John Haegeman spent four decades researching the history behind some of Northern Ontario's earliest logging camps. Now the 84-year-old Espanola author has compiled his work into a new book.
The History and Location of North Shore Logging Camps is a 250-page compendium chronicling Haegeman's adventures visiting 300 logging camps along the North Shore of Lake Huron, which were operational from the 1880s to the 1940s.
For each entry, he's included the date he visited, the camp's GPS location, and the story of the journey to get there. He's also incorporated histories of about 40 of the companies that operated in the region.
Perhaps, most interestingly, is the inclusion of details about the camps' stamp hammers, also known as log hammers.
Resembling a long sledge hammer, each tool had a different symbol forged into its head, and they were used to "stamp" the ends of harvested logs before being floated down river in large booms. In this way, a company could track its inventory and prevent theft by rival loggers.
Haegeman said he's lost count of exactly how many stamp hammers are in his collection, but a conservative estimate puts it at between 200 and 300.
"(I have) several favourites," he said from his home in Espanola, a pulp-and-paper town located about 45 minutes west of Sudbury.
"Some I looked for for 20 years, some 30 years, and when I finally found one it was like winning the lottery."
It was his interest in stamp hammers that sparked the start of his research 40 years ago.
A fur trapper and taxidermist by trade, Haegeman was attending a trapper convention in North Bay in the 1980s when he befriended a fellow trapper. Knowing Haegeman's penchant for collecting, his friend suggested he start looking for the artifacts.
"I said, 'What in the world's a log hammer?'" Haegeman recalled. "He explained what they were and their use, and I knew that we live in an area full of old logging camps, so I started going out, and I found my first hammer, and that's how I got interested in it."
Each stamp hammer was unique to the company that used it. Some were comprised of symbols like asterisks or a company's initials, but others were more elaborate I in design.
A complete catalogue of stamp hammer symbols and their associated companies is available in the now out-of-print Registered Timber Marks of Eastern Canada, by Diane Aldred, which Haegeman used to identify and authenticate his finds.
One of the more unique hammers depicts a triangle with a thistle...