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How Squamish Days Loggers Sports began

Over 53 years, annual community celebration harks back to days of yore

On any given day everywhere in Squamish, outdoor enthusiasts are riding, hiking, climbing or surfing the stunning playground that makes up its surroundings.

The area has redefined itself at a seemingly breakneck speed into the Outdoor Recreation Capital of Canada - and for good reason. Where else can one play golf, go snowmobiling, rock climb and windsurf all in one weekend?

But before there was a highway connecting it to the Lower Mainland, or even a train for that matter, Squamish was a logging town, and the tight knit community was proud of its hardworking men.

"We've always thought that loggers are pretty wonderful people," wrote longtime Squamish resident and journalist Rose Tatlow in 1964, on the seventh anniversary of Loggers Sport. "Maybe that's because most of them are big men, big as the trees they log and the country they work in."

A strong faction of locals - most notably those who can recall their Squamish-born ancestors several generations back - are eager to go back to those days, if only for a moment. And they do it every year through the annual spectacle called Loggers Sports.

Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, the woods in the Squamish Valley were echoing with chainsaws, rubber-tired logging trucks grinding up the valley side-hills, and the dynamite blasts of roadbuilding.

By the 1950s, the faller was left alone as the undisputed king of the woods. His job had gone through its own great change when chainsaws emerged, ironically making the job even more hazardous.

This dramatic new advance, spurred by more powerful internal combustion engines established logging as the major economic force in the Squamish Valley for the next half-century.

To the men working away under those thick forest canopies, logging was simply a way of life. The men undertook their chores with the same kind of talent, grace, and sharp minds as loggers of the past who would dance on floating logs and nimbly climb trees - in contrast to so many outsiders' notions that tree falling simply required brute force.

Despite advances in technology, travel was still arduous and loggers often camped in their work areas for extended periods of time, leading to the inevitability of boredom.

So the men devised competitions, pitting their talents for chopping, sawing, hauling, climbing and all manner of logging skills against one another.

The men were creating their own version of what other towns on the West Coast - most notably on Vancouver Island - were already doing publicly.

"When we started out the guys would chop a block of wood and stand on the ground. And of course we had the old axes, the doubled bitted axes not the single we use today." said Al McIntosh, who was there from the outset and went on to MC the annual competition for 47 years.

"We did nail driving, used crosscut saws, power saws were fairly new but we did have some."

The public gets a glimpse

One weekend in 1956, a handful of Squamish loggers got together in front of the townsfolk to test their skills during the unofficial first Squamish Days festival.

"We had a really, really small [show] that we just got together," said McIntosh. "At the start there was tons of locals, there was a lot logging in the valley then."

Little did anyone know how significant the event was to become.

The first official Squamish Days Loggers Sports in 1957 saw people travel to Squamish from Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland by boat to compete on the high school grounds in downtown Squamish. At the time there wasn't even a train -much less a highway - connecting Squamish to its southern neighbours.

"That was quite the show," said inaugural co-organizer and competitor Bup Carson in an interview in 2000.

Even a New Zealander attended.

The event also allowed the Canadians to improve their game, said Carson, when the competitors from down under showed up with entirely different axes.

"Their expertise in chopping was just unreal," he said. "After that, a whole bunch of us went out and bought different axes."

By 1958, the train that connected Squamish to Prince George was expanded to North Vancouver, and soon after the road was built. The new transportation brought an influx of competitor from out of town to try their hand at one of the newest, and soon to be best, loggers sports shows.

Squamish separated itself from the crowd of towns putting on loggers sports circuit by taking their job straight out of the forest and putting it right into competition.

"A lot of the current competitions that are still going on today were originated right here in Squamish," said Carson.

McIntosh points to one example.

"We used to have guys set up a bag on a tree with a sandwich or something," he said. "Whoever would hit the bag would win.

"Well, Al Hendrickson and I decided to put axe throwing in. This was the first time axe throwing had been part of a loggers sports, now it's all over the world."

Two other early events were the eye splicing and Molly Hogan race. For the Molly Hogan race, competitors cut off one strand of a cable at about four feet long and wrapped it around until it formed a circle.

"It was used to use it to join two pieces of line and you put it into the blocks [pulleys] to stop the pin from slipping out," said McIntosh.

"When we first started we just had some logs on the ground and some old snarled up chokers and you had to go and put one on a log."

Competitors started climbing the 90-foot trees that the festival is famous for until 1958, and its reputation as one of Loggers Sports more dangerous exploits was sealed during one particular close call, as Rose Tatlow recalled in 1997.

"A chap climbed up and down a tree in record time but started to fall about halfway down. He came down heard first but righted himself about the last 20 feet and landed on his feet. You could just hear everybody gasp when he fell. We thought he was gone."

There's no doubt that 52 years on, the entire production has become a theatrical thrill for young and old - but there are still some who remember the small group that hacked away at logs in 1956 for some fun, and started a Squamish tradition.

Tatlow may have summed it up best in a 1997 interview:

"It was fund when you knew all the competitors. They were the boys who worked in the woods, the young men you'd grown up with."

Logger Sports is now a two-day competitive event of novice and amateur athletes vying for cash prizes, trophies and, of course, glory. It's also a staple of the international loggers sports circuit, regularly bringing competitors from New Zealand, Australia and Europe.

Check out all the action during the free novice and intermediate loggers sports Saturday July 31 and the $10 world-class open loggers sports show Sunday Aug. 1. Both events start at 1:30 p.m. at the Al McIntosh Loggers Sports grounds on Loggers Lane.

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