the logging industry from the early 1800s well into he 1930s when trains, trucks and other mechanical vehicles took away most of their usefulness. In the early days each logging camp had its stable of horses and teamsters to drive them, while skidding logs from the bush to the skidway, waiting for frozen ground to take heavy loads to the water’s edge for the river run in the spring. When the long mid-winter log runs to the water’s edge took place, numerous sleighs— built by the camp carpenter and blacksmith—were put into use. Local farmers and their farm teams were hired to come in to help. It should be mentioned that oxen were used from early times and well beyond the turn of the century, until horses took over almost completely waiting for the mechanization era to arrive. The photo shows a team of oxen working with horses at the William Foster operation at Fossmill in Chisholm Township in the 1910s.

Oxen hauling logs at Bill Foster’s Fossmill operation, Circa 1915. 

Farmers and wood lot owners have used horses to skid fuel wood and saw logs for personal use or sale for decades. Recently, professional horse loggers have established businesses providing logging services to private and corporate customers. With today’s emphasis on environmental protection, many private land owners prefer the minimal damage to the forest caused by horses compared to mechanized logging. In some cases, horse loggers are hired because of the reduced noise factor near urban areas, and in some cases because the job is too small for other logging companies. Tembec, with its excellent environmental program, supports and encourages horse logging as do other companies that buy quality logs.

Horse Logger Art Shannon

My son recently attended a workshop in Toronto on Woodlot Management, where several horse loggers offered their services. One of them was Art Shannon, who worked in the North Bay area a few years ago and now works out of Lindsay, Ontario. His company Arbour North has an interesting website (www3.sympatico.ca/art.shannon) which features logging photos, horse logging courses, cedar rails and posts, etc. for sale, and has numerous interesting links like the Eastern Ontario Model Forest Association.

In the fall of 1995 the Nugget reported on Art logging Bill and Carrie Steer’s property in Mattewan Township (see photo). Tembec marked the trees and provided a detailed plan. Art did the work and Tembec bought the logs. The Steers were looking to attract deer and to encourage better species to grow.

Horse Logger Gerald Cook

At the forestry expo in Mattawa in September, I met horse logger Gerald Cook from Bracebridge. While surfing the net looking for horse logging references, I ran across an excellent article with photos on Gerald in the October 2001 issue of the Journal of Logging and Sawmilling on all aspects of his operation (check www.forestnet.com ). By coincidence the article is written by Ray Ford, the award-winning Chisholm Township writer. Reference is also made to Art Shannon in the article.

Gerald sent me some photos of his operation. (see below)  He points out that it takes some skill to stay in the business, and many have tried and not made it. Gerald usually works on small high quality lots, and usually has an annual Crown Land allocation. The Cooks also thin plantations and cut shelterwood to thin and improve woodlots. He sells his logs to Tembec in Huntsville and sometimes cuts directly for Tembec on contract.

Gerald Cook thinning a plantation with his horses. (Gerald Cook photos)

Gerald skids the logs the shortest possible distance with his horses, and his son loads them on a trailer with their tractor and hauls them to a location where the buyer picks them up. For the last three years, the Cooks have demonstrated horse logging at the Parry Sound Logging Days. Call him for further information (705) 645-8360.

Horse Logger Pat Kilroy

Many people in the North Bay area have horses, including Pat Kilroy who lives east of Powassan and does some occasional horse logging. He worked with Art Shannon setting up Art’s horse logging course at Sir Sanford Fleming College in Peterborough. Pat has done some plantation thinning in Boulter Township for the MNR and is currently improving a local bush. He has had oxen in the past, and is involved with various horse owners who get together regularly to share their experience. The next meeting will be in South Himsworth in the spring. Pat can be contacted at (705) 724-2445. 

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