Portelance Sawmill

1953-1979

The post-WWII boom opened new markets and brought new technology to logging. Leon Portelance of Sudbury acquired timber limits south and west of Ishpatina, far beyond any existing roads or previously cut areas. Rivers were the traditional transport method for logs and the Sturgeon River abutted the limits. But the timber was so far upstream that there was the risk they could not get it downriver before the end of spring runoff. Instead, Portelance built a road connecting directly with his biggest customer, INCO's Sudbury mines. Timber was sawn on the limits with a modern electricity-powered mill to make the haul more efficient.

Portelance Road

In 1953, Portelance constructed a road from Capreol to Hamlow Lake. It followed existing wagon roads and river-drive trails along the Wanapitei River. Logs had been driven its entire length, probably by the 1930s. But he had to build an entirely new road the last leg to Hamlow. The single-lane roads were considerably more primitive than roads today. They had less gravel and fill, and they did not follow the most level course or the straightest line. Former bushworker Bruno Gervais called it a "brutal road." The return trip to Capreol with a load took a day and a half.

Hamlow Lake Camp

On Hamlow, Portelance constructed 25-man camp consisting of a sawmill, horse barn, bunkhouse, office, garage, and cookeryA Delco generator provided electricity. In the winter the men were lumberjacks felling white and red pine. With horses they hauled the timber to Hamlow Lake where it was dumped on the ice to wait for breakup. In the summer, they became sawyers and sorters at the sawmill. The timber was fed into the jackladder (the underwater cribs and on-land concrete foundations are still visible) that lifted the logs to the saws. In 1962, the operation switched from horses to Timberjack skidders.

In 1973, canoeists could pay 83 cent a person to be trucked to the Sturgeon River.

Sources: Roland Breton, proprietor; Bruno Gervais, former bushworker; Keewaydin Camp archives.