The Lost Timber Slide of Chats Falls
Updated: Mar 15
I'm excited - I have a new video project in the works! As I near the finish line, it's time to let the cat out of the bag and let you know what I've been working on!
Creating my last short film, The Forgotten Valley, was such a fulfilling experience. I knew after my video premiere at the Upper Ottawa Valley Heritage Centre that I would create another short video focusing on local history. This time, I wanted to focus on a single place and perform a deep dive into the history of the location. I wanted to tell the full story.
In my personal journey of discovering all things old and abandoned in the Ottawa Valley, I have decided to turn my camera towards a historical site located in my own backyard. Timber slides were once the greatest invention in the transportation of square timber rafts down the mighty Ottawa River. Now, few traces of these structures can be found. I'm excited to officially announce my next short film documentary project...
The Lost Timber Slide of Chats Falls
So why the Chats Falls timber slide? Well, there's a few reasons I settled on this abandoned structure. First, it's very close. I can walk to the location in about 15 min or I can paddle my canoe across the harbour right to the foot of the slide in about 10 min. Second, my existing collection of local history books had numerous references to the history of the slide, so I wouldn't need to hunt down new books. Third, and probably the most important reason, the Arnprior Archives and Library and Archives Canada had a great deal of material on file relating to the slide. Plans, drawings, legislative articles, news papers, photos - everything I needed to piece together the history of the timber slide and to tell the complete story!
History of Timber Slides
Chats Falls, correctly pronounced "shaw" in English (cat in French), was once a magnificent waterfall, stretching 3 miles across the Ottawa river, just downstream of Arnprior and directly across the small village of Fitzroy Harbour. It was such a beautiful sight to behold that dedicated tourist steamships would depart from Ottawa and take patrons to the base of the falls, much like the ships of today that service Niagara Falls.
The falls posed a serious problem to the early loggers. Before trains and roads were pushed into the rugged landscape of the Ottawa Valley, the Ottawa river was the primary mode of transportation. To move the winter harvest from the lumber shanties, square timber was assembled into large rafts and would be "driven" down the Ottawa River.
At each waterfall along the way, the raft would need to be disassembled down to the individual timber and sent over the falls. To increase efficiency and reduce damage to the logs, timber slides were erected. Instead of disassembling the entire raft, a timber slide would allow the cribs (rafts were made of multiple cribs) to "run the slide" in a controlled fashion. This was a huge step forward.
A Story Unfolds
Before I started to dig deep into the history of the Chats Falls Timber Slide to uncover it's story, I really didn't know much about the structure other than "it was over there somewhere." The exact location eluded me for many years. My only hint of it's location was an old township map that had a label of "Government Slide" near the top of Victoria Island. However, it wasn't exactly clear which chute the slide ran down since there was 3 possible routes. Comparing modern Satellite images with the old map didn't help much since the construction of the modern hydro electric dam had drastically altered the landscape. I would not discover the exact location until the summer of 2022
According to the pages of history, the timber slide was built by the Buchanan brothers, sometime between 1832 and 1835. A house was built at the bottom of the slide to house the slide master and his family. The slide master was responsible for collecting tolls as well as keeping the slide in good repair. A pastime for the villagers soon immerged - riding a crib down the slide for amusement! Before the invention of rollercoasters or even fast moving automobiles, this would have been the fastest attraction in town! Tragedy would strike multiple times during the life of the timber slide. One of the Buchanan brothers would parish in an accident involving a timber crib running the slide. Years later, a slide master would loose an arm in a freak accident involving a sharp axe. The timber slide would see it's last crib in 1908 - a raft by none other than the most famous of all the lumber kings - J.R. Booth. In 1918 the government officially abandoned the slide, and in 1932 the flow of water would be forever cut off by the construction of the hydro electric dam.
Video Technical Details
Once again, I've turned to my tried and true Canon 1DX Mark II to capture my short film. This DSLR has been a workhorse in my camera collection for many years, providing error free operation in the most harsh of conditions. All video has been shot in 4K DCI @ 24 fps in MJPG MOV format. One drawback of this camera is that it does not allow you to shoot in RAW or CLOG video format. To overcome this issue, I've turned to the CineTech color profile from Vision-Color, the same color profile I used for my previous short film.
Along with my DSLR, I've added a DJI Mini 2 drone to my equipment arsenal. It does shoot in 4K, however, the quality is no where near as good at my Canon camera. While it's not the best drone on the market, the price was certainly right and it's good enough for the video's I'm producing. Having drone video adds a certain "professional" look and feel, and since I'm trying to capture something as large as a timber slide, it's nice to get up in the air to see the entire structure.
I still have a large task ahead of me - editing all the video clips into an interesting visual story. Once complete, my goal is to enter this short film documentary into the Ottawa Canadian Film Festival. The deadline is fast approaching, so I need to edit my video clips and record my narration real soon! All filming is complete, and the first draft of the story has already been written. I'd also like to host a viewing party at a local venue, so stay tuned for an announcement sometime in the summer.
Thanks for taking interest in this project of mine - I can't wait to share this with everyone!