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Some Early Woods Laborers

Odds and Ends From The MUSEUM!

By Trudy Wyman, Curator, Millinocket Historical Society Museum


            Who were the woodsmen who cut the logs and pulpwood that was sent down the rivers and the lake to the Great Northern Paper Company mills? Many came seasonally through the company’s employment offices in Bangor. Many worked through the season and then left and returned the next year. Some only worked one season. Some made Millinocket home in the off-season.

            Sylvio Caron’s book, Lumbering in the Millinocket Area 1930 Thru 1950 tells from his own experiences and knowledge about some of the lumbermen who came from Aroostook County, Canada and Europe. Many settled in the Millinocket area.

            In the 1920’s and 30’s, families from Northern Aroostook County settled in the Millinocket area. Many of the men were unable to get jobs in the mill, so they went to work in the woods in GNP operated camps or were hired by contractors who contracted for GNP. Others worked for sawmills operated by Frank Rush (on Millinocket Stream in the “Pines”) or Charles Madden (Grindstone). Some shoveled snow in the B & A railroad yard. Some worked the river drive in spring and then went into the woods after the drive ended. In that time period there were lumber camps only ten miles or so from Millinocket allowing the locals to be home on Sundays. In the fall, entire families might return to “the County” for potato picking season where the family could earn enough for winter clothes and some extra for the winter months. During the summers, boys ages 12-15 often worked in the wood’s camps along with their fathers.

            In the early 1900’s, woodsmen came to Maine from New Brunswick, Quebec and a few from Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. They had to pay a “head tax” of $8 to get a visa and work here. An agreement was made between GNP and the US and Canadian Immigration Services. GNP posted bonds for these workers (thus the term “bonded” worker). In the 1930’s & 40’s, US Immigration Officers visited the camps (usually during winter, unannounced and usually in the night) to look for illegal workers. When WWII began, there was a shortage of woodsmen as many men left to enlist or went elsewhere to work in defense plants.  

In the 1920’s, a number of Polish, Finnish, Lithuanian and Russian men were working as woodsmen in the Millinocket area. They tended to go to camp in May and work until the next March without ever coming to town. Some had camps just outside of town and lived there until the river drives started or it was time to for the lumber camps to open again. Many of the County woodsmen, Canadian woodsmen and European woodsmen called Millinocket home and established families and a life here.

Another group of woodsmen employed by GNP in 1945 were German Prisoners of War. One POW camp was located near Greenville (Seboomook) and another in the Houlton area. There lived in barracks and were guarded by American Army soldiers (mostly veterans of WWII). Caron stated in his book, “My stepfather was a foreman at the camp in the Houlton area. He told me the German war prisoners didn’t try to escape. They were treated better and fed better than by their own people.”

Note: The Museum is interested in obtaining copies of Sylvio Caron’s book if anyone has an unwanted copy. We also accept copies of other books by local authors or subjects.

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