| Aug 20, 2009

Back to HomeFeature Article - August 20, 2009 Celebrating the fascinating logging heritage of the Mississippi River

Loggers at Big Beach.

On August 22 and 23, come to the Mississippi River Heritage Festival in McDonalds Corners to celebrate the forests and the river that to this day remain an important element of our economic, recreational and spiritual life. “While the catalyst for the festival was the 125th anniversary of the end of the Caldwell/McLaren loggers’ feud and the establishment of the rights of public access to all waterways”, says Mary Vandenhoff, owner of the Nature Lover’s Bookshop in Lanark and co-chair of the festival, “we quickly recognized that the celebration was really about the loggers and their families, the forests and rivers, the important contributions they made and still make towards the excellent quality of life enjoyed here in the watershed.

Logging was the backbone of the early Lanark economy, employing huge numbers of people, directly and indirectly. For many it represented the only means of earning money. The work was hard and life in the shanties offered no luxuries, but provided excitement, adventure and a livelihood for young men. The Mississippi River Heritage Festival will provide a glimpse into the lives and activities of those in the woods and on the rivers, as well as those left at home.

On Saturday morning at Shanty Beach (today called Centennial Beach on Lavant Mill Road) the focus will be on the log drivers, famous for their skill and daring in this dangerous activity. Tom Stephenson, who made the “Last River Run” down the Ottawa in 2008, will offer visitors the opportunity to paddle a classic pointer boat used to move the timber downstream. Learn about the traditional aboriginal birch bark canoe (also adopted for use in the log drives) and see Becky Mason perform her well-known “Canoe Ballet” showing how versatile a canoe can be. There will also be a guided Heritage and Nature hike (for those at the intermediate level) from the beach up to High Falls to see the ruins of the Geddes mills and the famous log chute, ending with a short tour of Ontario Power Generation’s High Falls operating plant.

Photo right: Pat & Laurie Brownlee and their daughter Robin work on the replica of a logger's shantyin preparation of the Mississippi River Heritage festival.

Saturday afternoon, August 22, the “McDonald Shanty” at the MERA Schoolhouse presents life in the shanties and on the home front. Displays of tools and a demonstration of hand hewing will fascinate all those with an interest in forestry, as will a presentation on “The Forests of the Mississippi, Then and Now”. A re-creation of the inside of a shanty, courtesy of the Middleville Museum, will provide a thought-provoking insight into the logger’s life.

As the logging industry depended on the supplies and services from the local communities, rope making, blacksmithing, soap-making, spinning, weaving, and pottery were all important activities that festival visitors will be able to observe and appreciate. The Algonquin, who had been living in the area for centuries before the pioneers arrived, were important players in the lives of the loggers in the bush where they generously shared their traditional knowledge of plants, the most lasting being use of maple sap for syrup. Displays and presentations on aboriginal heritage is an important component of this celebration of the Mississippi River heritage.

But it wasn’t all work and no play, especially for the children. The festival invites children to join in traditional games such as the Mississippi skipping game, M – eye – crooked letter – crooked letter – eye – humped back – humped back…..

Music and dance played an important role, providing entertainment both in the shanties and the local communities. After six days of heavy work, come Saturday night, fiddling, dancing, singing and telling stories took over. With no women with whom to dance in the shanties, some would wear aprons or kerchiefs to play the part of the women in these “buck dances”. At the Log Drivers Dinner and Dance at the McDonalds Corners Agricultural Hall, enjoy an old-fashioned Saturday evening with lively shanty music. To round the evening off, circle round a bonfire, evoking memories of the romance at the dance and bonfire that ended the Caldwell-McLaren feud.

Sunday was always a day of rest and church when possible. Bring along your chair for a Sunrise Service on Sunday, 7:30AM on the shore of Dalhousie Lake across from Sylvania Lodge. Opening with a piper, from pontoon boats on the water, the minister and choir will lead this unusual interfaith service that will also include a traditional aboriginal Sacred Fire. The service is followed by River Eco-tours down the Mississippi River.

Visit www.mississippiriverheritagefestival.ca for the complete Festival program.

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