Towermen came from all walks of life: loggers, lumbermen, trappers, highly-educated, scholarly types, and in many cases, veterans of both World Wars. Many towers were both manned and constructed by local aboriginal people for whom the Forestry Service was a good source of gainful employment. Captain Bill Shields, a towerman, and conservation officer, had this to say about the towermen: "...Most towermen were eccentrics (they had to be); usually prospectors or trappers...from Bush Culture!.. "
James Guiney manned the Mount St. Patrick Tower (Tweed District) for 22 years from 1922 until his retirement in 1944. Guiney grew tired of climbing up and down the ladder, day in and day out, so he devised a system of weights and pulleys that enabled him to ascend and descend the tower with a slight pull on a rope. Apparently, one day, one of the weights dislodged, resulting in Guiney making the descent much more rapidly than intended, and with predictable, though not fatal, results. Guiney subsequently abandoned his apparatus and returned to the old method of getting to the top by climbing the ladder.
The job a tower observer was not always restricted to men. During WWII, quite a few women were employed as tower observers, due to the fact that many of the able-bodied men were overseas and/or otherwise occupied in the military. Very few women however, retained their positions after the war At least two women ("tower girls") served in this capacity: Ms. Ernestine Morin, who staffed the Lowbush Tower in the late 1940's, and Mrs. Georgina Mylymok, who staffed the tower near Upsala in 1959.
A shortage of men was not the only problem with which the old Department of Lands and Forests was faced. Construction of fire lookout towers, and consequently, the coverage area, was seriously hampered during WWII by a shortage of steel. It was not until after the end of the war and a resumption of domestically-available raw materials (such as steel) that the fire tower system in Ontario was completed.
The demise of the tower detection system began in the late 1960's when it was decided that aerial detection was a more cost-effective and efficient means of spotting forest fires. By the beginning of the 1970's, lookout towers were being taken out of operation; by 1973, the tower detection system was closed down entirely and replaced with aeroplanes. It was the end of a glorious and romantic era for the "sentinels of the forest".
Courtesy Robert Eno