In 1996, Edwin C. Mason of West Gore, Hants County, decided to write an account of his early involvement in the apple barrel industry. “I was surprised to discover that there is very little knowledge retained regarding that wonderful period in the Annapolis Valley,” Mr. Mason said, and he decided to correct this oversight.
Early in his tale, Mr. Mason tells us he is blessed with an excellent memory, which he amply demonstrates by starting his story with recollections of a winter he spent in a 1920s lumber camp when he was 10 years old. At the camp the trees that eventually would become apple barrel hoops and staves are felled, trimmed and readied for shipment to the barrel mill.
In describing the lumbering process and the long winter in the camp, Mr. Mason gives us glimpses of a period in the Annapolis Valley now mostly forgotten. He talks of woods brows, snig horses, chain dogs, all once common woods expressions but a foreign language to most of us today.
“When the snigger and his horse dragged the logs from the choppers they were taken to this brow,” Mason writes, explaining that a brow was a framework of logs about two feet high. “The man snigging the logs from the woods would… roll his logs up the inclined skids onto the brow.”
“The snigger and his horse had a set of chain dogs,” is another sentence that will mystify most readers. Everything is explained in due course and the lumbering process becomes clear. Readers will even understand when Mason writes that when a lumberjack “got to the brow (he) used a peevie to pry out the dogs.” Even the colourful explanation that a worker “hung the wiffletree chain and the dogs on the horse hame and headed back to the chopper,” will be clearly understood.
While he wintered in the lumbercamp with his mother and sister, Mason still had to attend school. The camp was located on the slopes of the North Mountain near Berwick and a school was within walking distance. “Walking the great distance (to the school) through the woods twice a day was an enjoyable adventure,’ Mason recalled.
Mason’s mother cooked all the meals for the lumberjacks during the winter in the logging camp operated by her brother, Manson Redden. The fare was simple but wholesome. “I remember there were lots of big stews with dumplings and vegetables. There would be turnip, potato and carrots. There were baked beans in pork fat and molasses. Home cured ham and thick bacon. Also Lunenburg pork puddings and lots of sliced fried potatoes. For a change (mother) would make great pans of Johnny cake or cornmeal bread.”
After describing his winter in the logging camp, Mason takes us to the mill yard in Berwick, owned by Manning Sawlor. There the timber hewn from the forest is piled high and is ready for the next step in barrel making. Mason describes the steam mill and takes us to the cooperage where barrels are assembled. Here we learn that a good cooper, working from six in the morning until dark, can produce 100 barrels a day. Coopers worked by the piece in 1920, receiving 1.5 cents for each finished barrel.