The Forest Around Us



Bill Moore

Ontario is ready - for Loggers Sports

....Ontario is ready – for Loggers Sports.
....Yesterday I stood on the banks of the Ottawa river at Pembrooke and watched two champion log birlers from B.C. Jube Wickheim and Owen Carney thrill a crowd of a thousand people with their skill of footwork as they tried to roll their opponent into that historic river. I had the feeling that the old time river drivers of a hundred years ago were looking down from the heavens and saying – “Look at them darn fools, doin that fer fun – when we used to make our beans and bacon working on that spot.” There had to be a feeling like that because what Jube and Owen were doing to show off the skills of balance and precision, the old times of J.R. Booth Timber Co. and Ebenezer Eddy’s Co. did all day long on the great river drives of the turn of the century.
....Today the river is quiet of log drives – no longer are the slim red and white pine logs, or the square hewn timbers to be seen floating down river to the pulp and saw mills of the past. Automation came to this beautiful Ottawa valley like it has elsewhere in Canada, in the form of power saws – trucks and skidders. But the heritage lives on, and the old timers I have spoken to back here are quick to tell you of the great old days. For this was logging country long before B.C. got into business, and the land was full of husky men who could make an ox and a hand saw sing into the vast forest around this Ontario.
....I’m here in Ontario with five cham-pion B.C. loggers – the two named above and Ron Hartill, Dick Henling and the ever jovial Power Saw Pete Holmquist. We are on a tour of Ontario’s forest industry to show the folks here the Logging Sports of axe throwing, hand-bucking, power-saw chair carving, tree climbing, chopping and log birling. And I can tell you the crowds love it. We will have put on such demonstrations in Toronto’s On-tario Place, Harcourt, Pembrooke,

Timmins, Dubreuilville, Hearst and Thunder Bay. We are joined by twenty students from the faculties of forestry and teaching from Victoria college, B.C.L.F., Simon Fraser and the University of B.C. Our students take a bit different route than the loggers, viewing an intensive itinerary of logging, research, mills and forest centers through-out Ontario – and we rendez-vous together three times over the nine day trip.
....All this was put together by a Festival of forestry Committee in Ottawa. With the backing of the Jack Davis’s Federal Forestry Department our group will learn of Ontario’s vast forest industry and our loggers will hope to encourage the newly founded Ontario Loggers Sports Association to reach back into their heritage to show their public and the people of Canada – the skills of a logger.
....We have been guided – expertly – by the Ontario Forest Accident Prevention Association and their staff into the areas likely to want to organize Loggers Sports – and by what our group has seen in five years time we’ll have National Loggers Sports.
....And why not! What better way to show young people who might be interested in a forest career. Or to show our public the type of men that work in those forests. This is a mighty industry in Canada – and it needs showing and telling about. The art of river driving is gone from these parts – where you might say it was invented. The pulling of the old hand fiddle saw is gone and the expertise of axemanship is in the past. But these Ontario forestry people look to the sport as a means of keeping the past in sight – and you can never look ahead – unless you remember the past.
....This Ottawa Valley has to be one of Canada’s great sights. The sheer beauty of the rolling hills of hardwoods and softwoods can only remind one that this country is a breadbasket of trees. The people are hospitable wherever you go and our loggers from B.C. are besieged with questions about our big trees of the

west coast.
....I watched our five loggers and our invaluable guide-friends Earl Craig of the Ontario Forest Accident Preven-tion Association and Art Barnes of Omark Industries set up one of the sports demonstration shows on the banks of the Matagami River one evening. A spar pole had been erected for speed climber Owen Carney by a local committee. It was a nice grassy area in the heart of this great timber and mining town and the crew hustled to get the chopping blocks in place – the birling log down to the river and the axe targets stood up.
....We have three vehicles to travel in, Earl’s car, Art’s station wagon and Jube’s one ton pickup loaded with saws wood-boards and targets. It takes the men about two hours to set up the show – while Owen is trimming bark and knots off the spar. Soon all is ready and the local sound truck appears and the crowd starts to fill into the area. Six thousand people – women kids old-timers, loggers, miners, and assorted dogs soon filled the area and even lined the nearby bridge and the opposite side of the Matagami.
....At seven in the evening – with a warm night the show went on – “Ladies and gentlemen – here are the skills of a logger – from the B.C. woods let me present to you – “ The crowd awed when Dick Henling hit the bulls eye at the axe throwing contest. They hollered for Pete to beat Ron in the stand up chop – they yelled when Carney came, spurs a flying, down the seventy foot spar tree and they cheered when Jube and Owen gave them a splashing, dancing, log birl they’ll never forget.
....Reporters were there – T.V. cameras took it all in, and Mayor Leo Del Villano shook hands with all the contestants. Owen and Ron carved a little chair out of a standing block of wood with their power saws and presented them to a little girl in the crowd and to Mayor Leo.

British Columbia Lumberman, July, 1973

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....It was quite a night in Timmins. They told us there had never been such a traffic jam in the city’s history before.
....It was a week’s routine of up at six, load the cars – drive to the next town in our fifteen hundred mile itinerary – set up the sports demonstration by two or three in the afternoon and put on the show at seven.
....Dubreuilville was fun-for the seven hun-dred employees of the Dubreuil Lumber Co. who watched, with their families, the skills of a western logger. The setting was by a lakeshore and we in turn were treated after our show to a felling demonstration by eighteen of the camps loggers, to the accu-racy of felling poles to hit a peg in the ground. The Dubreuil family who built and own this sawmill – logging town were great hosts to our loggers.
....While the logging sports shows were proceeding throughout Northern Ontario, our student tour was wending its way south of us to visit the plants, sawmills, camps and research that make up this big province’s forest industry.
....I sat with the student group at our final stop in Thunder Bay and listened to their comments on the tour. They were tired from a heavy itinerary – but said they felt they had been shown, in a week, a good cross-section of this great forest industry of Ontario.
....And what did such a tour accomplish – well we left Thunder Bay feeling that the interest shown in Loggers Sports will spark several towns we were in, to get their own sports under way. From this could come, in a few years time when the eastern loggers are practiced up, the first Canadian east-west Loggers Sports. And that event will fill the interest of every logger in Canada. We also felt that our students who will soon graduate as teachers and foresters will be a bit better informed on our industry, and as such the information they pass on to our youth will be just that much more accurate.
....I can still see the faces of the old timers in the crowds that stood on the banks of the Ottawa and Matagami Rivers, as their eyes lit up and memories of their logging days were remembered. For they were watching - not just loggers sports – but they were seeing displayed – the heritage of a logger. The old skills of the axe, the hand saw and the birling logs mean something to all of us in this forest around us in Canada, and with ambas-sadors like Carney, Wickheim, Hartill, Holmquist and Henling that heritage will never be lost.


Keep out of the bight,

British Columbia Lumberman, July, 1973