More creative non-fiction than historical novel, Camp 13 follows a year at a lumber camp in northwest Newfoundland in the early 1950s. White’s father, Stan, ran the camp, and much of the information here comes from letters and interviews that took place after Stan’s death. Some of the reminiscences, such as the jokes the men played on each other in the bunkhouse, surely are family stories that many generations now know and retell. A season began with cutting and stacking the wood in the spring and summer, amidst the heat and biting insects. The haul-off didn’t happen until winter, when another crew of men loaded up horse-drawn sleds and deposited hundreds of cords of wood on the frozen river that would run to Gander Lake when the spring thaw came.
Stan White had a plan that would save the men, and his pocket, time and money on hauling the other 6000-plus cords of pulpwood out of his territory: he’d have the men toss the wood over a cliff into a gorge that would fill with water in the spring and push the logs downstream into Gander Lake. Some said it couldn’t be done, and that’s where the tension is in this tale. Personalities, weather, and animals all clash in this at times funny, at times nail-biting story. From the descriptions of camp food—fresh-baked tea buns, bowls of steaming prunes—to the collaboration needed to succeed in this tough terrain, White’s descriptions evoke what was one of the last bastions of isolated and all-male work situations. Newfoundland joined Canada in 1949, so there’s a bit of the bigger political picture here, as well. At times the dialogue is stilted, and peppered with an overabundance of exclamations of “Jingoes!” but the story as a whole is well-told.