Posted by: John Munro | November 1, 2014

N & Lab. Forest Service History – Some Personal Experiences

Garfield (Gar) Collins Interview – notes July 7/2014 (re write)

   100_1967 Gar 2014

Gar was born at Seldom, Fogo Island on September, 23, 1930,  and went to school there. He started work with the Government Fire Patrol in April, 1958 at Lewisporte. Jack Carpenter was his boss. Roy Forward was also in the office and also Albert Fudge, Jack Freake, and Roy Mclean. Ed Cochrane was the Regional Director for the Central Newfoundland Region. Bert Brinson was in the Loon Bay Fire Tower.

Gar retired from the Forest Service in April, 1988.

After their first summer on the Fire Patrol, Gar and Wes Freake were retained on staff at Lewisport for general forestry field work for the rest of the year in the Notre Dame District. This would mainly involve checking ongoing woodlands harvesting operations on Crown Lands, as well as other field duties. For example, Gar would sometimes work as a cook on forest survey parties.

The Forest Service also had a patrol boat, The Umbretta based in Lewisport, which later was based at Baie D’espoir. It was used for accessing areas that could not be reached by road. Ralph Brown used to operate it and Sam Greening also had his ticket. As the road network expanded after Confederation in 1949, the need for such boats declined.

The Umbretta served her last days at Baie D’espoir in the 1960’s.

On one such occasion in the 1960’s, Gar had been working as a cook for a forest Survey party at Battle Pond in Central Newfoundland during the winter. The crew included Al Brennan, Joe Lowe and Hollis Oates. they were there for 10 days in February, 1962. Austin Garrett flew them in from Gander in a Beaver in two trips.

THey set up two tents. Al and Gar slept in the cook tent and Hollis and Joe LOwe slept in the other one. There was about 4 feet of snow under the tents. One afternoon it starte to snow and the crew had not returned gor supper. Gar was worried and walked some distance out from the camp, and set a lantern up high in a tree. He looked around and thought he saw a light in the distance, through the snow. He walked towards it and found the crew around a big fire, getting ready to spend the night there, because they were not sure of the direction back to camp. As it turned out they weren’t that far from camp and they all got home for the supper of fish and brewis that Gar had prepared.

After the survey party had finished their work at Battle Pond and were to move into an AND Company logging camp near Victoria Lake. Austin Garrett was moving them in an S 55 Helicopter and had dropped Gar at the new camp and returned to the Battle Pond camp.

Gar was in the logging camp and getting ready to cook supper for the others when they arrived. However the water pipes in the camp were not connected and he needed water, so he walked to a nearby pond where a brook ran in, with a bucket. He crossed over the snow by the brook and then fell through the ice into the water, sinking up to his chest. He tried to climb out but when he couldn’t. He was getting very cold and couldn’t get out.

Then he heard the helicopter coming and it was Austin on his way to Gander from the Battle Pond camp. Luckily his route took him over the AND camp and he saw Gar’s tracks leading to the pond and Gar in the water. Austin landed the helicopter and got a piece of rope, that he threw to Gar, but he was too weak to hold on to it, so Austin couldn’t get him out that way. Then Austin put a loop on one end of the rope and Gar put his arm into it. With Austin pulling, Gar was finally able to get out.

He was pretty exhausted and Austin wanted him to come to Gander in the helicopter, but Gar decided to stay at the camp and was feeling fine the next morning. He was afraid if he went back to Gander, they might replace him on the survey and he wanted to stay with the crew.


Forest fire fighting was their main responsibility for the summer months and although they were based at Lewisporte, Gar and Wes sometimes found themselves fighting fires in remote parts of the Island and Labrador. They had to be ready to go at a moments notice during periods like the fires on the island in 1961, or the ones at Esker in Western Labrador in 1964.

In 1960, Gar was sent to a fire in Labrador which had started at Grand Lake, and was moving towards a Pine Tree Radar Site near the Goose Bay Airport. After that fire was under control he and Wes Freake were released to go back to the island on a coastal boat. Before they quite got home they were ordered back to Port Hope Simpson by beaver aircraft from Gander to fight a fire that had flared up there.

One day during 1961, Gar was at the Forest Service depot at Deadman’s Pond, Gander which was the Forestry seaplane base. He got a call saying The Minister, The Hon. W. J. Keough, might be dropping in make sure everything was ‘ship shape’. Gar put down the phone and went into the front room and found a stranger there with muddy boots messing up the floor. Gar gave him a lecture on the need to keep the place clean because the Minister was expected. Mr. Keough replied that he was the Minister!

While he was at Deadman’s Pond,Gar saw the initial smoke from a fire at Traverse Brook, near Gambo. The crew loaded a beaver with equipment and flew to Hare Bay

There Andy Kelley, Jim Eastman and others met them. They set up an initial operations headquarters in Wells Store at Hare Bay, and then set up pumps and hose in case the fire came out to the town. There was quite a crew at Hare Bay that evening including Chief Forester Ed. Ralph, Jack Carpenter, Earl Parsons, Ellis Hancock and others. This was the beginning of the 1961 fire that burned a large part of the Bonavista North Peninsula.

During his time with the Forest Service Gar made a total of 17 trips to Labrador on various occasions.

Reflecting back on his career with the Forest Service, Gar said he generally liked everything about it. He enjoyed the forest fire years the best because of the excitement and hard work. He also enjoyed working with saw millers and loggers on forestry operations. He found he could reason with people if there were problems with cutters not following regulations, and many issues were resolved on the spot in the field. He feels now that things are different and perhaps more confrontational between the field staff and the publ                                                                  Some members of the Central Region Forestry Staff, Lewisporte  at  Jack  Carpenter’s retirement as Regional Supervisor, c1962:

                    Featured image

Front row: Jesse Stead, John Munro, Harold Starkes, Jack Carpenter

Back: Ray Rolfe, (Ellis Hancock?), Gar Collins, Jack Foley, Albert Fudge, Andy Kelley.

Present but not shown; Gid Green, Frank Decker

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