By Mary Ann Grant, OMAH History Committee
Background – An important story to tell
David Kennedy, President of the Copeland Forest Association asked Mary Ann Grant, OMAH History Committee member, if she would be interested in researching the history of Martinville, a lumbering camp in the Copeland Forest that was established 1907. David believes that the storied history of the lumbering town of Martinville and of those who worked there and lived there deserves to be told. Mary Ann agreed and the result of her research follows.
The Forests in Simcoe County
In the early 1800s most of Simcoe County was covered by softwood and hardwood trees. The primeval forest was described as a “great, hideous, impenetrable wilderness.” From this wilderness grew the lumbering industry which played an important role in the County’s economic and cultural history.
After the land was purchased from the Indigenous People in the early 1800s, most of the residents in the Copeland Forest were pioneers who practised subsistence farming, raising pigs, cattle and horses and growing hay, oats and wheat. They cleared the dense wilderness, used the logs to build their homes and sold some of it for firewood. Because the land was unsuitable, agriculture failed. There are still remnants of the homes and fences built by the farmers in the Copeland Forest. The forest was subsequently bought up and harvested by a succession of lumbermen.
The lumbermen felled these forests with axes and the lumber barons harvested, milled and shipped the wood to markets. The Visible Past, a pictorial history of Simcoe County said that “Simcoe County, by 1861, was producing 200 million feet of lumber a year – about a third of the production of the whole province.”
This backdrop led to the founding of the lumbering camp of Martinville. The story of lumbering in the area is the story of Martinville.
Where was Martinville?
Those who grew up and live in this area are familiar with the small communities of Hillsdale, Craighurst, Coulson and Jarrett, located on the Horseshoe Valley Road in Oro-Medonte. Martinville was another community located in the Copeland Forest. To be more exact, it was located about four miles southeast of Hillsdale, south of the Ingram Road in Medonte Township. If you Google Martinville it still appears on the map. Today the Ministry of Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry is responsible for this unique 4,400 acres of upland forest with its many kilometers of trails. There are still vestiges of Martinville to be seen in Copeland Forest.
This thriving lumbering community, established by the Martin Brothers in 1907, was a key centre and force in this area’s lumber industry. The community helped fuel the area’s economy by providing work to the locals; jobs such as lumbermen, foremen and cooks in the boarding house. Additional jobs were created in the surrounding community, providing goods and services in support of the lumbering activities. The lumbering at Martinville was a fine-ticking machine operated by the tight and resourceful community of residents. For the workers, it was a hard and isolated life.
For over one hundred years the Copeland Forest played a key role in the economic life of Medonte Township. Finally, in the 1970s, when lumbering was no longer profitable the forest was sold back to the Crown. The Copeland Forest had come full circle.
The Martins and the Founding of Martinville
A series of events spurred on the founding of Martinville. Both Jasper Martin Sr. and his sons William J. and Jasper Jr. (known as the Martin Brothers) owned logging operations in the Copeland Forest. Jointly they founded Martinville. The construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway (C.P.R.) through the Copeland Forest meant faster transport of goods to markets further afield. The Martin’s built a sawmill and the company town on Lot 6, Concession 3, located along the main rail line.
Martinville Sale to the Copelands
According to The Ministry of Natural Resources study about the History of the Copeland Forest, holdings of the Martins were eventually sold to the Copelands. There were a number of factors that encouraged this sale. World War I and the following recession had a devastating effect on Martinville. The mills closed down in 1915 and remained idle for some years, falling into disrepair. Also, Jasper Martin Sr. retired and gave his property to his sons William and Jasper Jr. By this time, it was suggested that their priorities had changed. They wanted to enjoy the benefits of their wealth, William travelling in his McLaughlin touring car and Jasper Martin Jr. enjoying his passion for golf and tennis.
In 1922, Charles Copeland, wanting to expand his operations in Elmvale, purchased the two Martinville Mills for $50,000. The assets and holding included 4,082 acres of land, two mills, lumber and firewood stocks. The Copelands were hardworking and savvy businessmen. The Copeland Milling Company turned the business around, revived Martinville and carried on a fairly successful business for many decades.
Life in Martinville
Martinville had a school, post office, company store and boarding house. In addition, there were seven single-family homes.
The Martins built a school for the worker’s children. It was administered by the local school board (school #2 of the local school board). However, the Martins hired the teacher and paid their salary. Another Look at Hillsdale states, “About 19 students attended in 1911-1912. This school stayed open until 1927, and was moved to Craighurst in 1932.“
Transient workers and workers with no family ties lived in the boarding house. The boarding house was a two-story structure with a large dining room. It could sleep over twenty men.
Single – Family Dwellings
Houses for the workers were built and rented to them. The rent was low. For example, it cost $3.00 a month in 1936, plus $3.00 for every cord of firewood used. By the 1970s, the rent had risen to $25.00 per month. However, the worker’s wages were also very low.
Hydro and Telephone
After hydro electricity was installed during the late 1930s, the workers paid their own hydro bills. Telephones had been installed in the office, but workers did not have phones until about 1911.
The Company Store
A company store provided meat, butter, bread and convenience food at reasonable prices to the workers. Men’s work clothes could also be purchased. Hillsdale supplied the goods for many years and local butchers and bakers delivered goods to the site until 1945. Later, wholesalers such as York Trading and Wonder Bakeries in Orillia supplied stock to the company store.
Supplies on Site
Pigs and cattle were slaughtered in Martinville. In addition, the wives of the workers grew vegetables, and picked wild berries and morels.
Lumbering Work at Martinville
The work day at the lumber camp was long and hard. A typical work day started at 4 a.m., and 5 a.m. during the harvesting season. The bush gang or cutting crew, working under the supervision of the bush foreman, left for the bush with seven teams of horses. They worked until sundown with a break midway through the day for lunch and to feed the horses. Grant Dunn of Hillsdale worked as the bush foreman for thirty years.
The Workers at Martinville
Most of the workers in Martinville were from Medonte Township and the surrounding area. Some of the workers lived off site and came to Martinville to work each day. Often during the winter local farmers would work as lumbermen to subsidize their incomes.
Medonte – A Township Remembered said that Gilman Hilts in 1899, appeared in Anten Mills and married the widow, Margaret (Leslie) Attridge. They moved to Martinville in about 1909 or 1910, where he worked in the woods. It also stated that Angus Morrison, an immigrant from Scotland, and his wife Mary moved to the Hillsdale area from Galt. Angus worked in the sawmill and Mary as a cook in the boarding house. The Morrisons had five sons and three daughters, some of whom also worked at Martinville. Their oldest son Tom was born in 1875. Two of his sons, Walter and Bert worked at Copeland’s Mill in Martinville. Tom bought his own truck, and Copeland Milling was his main customer.
The wages were low for the often-dangerous work of the lumberman and for those who worked in the supporting roles in the lumber camp. Their pay was eaten away by rent, hydro and purchases made at the company store.
For example, between 1907 and 1922, boys working at unskilled jobs such as packing shingles made 60 cents a day. Sawyers and carriage operators made $5.00 to $7.00 per day. In 1972, the foreman was earning $2.05 per hour.
Martinville was an intimate and isolated community where life was simple. The inhabitants were hard working and resourceful people that survived this difficult life, as the work was very onerous and at times very dangerous. They made their own fun holding old time square dances and tobogganing parties.
Modernization in Lumbering at Martinville
Automation impacted the labour intensity of the lumberman’s role. The process of cutting the timbers, loading, transporting and processing of the logs became mechanised, easier and safer. These changes also meant that many jobs in Martinville became obsolete.
For example, by 1922 cross-cut saws were used to fell the trees replacing the axe. Two men with a six-foot saw could cut 100 pine logs per day. The loading process was modernized making it safer and reducing the number of men required. In the 1940s, trucks replaced horses in these operations. Reduction in the number of horses also meant a drop in the agricultural activities needed to support them.
In 1955, trucks also replaced the lumber rail cars. By 1970, the use of chain saws and clam loaders enabled the truck driver to load his truck without assistance. This reduced the bush crew from thirty to ten men. The number of workers in the mills and lumber yard was reduced by half, to anywhere from eight to fifteen men. Due to the drop in demand for wood shingles the shingle mill closed in 1952.
New Highways surrounding the Copeland Forest, which connected it to the large centres in the county and outside markets, meant the end of the use of railway cars by 1960. The Highway 400 extension had a big impact as well.
Disappearance of Community Life
After World War II the community of Martinville declined as the automobile allowed workers to travel a considerable distance to work rather than live on the site. This led to the end of the life offered by Martinville.
The End of Martinville and Purchase by the Province
The Copeland business operated until the mill was destroyed by fire on May 7, 1975. In 1978, the province bought the property and the Ministry of Natural Resources (as the Ministry was then called) took over the management of the forest as a resource management area.
The Ministry of Natural Resources study (1800 to 1978), lauded the better management of the lumbering resource in the Copeland Forest, which encouraged its survival so long after the boom was over in the rest of Medonte.
Buildings in Martinville
The last vestiges of Martinville, the old post office and store and the foreman’s residence was subject to frequent vandalizing. This prompted the Ministry to burn down the buildings in 1991. The remains of some of the basements are all that is left of this community that played such an important role in the economy of Medonte.
The Copeland Forest continues to play an important role in our area. The Copeland Forest Friends Association was established to conserve the natural integrity of the Copeland Forest while facilitating compatible recreational use. The forest’s beauty and diversity make it a mecca for hikers, trail riders, bikers and cross-country skiers and for anyone who enjoys nature at its finest.
To learn more about the Copeland Forest go to www.copelandfriends.ca. Here you will find directions to the forest and a map to download.
With thanks to:
- Another Look at Hillsdale – A revised edition of Hillsdale Past and Present (Hillsdale Historical Committee 2002)
- THE COPELAND FOREST RESOURCES MANAGEMENT AREA – A HISTORY – 1800 TO 1978 – by Irene Golas. A Study Submitted by the Ministry of Natural Resources, Midhurst Ontario, as Part of Work Completed for Purchase Order A8229759 October, 1980
- THE VISIBLE PAST, The Pictorial History of Simcoe County 1967 – by the County of Simcoe – Adelaide Leitch
- Medonte – A Township Remembered – Compiled by Mary Garbutt – Published by the Township of Oro-Medonte 2003
- Simcoe County’s rich forestry history to be told in new interpretive centre (Simcoe County Museum) April 13, 2017 Simcoe.com –
- County of Simcoe WEBSITE – Forest History
- Trainweb.org – OLD TIME TRAINS by Brian Westhouse
- Medonte and Floss: Atlas, Simcoe County 1881 – Ontario Historical Map
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