Turning Trees into Dollars: The British Columbia Coastal Lumber Industry, 1858-1913


239 pages
Contains Maps, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-8350-6
DDC 338.4'7674'09711





Reviewed by Patrick Colgan

Patrick Colgan is the former executive director of the Canadian Museum
of Nature.


Amid the many recent volumes on contemporary forestry in British
Columbia, Gordon Hak has undertaken an historical study that extends
from the time of the gold rush to the eve of World War I. Anchoring his
work in the tradition of Harold Innis’s “staples approach,” he
progresses systematically through the various aspects of the industry.
Markets were largely distant and volatile, influenced by such factors as
rail connections, U.S. tariffs, and federal–provincial relations. In
an entrepreneurial and decentralized economy, mill companies were
variable in size and unstable in ownership. Cycles of boom and bust
favored business strategies of diversification, formation of interest
groups (such as associations of mill workers), and attempts to fix
prices (naturally resisted by prairie retailers, among others).
Governmental policies attempted to deal with constitutional issues and
arrangements for timber exploitation, generating a climate that
generally favored larger operations. The government also had to mediate
tensions between loggers and mill workers, and among ethnic groups. A
particularly interesting chapter considers critics’ demands for
conservation, labor reform, and management by trained foresters.

Well examined are the problems associated with independent logging
companies and timber-tenure, including cutting arrangements,
governmental pressure for more manufacturing, the rise of the
pulp-and-paper industry, and an influx of syndicated capitalists trying
to corner valuable areas. The course of industrialization in both
logging and milling is well documented as regards sources of power
(steam and then electrical), the role of railroads, operational issues,
and managerial control, but some pictorial illustrations would have been
worth a few thousand words. The living and working conditions
(especially accident rates) for loggers and mill workers are graphically

Hak’s text is clear and scholarly, as evidenced by the abundance of
details and references. His book is recommended for those interested in
the history of B.C or forestry.


Hak, Gordon., “Turning Trees into Dollars: The British Columbia Coastal Lumber Industry, 1858-1913,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 21, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/30467.