Mcrae Lumber Company, Whitney Ontario

Airy Mill: 1922-1933


The Airy Mill on the shore of Galeairy Lake with Anchor Island in the background.

In 1922, JSL McRae purchase the Airy Mill from the Mickle and Dyment Lumber Company of Gravenhurst.  The mill generally ran from about the 14th of April until the endo of October or until all the logs went through the mill. The mill operated until 1933 when it burnt, while shut down for the season.

Low round-log building with several men and a young boy standing in the doorway.
Bush camp cookery at the Head of Galeairy lake. JSL McRae is at the far right with his young son Donald.

The bush operations during the time of the Airy Mill were characterized by labour-intensive hard work on long cold winter days.  A typical bush camp consisted of 100 men and 30 horses. They would work together to fell, skid and haul the timber from the forest to log dumps on or beside the lakes, where they would await the spring thaw.


Skidder-man in cloth cap driving a team of horses pulling a felled log out of the bush.

McRae usually employed 12-14 cutting gangs of 5 men each who worked from September till Christmas or shortly thereafter.  Each of the logg-making crews was comprised of two log makers, one trail cutter, one skidway man and one temaster.

Team of two horses pulling a sled loaded with logs.

The average cutting gang could cut and skid about 40 hardwood logs or 60 softwood logs a day. The logs would be piled on skidways, sitting adjacent to the haul road with each skidway holding up to 250 logs. The log haul began after Christmas, as soon as the haul road was ready. To prepare the road, teams had to build up lake ice to at least 20 inches, plow the road and ice the ruts for the sleigh runners to glide on. The average hauling distance was about 2.5 miles, with each team doing three trips and moving about 300 logs.

Log driver walking on floating logs on a lake.  He is holding a long pole with a hook on the end, and two men are behind him in a flat-bottomed boat.

Softwood logs were dumped on the lake and boomed together, whie hardwood logs were usually piled on land beside the lake and then boomed or cribbed together for their journey to the mill. The drive by water consisted of towing the logs across lakes with cadge cribs or an alligator (a flat-bottomed boat, powered by steam that could also winch itself across land) and running the logs through log chutes that bypassed sets of rapids on rivers.


The view of the Airy Mill from the rail line. Notice the jackladder going from the lake, under to railway tracks and into the mill.

The mill at Airy was a large mill, built primarily for softwood. It had three boilers, burning sawdust and mill refuse that developed 300 HP to power the mill.  Inside, the mill was two-sided, meaning it had one big band saw and a pony band saw.  The average daily output was around 50,000 board feet or between 6 and 7 million board feet per year.