At the turn of the last century, lumberjacks throughout the northern U.S. and Canada sent millions of logs downriver. Many were destined for ships headed to Great Britain. But about ten percent of the logs sank along the way. In recent years, some of that old wood has been retrieved and sold on the market. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Karen Kelly reports on a pair of cabinetmakers who are using it to recapture a part of history:
At the turn of the last century, lumberjacks throughout the northern U.S. and Canada sent
millions of logs downriver. Many were destined for ships headed to Great Britain. But
about ten percent of the logs sank along the way. In recent years, some of that old wood
has been retrieved and sold on the market. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Karen
Kelly reports on a pair of cabinetmakers who are using it to recapture a part of history:
Dave Sharpe balances a cupboard door against its frame as his brother Andy secures it with
They’re installing cabinets in a cottage tucked into the woods of Quebec.
The cabinets are made from century-old pine logs that Dave says were pulled from the
bottom of the Ottawa River.
“I think it’s unbelievable when you think that we’re working with wood that was destined to
go to England like maybe 150 years ago. I always wonder what these old guys that cut the
logs would think if they knew it was 2003 and here we are installing a kitchen in Quebec
with the lumber that they cut. They’d probably think we were crazy for bringing it back
But for Dave and Andy Sharpe, this wood is a source of inspiration. They design and build
cabinets and furniture in the small town of Havelock, Ontario. They prefer this lumber
because it’s 20 percent denser and heavier than commercial pine. That’s because the logs
came from forests that had never been harvested before.
Plus, the colors are unique. The lumber has spent decades lying on the bottom of the river.
There, it was exposed to minerals that left streaks of red, yellow and blue. Mostly, the
wood has the look of a marble cake. There are stark contrasts between lights and darks.
Andy says the reclaimed lumber has changed the way he approaches his work.
“Sometimes you’ll find a unique board and you’ll set that board aside because you know it
would make a neat board in a table or something. The other thing, you tend to use more
hand tools on this wood than what you do the commercial pine. You just feel, you want to
feel the wood.”
Andy slides a hand planer along the edge of a door.
Tiny curls of wood fall into a pile as he carefully molds the door to the frame.
While Andy and Dave love the feel of the wood, and the color, they say what really
inspires them is the story behind it.
At the turn of the last century, about two thirds of men in the Ottawa area worked in the
lumber industry. They spent the winter in rough cabins, cutting down trees and piling them
on the ice. Come spring, they’d ride the logs downriver.
Dave says those men are always present to him while he’s working.
“I can’t pick up a piece of it where I don’t think of the old days and the men that lived on
the rivers while they were driving the logs and lost their lives. Really, it fascinates me and I
think that I feel closer to them. I feel like I’m a part of that chain. I feel kind of like the
end of the log boom in Canada.
That passion influences customers too.
Will Lockhart hired the Sharpes to renovate the kitchen in his cabin.
The cabin’s an important part of his family’s history.
But he wanted it to represent the history of the region as well.
“Today, a lot of people don’t know about the logging days and it used to be, as Dave and
Andy mentioned, such an important part of this part of the world. I mean, everybody was
involved in it. The rivers were full of logs and we don’t know that anymore.”
Dave Sharpe says, when he builds a piece of furniture, he imagines someone passing it on
to their grandchildren.
And telling them the story of Canada’s lumberjacks.
It’s estimated that the supply of reclaimed wood will be exhausted within 40 years.
Dave and Andy Sharpe plan to devote that time to preserving it in their furniture – leaving
behind a tangible piece of history.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Karen Kelly.