The trees around Pigeon Lake were plentiful, tall, straight, and thick. It did not take long for the homesteaders to realize that not only was the forest able to provide them with material to establish their homes, but also jobs by providing others with needed resources to establish their farms and businesses.
Logging and lumbering west of Millet, in the Pigeon Lake and Conjuring Lake areas would assist many of early settlers with an opportunity to earn a living beyond their small farms and in many cases was the difference between surviving or abandoning their homestead.
Millet resident P.J. Mullen was among the first to invest in the forest west of Millet when he and a partner obtained a lumber permit and built a sawmill along the Pigeon Lake near Mulhurst.
From autumn to spring, wagons were used to convey heavy loads of lumber to Millet, which were eventually sent by rail to markets needing lumber. Many a farmer would rise at 2 or 3 in the morning and arrive at the mill just before dawn. The horses were then fed and rested while the lumber was loaded on the wagons. The next day the team headed for Millet. It was a two-day trip during the winter more in autumn and springtime depending on the condition of the trail.
Once the team arrived in Millet the lumber was unloaded either directly onto a railroad car or piled up at the rail siding. Many times the team owner would take payment in lumber instead of cash.
Often small portable sawmills were established during the winter and farmers would haul poplar and birch logs to these mills. The lumber was made into squared timers and boards for buildings with slabs used for fences and firewood. The mills also turned willow into posts that would then be sold for 2 to 4 cents a post for fencing. During the hard times lumber became the cash of the day. Sometimes the wood would be exchanged for groceries and hardware. John West, the owner of a hardware store had little difficulty in selling his stock of willow posts because of the high demand of farmers and ranches to prevent their cattle from roaming beyond their property.
The trail from Pigeon Lake to Millet had a number of places that were difficult for hauling lumber. The worse was the Spruce Tree Crossing. The area was a boggy swamp and required people to unload the contents of a wagon and load them onto a stone boat and drag it across the swamp then the wagon and before reloading the wagon once everything had crossed the hazard.
Finally Robert Elder Sr., his sons, and neighbors decided to build a bridge over the swamp. By the winter of 1913 over 85 lumber hauling teams used the bridge to haul millions of square feet of lumber to Millet.
By the 1930’s horses began to give way to tractor pulled sleigh trains that in turn gave way to the 18 wheel trucks of today.
Pigeon Lake supplied more than lumber to Millet and the railroad station during this time. During the 1920’s Benny Quimette had a fully functional fish packing plant. For two winters the plant had a contract to supply fish to special markets in Chicago and New York. Fish were packed in chipped ice in boxes weighting two hundred pounds. Forty-two of these boxes were then placed on a sleigh. The teams would leave the plant around 6am and about halfway to Millet there was a change of horses at Henry Moonen’s farm. The fish would be unloaded onto a rail car by 7 pm that same day. The lake was heavily fished but by 1928 the commercial viability had decreased and by World War II the fish stock had collapsed. Today efforts are on the way to return Pigeon Lake to the variety and numbers of fish of its past.
Today there now exist 10 summer villages and 9 hamlets along the shores of Pigeon Lake where Rev. Rundle established the Woodville Mission. One wonders if he would recognize the area he knew for its thick forest, the dangerous life style, and a lake teaming with fish.