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Joseph Dumville (1856-1933)
Cutting Firewood in the Qu'appell Valley

Written by Clifford Dumville of Ottawa, Ontario

photograph: Catharine and Joseph Dumville

Catharine and Joseph Dumville

In the Cambridge District of Eastern Saskatchewan today there are lots of poplar trees six to nine inches in diameter. Farmers usually have no trouble in cutting ample for their needs on their own farms. It was not always this way. In 1900 it was basically prairie with some scrub bush, but only small trees. But tree growth was moving west, first along the rivers and streams, and later filling in between.

So when Joseph Dumville came west, there were some small trees on the homestead, but no large trees to supply firewood for the house. The closest available trees of good size were in the Qu'appelle Valley, some twelve miles to the north. Cutting and hauling these was a chore for early winter, firstly because the more pressing fall work had to be finished before freeze-up, secondly it was too difficult to lift logs onto the high wheeled wagons, and thirdly, high wagon loads would be too top heavy, too unstable, and too dangerous on the valley slopes. The low winter sleighs were much more practical for the job.

Joseph and son John Edwin Dumville would start out at four a.m. with two teams and sleighs for the Qu'appelle valley, lunch in hand. On arrival they would cut, with axes, the two loads of logs. Often the road out would be too steep and slippery to haul a full load up the valley slopes. So they would load a half load each, take them to the top, dump them, go back for the other half, pick up the first half, and head out the twelve miles home.

The trip back was always cold, particularly if they were not extremely careful about not perspiring while chopping the wood. Ed Dumville told of how they used to walk behind their sleighs on the cold days to keep warm, hanging onto the tail end of the poles so as not to fall and be left behind, while the horses plodded ahead on their own. On one occasion he did fall and was unable to catch up, but watchful father Joe soon became aware of it, and stopped the teams a few hundred yards down the trail.

They would arrive home at ten or eleven o'clock. The next day they would stay home to catch up with the farm chores. The following day at four a.m. they would depart again until the winter supply was in. Ed Dumville was ten or twelve years old when he started this.