Lumber

Booth's raft of pine timber, Sharples and Dobell's Coves, 1891. National Archives of Canada / C-006073

Lumber formed the foundation of J.R. Booth's fortune and success. Four years after establishing his own lumber company, Booth underbid many larger competitors and secured the contract to provide the lumber for the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa, declared the capital of the new Province of Canada by Queen Victoria in 1858. His willingness to be innovative helped Booth to fulfill the terms of the deal. The Parliament contract enabled Booth to prove his theory that horses could do a better job of pulling lumber than traditional oxen. Furthermore, he undercut local lumberjack wages and brought in unemployed longshoremen from Montreal and Quebec to work the bush for him. "His dock rats put the old-time lumberjacks to shame with their daring and skill at riding logs on the rivers," writes John Ross Trinnell in The Life and Times of an Ottawa Lumberking.

Center Block, Parliament Buildings, before the fire of 1916. All the wood used to construct the original structure on Parliament Hill was supplied by J.R. Booth National Archives of Canada / PA-043764

 

If securing the Parliament Building contract was the first key to J.R. Booth's success, his 1867 purchase of John Egan's timber limits was the second. Determined to possess the 250 square miles of virgin pine timber, Booth took out a loan from the Bank of British North America and bought the limits for $45,000-what was then perceived as a foolish price. When asked what he could offer as collateral, Booth replied, "These," and laid his hands on the desk of the bank manager. Booth got the loan. Years later, Booth turned down an offer of $1,500,000 for the former Egan limits.

By 1892, his sawmills had reached their zenith turning out 140 million board feet of pine lumber, more than any other mill in the world. His Ottawa mill and lumberyard covered 160 acres and 500 wagons were used to move lumber there. He employed 2,000 men in his mills and another 4,000 in his timberlands. Much of Booth's lumber was sent to the United States and to England; the decks of the famous Cunard ocean liners, Mauretania and the ill-fated Lusitania, torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat in 1915, were constructed of white pine with the initials J.R.B. stenciled on the product.

View of Queen Street looking west during the Hull-Ottawa Fire of 1900, April 26, 1900. National Archives of Canada / PA-120334

As markets for lumber steadily improved, Booth found it essential to expand his milling capacity. In 1904, he built a large modern pulp mill and two years later, erected a large paper mill adjacent to it, which turned out about 150 tons of newsprint every day. Within the next two years, his newsprint was being sold in Canada, the United States and Great Britain. In 1908, he constructed a plant at the Chaudiere capable of turning out 60 tons of cardboard per day. Along with wood and paper outputs, he also produced hydroelectric power.

Booth eventually owned more than 18,000 square kilometres of forest and became the largest individual timber limit owner in the British Empire. The constant growth of his lumber industry reflects his innovative and entrepreneurial spirit. Despite being plagued by many fires throughout his career-such as the great fire of 1900 that destroyed Booth's lumberyards and stone mansion-Booth faced these crises undaunted and immediately rebuilt his mills.