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Authors: Robert A. Poirier

Tags: #Novel


BOOK: Washika
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Robert A. Poirier


A Novel



Copyright © Baraka Books 2012


All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, record ing, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.


Cover illustration by Dean Ottawa
Cover by Folio infographie
Book design by Folio infographie
Editing by Mary Bialek
Map on p. 12 by Robert A. Poirier
Photos by Douglas Gagnon: p. 13, The
operated by the late Arthur Gagnon, and p. 227
Illustration p. 305, other photos and back cover, by Julia Philpot


Legal Deposit, 4th quarter, 2012
Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec
Library and Archives Canada


ePub conversion by
Studio C1C4
isbn 9781926824710


Published by Baraka Books of Montreal

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We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts for our publishing program.

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To Louise and Pete


his is a story about twenty-one students who recently completed their final year at the Collège de Ste-Émilie, a high school in the small Quebec town of Ste-Émilie. The students signed up to work for a major forestry company, a summer job on the beautiful Cabonga Reservoir located in the heart of the La Vérendrye game reserve some 270 kilometres north of Montreal. The students were hired to work on the sweep, an integral part of the log drives that took place for years on the Cabonga.

This story, although told in English, actually takes place almost entirely in French. All of the characters are French speaking, with the exception of Emmett Cronier who speaks French but always swears in English. A glossary at the end provides definitions for the French terms and expressions and for some English words specifically related to logging.

is a story about young students working with older men, about discovery of attitudes and selfishness, and about situations never dreamed of. It is a story of change, experienced either willingly or unwillingly, but change that leaves its mark for as long as water flows from the Cabonga into the mighty Gens-de-Terre River.

Map of the Cabonga Reservoir

Chapter 1

abonga Lake was quite a large lake, famous for its long sandy beaches that stretched great distances along the shore and deep into the jack-pine forests. With the arrival of the white man and the forest industry, the lake and its surroundings were slowly but irreversibly changed. More and deeper water was needed for transporting the trees felled by the lumberjacks and so a dam was built at the south end of the lake, just where the mighty Gens-de-Terre River begins its flow southward. After the construction of the Cabonga Dam the water flowed steadily from the Cabonga River in the northeast and Cabonga Lake was gradually transformed into a larger body of water, the Cabonga Reservoir. Some of the former beaches remained, though smaller in size, while others disappeared completely. New shorelines were created, flooded areas of jack pine suddenly appeared, and new islands, that had once been lesser mountains in the forest, sat above the water.

Washika Bay was one of the larger areas to survive. Before the flood, the bay, with its extensive volume of beach sand, had been almost desert-like, a natural clearing stretching more than a mile in length and almost as deep. Even after the water level rose the clearing remained, as long though not as deep as it had once been.

Washika Bay was a camp site, a Company depot of sorts, for those men who worked the waters of the Cabonga in tugboats, rounding up logs that came from the logging camps and towing them downstream to Cabonga Dam.

All of the buildings at Washika Bay were painted green, a deep forest green. However, the camp itself was well organized and anyone visiting the site could see immediately, that much thought had gone into planning the layout of the buildings. The infirmary, for example, had been built on a section of beach that sloped upward from the water to the main plateau where the rest of the camp was situated. This provided for a quiet, peaceful environment should any patient have to spend an extended time there. The camp was built along the north-south axis of the bay, the infirmary being at its northern extremity. Just above the infirmary, a gravel road arrived from the lumber camps to the north, went straight by the camp, and ended at a log dump, at the extreme south end of the bay. The next most northerly building was the generator shed where a diesel engine-generator combination created electricity for the camp during certain fixed hours. The shed had been situated far enough away from the other buildings that the noise from its diesel engine did not disturb the residents of the camp or the infirmary. Next to and south of the generator shed was the garage-cum-machine shop. There, two men maintained and repaired the tugboats and the two tractors that were used for manipulating logs at the log dump.

The camp itself faced west, looking out onto the Cabonga. To the east was the jack-pine and white-birch forest. The main sleep camp was a long, narrow building, placed lengthwise and close to the forest and just south of the garage. There was a den at its north end with a hallway leading to the common washbasin and the two washrooms. On both sides of this hallway were individual bedrooms, each housing two beds. In front of the main sleep camp was the cookhouse, which consisted of a kitchen and a separate dining area where all the men at the camp took their meals. Just south of the cookhouse was what the men commonly referred to as the bunkhouse-and-office. This building was unlike the others in that half of it served as a sleeping area while the other half was an office for the camp clerk and two scalers, a radio room, and the van, a simple store with numerous articles for sale to the workers. Directly west and in front of the cookhouse was a small hut containing the truck scales. The west side of the hut had a large window facing the gravel road. Less than three feet from the hut were long wood planks laid down, level with the road. What could not be seen were the mechanical parts of the scales beneath this wood planking. When the trucks stopped there with their loads of logs to be weighed, the total weights appeared as a numerical reading on a scale inside the hut.

Settled in next to the forest and several hundred feet from the camp were three other small cabins. Like all of the buildings at Washika, these three cabins were painted green and had black, tarpaper roofs. The first of these cabins was a small one-room structure where P'tit-Gus, the chore boy slept and rested when he could. Next to this cabin was a three-room building where the cook, Dumas Hébert, resided. There was a small den and a spare room for an assistant, if and when he had an assistant. The last of these cabins was somewhat more elaborate: not only did it have a separate bedroom and living room but also running water, a kitchen sink and a washroom. This was where Simard-Comtois, the superintendent of the camp, spent a major portion of his time.

BOOK: Washika
13.29Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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