Before there was North Vancouver, there was the forest. Towering stands of fir, cedar, and hemlock covered the slopes of the North Shore. For the first European settlers, timber was a treasure to be exploited. Wielding axes and crosscut saws, the forests were felled by hand. It was an effort which required brute strength, ingenuity, daring, and which cost many lives. Timber transformed this landscape, drove the economy, and shaped the North Shore we know today.
Drawn by timber, the area’s first sawmill opened in 1863. Around the mill the small community of Moodyville began to grow. Timber was the reason the settlement began, and timber shaped its contours. The trails, skid roads and flumes which pushed into the forest sketched, in draft, its later roads. Feeding the mill cleared the land, and in logging’s aftermath came settlers, land speculators and town planners. Homes sprang up as the forest receded – though many a massive stump stood as a reminder in the ‘Lynn Valley gardens’ of the early 1900s.
Many loggers came during the gold rush – from back East and across the Pacific. They were hard men, used to labouring from first light until dark. Fearless, they were also highly skilled. A high-rigger like Charlie Koske would climb trees over 60 metres tall, chop of its top, and hang on in the hurricane that followed. Many were young, like Delmar Germyn, who worked as a ‘skid greaser’: scampering in front of several tonnes of moving logs, he greased the skids with rancid dog-fish oil. Young and old, these men toiled in the bush camps, their dangerous and difficult work rewarded in ‘jack’ – often spent in town on women and drink.
Perched on springboards, using double headed axes and crosscut saws, a big tree could take two men forty minutes to fell. Cut where they lay, the enormous logs were hauled out of the forest by teams of horses along ‘skid’ roads. Or they were reduced to ‘bolts’ and sent racing down miles of flumes. By the 1910s, steam powered ‘donkey’ engines had replaced horses. Clanking, smoking, and shuddering, they tore logs out of the bush on steel cables; first along the forest floor, later suspended on wires high in the trees. This ‘high-leading’ system brought speed but increased danger. And, of course, there were the wilderness train trestles and precarious logging roads to face.