The logging industry
The Laurentian Forest is made up of conifers and hardwood trees. The logging industry first operated on a small scale, but it began heavily operating for profit for almost a century in 1850.
Of all human activities over the millennia, the logging industry had the greatest impact on the park's current area. Felling trees created clearings, which promoted the growth of certain species like balsam fir and white birch, heavily altering the forest’s composition. Even today, a keen eye can spot old stumps in the forest.
Transporting wood using lakes and rivers also significantly affected the aquatic ecosystem. Dams needed to be built that could adjust the water level. Thousands of logs sank to lake bottoms, never reaching their destination. Today, Parks Canada is making every effort to rehabilitate lakes and streams, including dismantling dams and removing logs from lake and river bottoms.
Around 1850, white and red pine were sought after for their sturdiness. They were used for shipbuilding in England and to respond to the shift towards urbanization happening in the United States.
Loggers and other forest workers raided the La Mauricie forest. Armed with axes and two-man saws, they worked six-day weeks, from sunrise to sunset, for the low wage of $8 per month. The majority of the workforce consisted of young men aged between 16 and 25. In winter, wood was cut and stockpiled near streams and on frozen lakes.
As ice melted in spring, log drivers took over. Water was the most efficient means to transport lumber to Trois-Rivières. To facilitate lumber circulation, dams were constructed to raise the water level of several lakes.
In 1852, the government decided to develop the Saint-Maurice River since it had many waterfalls between Piles and Trois-Rivières, which made floating difficult. From that point on, log booms and chutes were built along the river to prevent log loss and damage from eddies. In some locations, the river was completely covered by logs.
From that point on, sawmills multiplied and woodcutting intensified. Although white pine represented just over 10% of the forest in the park area, it became increasingly rare after 1880. Today, its presence is estimated to be between 0.5% and 1%.
Once these species were almost exhausted, logging turned to spruce and fir, intended for pulp and paper mills.
At the turn of the 20th century, paper mills made their appearance. Lumberjacks began attacking trees with smaller diameters. La Mauricie became the newsprint capital of the world. This industry boomed as it profited from felling spruce and fir trees. Between 1930 and 1970, woodcutting touched approximately 50% of forest cover to feed the pulp and paper industry.
In 1932, Consolidated Paper was granted a concession for most of the area. It used this land until the park’s creation in 1970. Maritime routes remained the preferred means of transport throughout this period.
In 1918, the first experimental forest in Quebec was established in the Édouard Lake area. It was the result of an agreement between the Government of Canada and Laurentide Pulp and Paper. This forest significantly contributed to forestry development in the country. Subjects studied included wildlife potential following partial clearing and the necessary conditions to regenerate red spruce. Monitoring this location for scientific experimentation ended after the park’s creation. Today, Parks Canada specialists are helping the forest recover, in particular using fire.
From 1930 to 1932, Laurentide Pulp and Paper, which became the Consolidated Paper Corporation following a merger of several paper companies, implemented an extensive reforestation program. This project covered 426 hectares of abandoned farmland along Saint-Maurice. The Saint-Jean-des-Piles white spruce plantations, crossed by the Mekinac Trail, are among some of the oldest and largest of its kind in Canada.
- The logging industry cut down an estimated 95% of the park's area at least once.
- The oldest dam, located on Wapizagonke Lake, dates back to 1827.
- In the Anticagamac Lake area, a few white pines, now nearly 300 years old, survived logging.