In this 1903 picture

Once upon a loggers Christmas

A look back into the history of the Campbell River Area

Megan Purcell

Museum at Campbell River

Christmas is thought of as a time for family and friends, for gaiety and grandeur.  For those living in a city, that can be fairly easy to come by.

But what about the loggers in the early years, the men living in camps along the BC coast, or working two-man operations in the bush who rarely saw family or friends?  It could be quite a lonely life for those early loggers of the 1870s and 1880s.  They were a rugged, manly sort, not prone to needing many friends, but when it came to Christmas, they were looking for human interaction, fun and frivolity.  In the British Columbia Lumberman it was said that “… the real, bottled-in-bond, he-Christmas of the Logger is spent nowhere but in town.”

A logger would scrimp and save for months before the Christmas season, knowing what December in the city would bring, and it was a time worth saving for.  If they were in camp, they might limit their commissary purchases to the bare minimum.  Days, sometimes even weeks before Christmas, loggers would begin to make their way from west coast camps to Vancouver by hitching a ride on a passing tug, or taking the Union Steamship.   Their destination was usually Gastown or Skid Road.  Those who were first to arrive would spend their time watching the waterfront for the arrival of their chums and it became a fun little guessing game for the loggers already in town to see who would arrive next.  When the boats came in bearing their friends, hearty welcomes, cheery calls and handshakes were passed all around.  Upon making their way up the hotel, a drink was shared as a proper welcome to all.  From there, another drink was had, in support of the first, of course.  Then the third drink supported the second drink, and on it went.

Camaraderie abounded as news from the camps was exchanged and tales were told.  Loggers made their way from hotel to hotel, from bar to bar; meeting new friends, partaking of liquor and finding the companionship of ladies.

By Christmas Day, all of the Vancouver hotels were full and the men were ready to celebrate.  Each of the hotels hosted a grand feast on December 25th, complete with delicacies such as bunch-grass beef, venison and suckling pig,  turkeys, geese, chicken and duck, all roasted to perfection.  This feast fit for a king was capped off with plum pudding set ablaze with brandy and mince pies.  Of course, no feast was complete without kegs of beer and ale and bottles of whiskey to go round.

Depending on how much had been saved in the previous months, a logger might stay in town right through to New Year’s Day.  They celebrated the end of the year much the same as they did Christmas; with food, friends, drinks and women.

It must be remembered that not every man left camp to go to town for the holidays.   Although at some camps, company owners were accused of not paying any attention to Christmas, there were many who offered their workers the mightiest of feasts.  For the majority of the year, the men lived without fresh produce, meat and eggs that weren’t possible to get in camp, but the Christmas Day feast saw only the best venison, suckling pigs, turkeys, ducks, geese and sirloin.  Eggs, that cost a whopping $3.00 a dozen in 1877, were a necessity for the plum pudding and would be purchased for the festive season so that the men could enjoy that traditional Christmas sweet.

In the end, whether they went to town or stayed in the bush these hard working fellows did their best to make the holiday season a memorable occasion, knowing it would be another twelve months before Christmas came again.