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An excerpt from

When Giants Fall: The Gilmour Quest for Algonquin Pine

© 1998, 2001 by Gary Long and Randy Whiteman
Published by Fox Meadow Creations

Main page for When Giants Fall

The excerpt below is from the beginning of Chapter 1, “Timber Frontier.”

October 13, 1892, was not a Friday, and even if it were, the unlucky connotations would never have crossed the pragmatic mind of a 41-year-old lumber baron named David Gilmour. But the events of that day would later haunt David, for they were the catalyst of a daring project that ultimately led to the collapse of his prosperous business empire — a project that ranks as one of the most fascinating chapters in the story of the pine lumbering era in eastern Canada.

Of course what happened on 13 October was not the only factor that precipitated the events which followed. It was merely the final turning point, a decision that once taken was irreversible. By day’s end, ironically, David Gilmour would have considered his efforts a resounding success.

Gilmour, along with representatives of many Canadian and U.S. lumber companies, was in Toronto for an Ontario government auction of pine timber berths. Included on the auction list were the rights to cut pine in some of the last virgin forests in southern Ontario. These old-growth woodlands grew on the lofty Algonquin highlands along the western side of what would in 1893 become Algonquin Park. For nearly a century lumbermen had been relentlessly chopping through the vast pine reserves of the province. There remained few regions south of Lake Nipissing not previously cut over or not already under licence.

Perhaps more desperately than his competitors, David Gilmour required a fresh source of pine. His extensive sawmilling and wood manufacturing complex at Trenton on Lake Ontario was starved for logs. The survival of the company on its existing scale depended upon economical access to a plentiful new supply of raw material. Possibly even more crucial than the continued success of the business was the need to uphold the Gilmour reputation. For much of the 19th century the Gilmour family had enjoyed its role as a giant on the Canadian lumbering scene, one of the powerful dynasties that made millions seeking and felling the majestic pines of the primeval forest. The Gilmours succeeded because they were smart, ruthless, ambitious, innovative, lucky when they needed to be, and not afraid to gamble everything when the stakes warranted the risk. Two generations preceding David had established and expanded the Canadian operation, successfully adapting to profound changes in the technology, markets, competition, and politics of the 19th century. David had inherited the family traits and built the Trenton mill into one of the largest and best equipped on the continent. Now it was up to him to save it.

When Giants Fall main catalogue page.

 

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