I won’t dwell on the current COVID-19 pandemic – this is not the platform – but while reading some of the daily updates on-line, an aspect of a much earlier pandemic piqued my interest.
Typhus, yellow fever and cholera epidemics have been sweeping the world since the nineteenth-century. During the ‘third’ and ‘fourth’ cholera pandemics (1846 – 1895), Irish famine survivors along with other English and European emigrants introduced cholera to North America. Thousands died in New York alone, due in part to ignorance of how the disease was spread and contracted. It’s estimated over 50,000 Americans died as a result of the outbreaks. Quack cures and remedies abounded (figures 1 & 2).
Fig. 1. Unhelpful advice.
Fig. 2. Laughable remedies. (New York Times)
Droves of people fled disease hotspots to socially distance themselves in remote areas in hopes of avoiding the grips of the epidemics. I myself have been practising physical distancing for decades, though I live in comfortable surroundings with full amenities – unlike many of the wretched nineteenth-century evacuees.
The vast forests of North America and Canada were favourite destinations for thousands of families and individuals seeking seclusion. Many began their isolation beneath canvas until more permanent accommodation could be constructed. The problem with living in the wilderness for most of the evacuees was they had few tools and lacked the skills to use them. Natheless, with their enterprising frontier spirit, they soon began hewing homes out of the most abundant commodity – trees.
The old growth trees were enormous with girths so large, they could – when hollowed out – accommodate a sizeable family. The greatest drawback was, of course, how to erect a roof hundreds of feet above the forest floor.
The solution was simple: Cut off the unwanted part of the tree (figures 3 & 4).
Fig. 3. Three brothers beginning the removal of the top of their new home.
Fig. 4. A team of ‘stump men’ after the successful ‘topping’ of a large tree.
Once reduced in height, the stump could be hollowed out and a shingle roof constructed over the top (figures 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 & 10).
Fig. 5. A group of men fitting out the interior of a stump.
Fig. 6. ‘Home sweet home’.
Fig. 7. A stump house with an extension.
Fig. 8. Still a bit of work to do in the garden.
Fig. 9. This stump house has a stove inside…
Fig. 10. … and this one has a stable at the rear.
It soon became apparent to this new breed of stump-dwellers that their endeavours produced an awful lot of waste which littered their immediate environment. Much of the waste was quite sizeable too and required significant horsepower to remove (figures 11, 12, 13 & 14).
Fig. 11. It must have been for a very large family.
Fig. 12. The waste from stump houses built on hillsides could be rolled away…
Fig. 13. … others had to haul their waste away.
Fig. 14. Another load of waste being disposed of.
Much of the smaller waste was piled in heaps and burned. (figure 15).
Fig. 15. Building a big bonfire.
Those in close proximity to rivers simply dumped their waste in the watercourse only to cause impossible headaches for those downstream (figure 16).
Fig. 16. Fishermen with their poles looking for gaps to drop their hooks in.
When navigating the great rivers became hampered, dumping tree waste was made illegal, though enforcement was virtually impossible. Once the virulence of the epidemics had subsided, teams of ‘lumberjacks’ (figure 17) were established to move in and clear away obstructions.
Fig. 17. The first team of lumberjacks to be implemented in British Columbia.
Though they’ve largely lost their way, the tradition of lumberjacks is still celebrated to this day (figure 18).
Fig. 18. A troupe of lumberjacks.