Normally, when most people think of lumberjacks, they envision the strong Paul Bunyan types, the rugged bearded men in red flannel shirts wielding a wooden handled axe. In Quebec, this stereotype is slowly disappearing as a new breed of lumberjacks are changing the face of forestry. Hailing from places like Mali and Romanian, immigrants are spending six of months of the year braving the Canadian elements while doing backbreaking labour.
In her documentary, The Lumberfros, director Stéphanie Lanthier examines the factors that have lead to this shift. Focusing her lens on a few specific lumberjacks, Lanthier’s film shows how the immigration policies are forcing many highly skilled workers into the forestry field as a last resort. Immigrants are coming to Canada from around the world with degrees, not to mention years of work experience, as electricians and other key professionals yet are being denied work because they did not train in Canada. Unable to afford the cost of studying everything they already know again to the appease the Canadian government, many immigrants are finding manufacturing and forestry the only areas where they can get work.
As one lumberjack, Antonie who hails from Romania points out, racism exist in Canada but it is hidden within the immigration policies of the country. Mamadou, who hails from Mali, echoes the same sentiments as Antonie when he recounts his experience first coming to the country. Many of The Lumberfros best moments come when Lanthier is following either Mamadou or Antonie. Although their personalities are vastly different, Mamadou is younger than most and boastful while Antonie is older and more reflective, they both have a strong work ethic that comes across in the film.
Stéphanie Lanthier’s documentary does a nice job of providing an overview of the forestry industry and the tough work that lumberjacks endure. Lanthier displays how there is a system to which trees get cut and which ones remain. The men work longs hours and their pay is based on how many 10,000 square meters plots of forest they get through in a week. Not only are the men away from their families for a long period of time but they also must work in the extreme heat of summer and the snowy days of Quebec’s fall season. One of the surprising things about the lumberjack industry is how it is more of an old man’s profession instead of a young one. Due to the tough manual labour and start up cost needed for equipment, not a lot of the Quebec youth are interested in the profession, which paves the way for more immigrants applying.
The Lumberfros is a film that will not only change the way you view lumberjacks, but it will also make you reflect on the state of immigration in today’s society.