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Early Industry Case Studies

The Great West Lumber Company

By 1906 Alberta was in the midst of the settlement boom. Tremendous building demands fostered the rise of what became central Alberta's largest lumber company, the Great West Lumber Company (G.W.L.). It was the product of the amalgamation of several smaller companies in the Red Deer area, and interested investors from Manitoba and British Columbia. The G.W.L. planned to use the Red Deer River to transport logs. This was not a new idea, as the river had been used by other companies. However, the G.W.L. undertook to tame the river a little by dredging new channels, building a mill pond, and eventually building a dam on the James River that flowed from the west into the Red Deer River.

Logging Camps, c.1910.Unlike its predecessor, the Alberta Lumber Company, the G.W.L. was a success. The company established logging camps on the headwaters of the Red Deer River. The two camps employed approximately 440 men housed in enormous bunk houses that held up to 120 men, two to a bunk. The mill employed roughly 100 men and ran two 10-hour shifts each day throughout the summer and fall. In 1909, a mill worker's wages for a 10-hour shift were $1.70.

The mill continued to expand until by 1911 it produced 2,438,400 metres of lumber. New equipment included a 350 horsepower engine, an electric generator, a new gang saw, trimmer, a huge lathe and a power drill. To accommodate it all, the mill was lengthened by 15 metres. Unfortunately for the company, a series of setbacks combined to reduce the output drastically. That, together with the general economic recession in 1913 and the subsequent labour shortages of the First World War, spelled the end of the company in 1916.

Kelly Buziak. Toiling in the Woods: Aspects of the Lumber Business in Alberta to 1930. n.p.: Friends of Reynolds-Alberta Museum Society and Alberta Culture and Multiculturalism, Historic Sites and Archives Service, 1992. With permission from
Friends of Reynolds-Alberta Museum



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