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MEANDERINGS: Belleville Harbour Circa 1900

author:  Orland French photograph: Courtesy of the Community Archives of Belleville and Hastings County

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IN THE COLD, SNOWY WINTERS OF THE 1800s, GANGS of lumbermen, deep in the forests of central and northern Hastings, piled up logs along the banks of the Skootamata, Moira and Trent rivers, ready to tip them into the roiling waters of the spring run-off and send them on their way to the sawmills of the south.

For a century, the rivers provided natural sluiceways to transport logs downstream for processing. As many as 175,000 logs each spring would be delivered to sawmills in Trenton, Belleville and Deseronto. The daring lumberjacks rode their backs with pike poles, pushing and tugging them through narrow passageways as they tumbled their way to the Gilmour and Rathbun mills on the Bay of Quinte. The photo shows logs jamming Belleville harbour, waiting to be sorted out by their timber marks.

And when those men reached Belleville or Trenton – minus a few who may have drowned along the way – what a time they had. Innkeepers lay in hundreds of barrels of beer and casks of whisky, eager to help these hardy lumberjacks celebrate another season of logging.

Although the timber barons may have believed harvesting of the forests would last forever, the last logging run was in 1907. The mills of the Moira and the Trent watersheds collapsed. The rapacious nature of lumbering had exhausted the mighty forests of Hastings in less than a century. Roads and railways replaced the rivers, and waterways became restful havens of recreation.

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