Hanging on a wall in the White Rock community centre is an oil painting of a long ago log drive on the Gaspereau River. The painting is one of a few remaining records of a period when a grist and lumber mill operated on the Gaspereau River in White Rock.
This was the S. P. Benjamin Mill which opened in 1885, employing 50 to 75 men summer and winter in the 15 years it was in operation. In effect, the mill was a tiny community in itself. On the site besides the grist and lumber mills was a boarding house with a full-time cook, a blacksmith shop and stables for horses and oxen. The entire operation was tucked into an area on the left bank of the river immediately above the White Rock bridge.
Looking at the Gaspereau River around White Rock today, it’s difficult to believe there actually were log drives. However, Wolfville entrepreneur S. P. Benjamin, who in the late 19th century owned or leased thousands of acres of woodland around the river and around Gaspereau Lake, needed access to the Minas Basin for his timber after it was harvested. The Gaspereau River was conveniently nearby. Obtaining permission from landowners along the river to cart timber over their land, Benjamin went about building a sprawling mill. Every winter, for nearly two decades, timber was harvested and hauled to vantage points along the river. In the spring the logs then were dumped down the bank into the river and an old fashioned log drive followed.
What were those logs ultimately used for? Any references I found about Benjamin’s mill mention only that it was a grist and lumber mill but it is often confused with a pulp mill which was lower down the river. For a story I did In 1965 I interviewed Raleigh Eagles whose father had worked for Benjamin; Eagles told me that Benjamin’s was solely a grist and lumber mill. Another source, a story in a Wolfville newspaper published in 1937, mentions S. P. Benjamin hauling millions of board feet of lumber, using horses and oxen, from his mill to Port Williams. From the Port, says this source, the lumber was shipped worldwide.
Bert Young (1911- 2004) was the artist who more than half a century ago painted the picture of the log drive found in the White Rock community hall. In the picture, working to keep the logs moving down the river with peaveys, are his father Walter Young and Howard Smith.