Clearing a Lot

An early settlement Un premier hameau

A new settlement such as Rawdon would have few amenities. A general store offering basic needs, a grist mill and a sawmill and very little else except possibly a forge to craft tools, runners to shoe sleds, and any other metal requirements such as repairing guns and fabricating door hingers, handles, etc.

L’établissement d’une agglomération telle que Rawdon était très spartiate avec peu de commodités. Un magasin général avec des fournitures de base, deux moulins, un moulin à grains et un moulin à scie, et très peu d’autres choses. Une forge était probablement disponible dès le début pour fournir des outils, des patins pour traîneaux et pour fabriquer d’autres objets en métal comme des charnières et des poignées de porte, etc.

A careful list of the requirements for clearing and building on a new lot was made before gathering the necessary tools and equipment. This included a spade, an adze, a short handled axe, a felling axe, a broad axe, a brush (bill) hook, a reaping hook, a pitch fork, pick axe, scythe, hoe, a hammer, a plane, chisels, an auger, a hand saw, files, etc. When possible the basic tools were supplemented with  a pit-saw, a grindstone, a crow bar, a sledge hammer. This was quite a collection to be hauled through the bush on a travail (two long poles stabilized with cross pieces, ideally drawn by an ox)and carted to their lot.

New arrivals were faced with thick forests that had remained untouched by humans for hundreds of years. Such a dense forest with huge trees protected by thick underbrush was new experience for potential for Europeans.

Usually clearing was started in early spring as soon as the snow was gone. This allowed time to clear the chosen site and build a house and barn before winter arrived. To arrive in time to have a shelter built before the winter closed in.

On arrival at their given lot usually a site for the buildings was chosen. A relatively flat surface with some natural  protection from the elements, and a good source of water nearby were major considerations.

Building the house also required a few more supplies: a draw knife, a pair of hinges, a door, nine panes of glass, 1 lb. of putty, 14 lbs. of nails. When window pane was not available it was replaced with pieces of tanned deer skin.

Although few household furnishings were carried through the bush, minimal domestic equipment such as a kettle and a pan for cooking, basic tableware, a blanket for each adult, one for every two children were essential. 

Preliminary preparations included clearing an area of underbrush for sleeping accommodations. With a suitable space cleared fir boughs were cut and laid on this ground. The boughs were covered with blankets and a tarpaulin was raised over the top.  This was to be the sleeping quarters until the house was built.

Meals were cooked over an open fire and might be served on a large stump table. Seating was on logs or stumps.

For the next few months this shelter was to be the only protection from the elements. Food was cooked over an open fire, a large stump served for a work table, smaller stumps as seating.

Once a shelter was in place the clearing process began. Before the first tree could be felled  the thick underbrush had to be cleared. Using a short handled axe (there was not enough space to swing a regular axe) everything under 4 or 5 inches was chopped close to the ground. This brush was then piled to be burnt.

Usually an area suitable for building was chosen and clearing began there. Once the buildings, usually a cabin and stable/barn were in place clearing for fields began.

A search for the best areas for cultivation were chosen. Ash, beach, maple, elm, or basswood, grew on fertile soil. The wood also made good fuel for the long, cold, days of winter and the roots rotted more quickly than those of softwood trees. 

Oak trees were split to make posts for fencing and pine, cedar, white ash for rails. 

With the exception of the building site, stumps were not usually removed until later when there was more time.

Due to the difficulty of getting logs to market, hardwood, although in great demand for exportation, was used to make potash that could be delivered to Montreal in barrels.

Potash became an important source of income in this area. In the mid 19th century here were as many as 12 potash plants in Rawdon.


The site for the homestead was usually the first area to be cleared. A thick undercover was chopped and the debris burnt before the cutting could be commenced. Until the late 19th century all cutting was done with an axe. Logs destined for building were piled, everything else burnt. Oxen were the customary choice for clearing.

L’emplacement de la ferme était généralement la première zone à être défrichée. Un épais sous-couvert était coupé et les débris brûlés avant de pouvoir commencer la coupe. Jusqu’à la fin du 19e siècle, toutes les coupes étaient effectuées à la hache. Les billots destinés à la construction étaient empilés, tout le reste était brûlé. Les bœufs étaient le choix habituel pour le défrichage.

After removing and burning the thick underbrush a logging bee was called to commence the actual clearing.

The trees were cut and branched. Logs for building were measured to size and hauled to a piling area.

There were two burnings, the pile of underbrush cleared to make way for chopping, and another lit after the trees were fallen, to burn the heaps of branches and unwanted logs.

Once a fire was lit, it was kept burning day and night. Several men were needed to keep the logs burning by pushing the brands inward until only ash remained. This was a disagreeable job as the men were soon had blackened faces & clothes. 

After the fire had burnt out and the ashes cooled, they were spread over the fields.

Once a tree had been brought down, the branches and bark were stripped off logs needed for building and were piled to be burnt.

Care had to be taken that the wind was not blowing towards any buildings.

A Logging Bee

Notice the fires in the background.

Frequently a chopping bee was held for a new arrivals to be initiated to the art of clearing the bush by those who had already had experience in the methods and dangers.

Once the tree had been brought down, the branches were stripped and the bark removed from logs destined for building. These logs were measured, cut to length and split if required before being piled.

The remainder were piled to be burnt.

Again, all hands were expected to help keeping the fire burning all day and through the night.

One man could cut 1 acre of timber, 14 feet long, in eight days. That included clearing the underbrush and branching the logs.

Three man with one ox could pile the logs in two days.

The logs were measured, and cut into the required lengths for building, then piled and left to be drawn to the building site with oxen.

The frame timber was cut and squared with a broad axe, then hauled to the building site. Logs for lumber were hauled to the saw mill.

Areas to be cleared for agriculture were chosen depending on the type of trees in that particular area. Areas with primarily softwood were not usually suitable land for farms and roots and stumps of softwood could take as long as 40 or 50 years to rot. However, pine was valued as a timber for boards, (think of all the antique pine furniture so popular for collectors a few years ago). Pine also made good quality charcoal for blacksmiths as there were no coal mines in the area.

10 Years Later

The slow, laborious task of clearing continued for many years till fields were opened for cultivation. After the initial site was cleared hardwood was set aside for the production of potash. There were 14 potash plants in the early days of the Township.

La tâche lente et laborieuse de défrichage s’est poursuivie pendant de nombreuses années, jusqu’à ce que les champs soient ouverts à la culture. Une fois le site initial défriché, le bois dur était mis de côté pour la production de potasse. Il y avait 14 usines de potasse dans les premiers jours du canton.

It was also many years before all the stumps were removed from a lot. These oxen are pulling a wagon designed to take stumps away from the fields.
Il a fallu de nombreuses années avant que toutes les souches ne soient enlevées d’un lotissement. Ces bœufs tirent un chariot conçu pour enlever les souches des champs.

Picking rocks was was a never ending task on most lots. Every spring time was set aside to pick rocks that had come to the surface with the frost. The need to pick rocks did not lessen with the years. This photo was taken in the early 1950’s.

Le ramassage des pierres était nécessaire sur la plupart des terrains. Chaque printemps, on prenait le temps de ramasser les pierres qui étaient remontées à la surface avec le gel. Cette photo a été prise au début des années 1950.

Once a clearing was made it was fenced to keep straying cattle from entering and destroying the crop. The most common version of fence was made with cedar posts and rails. Cedar was very durable and known to last fifty or more years. Rails were lowered before the snow fell to prevent breakage and to allow sleighs to pass through.

Une fois qu’une clairière était faite, elle était clôturée pour empêcher le bétail errant d’y entrer et de détruire la récolte. La version la plus courante de la clôture était faite de poteaux et de barres en cèdre. Le cèdre était très durable et pouvait durer cinquante ans ou plus. Les barres étaient abaissées avant la chute de la neige pour éviter qu’elles ne se cassent et pour permettre aux traîneaux de passer.