She couldn’t believe her eyes.
Jacqulin McNicol had been working in the forestry industry for years before she experienced her first Squamish Days Loggers Sports Festival in 2003, during a work field trip. She’d been deeply immersed in the world of trees for her entire career, but she’d never seen her profession converted into a sport before. As the athletes scrambled up logs that loomed far above her head, tossing axes with mighty thunks and speedily chopping stumps into kindling, she knew that her life was about to change. She had fallen in love.
“It was love at first sight. Our boss took us to this show, and I was blown away by the athleticism. The tree climbing was phenomenal. Right away I thought to myself, I need to be a part of this,” festival president McNicol told The Squamish Chief.
“I always saw the industry from the engineering, silviculture, logging side of things so it was a real eye-opener to be exposed to a different side of the things.”
When many people think of loggers sports, they instantly conjure up images of bearded behemoths wearing plaid. But loggers sports aren’t just for lumberjacks anymore. As the festival celebrates its 65th anniversary, the multi-day event will feature performances from novice, intermediate, ladies, and open category (professional) athletes. That means some of the people throwing axes will be youth, or just members of the community who showed interest and put in the work to develop their skills.
To cultivate this talent, the festival has been offering timber training during the off-season. There have been multiple timber training workshops offered to the community, including one specifically targeted at youth, and participants can now perform before the big crowds. In this way, the festival has enlarged its local competitor base and developed the sport in Squamish. But that doesn’t mean just anyone can do it — according to McNicol, the challenges are extremely taxing, mentally and physically. That’s what makes them so amazing to watch.
“There’s obviously some risk involved, so it’s not like you’re going to compete the first time you pick up an axe. It does take some coaching. You grow your skills, chop with other people, saw with other people who have been doing it for years” she said.
“You look at someone chopping for 12, 18, maybe 30 seconds and it doesn’t seem like much but there’s so much adrenaline and skill and strength that goes into it that by the end you’re wiped. Every event, you can’t slack off or give a half-assed attempt. You have to give it 100%, whether you’re climbing or sawing or birling or every single sport that’s a part of our festival.”
The festival is not restricted to one venue, and takes place over multiple days from July 28 to 31. There will be a parade, a chilli cookoff, a kids’ festival and an axe-throwing competition — to only mention a few of the many events. It continues to be one of the best attended and longest-running events in the Sea to Sky Corridor. The festival is completely volunteer-run, which is why they’re always recruiting, and is made possible by a partnership with six local non-profits.
McNicol gets emotional when reflecting on the past 65 years that the festival has been running, noting that forestry is one of the main reasons why Squamish as we know it exists today. While sorting through old historical photos from the festival’s first few years in operation, what impacts her aren’t the differences — it’s the similarities. She can see the same dancing energy in those images that she experiences today.
“The festival has kept the magic that was there when it first started. Every year it’s like a high school reunion: people come out and connect with friends and talk about how Grandpa used to compete. You’ve got multiple generations coming out,” she said.
“Our local competitor base grows every year. We have people from all over the world. That’s why we’re doing this as well. It’s an incredible feeling to be part of something like this, and we want to keep it going for another 65 years.”
For more information visit squamishdays.ca.
**Please note, this story has been corrected since it was first posted to reflect that youth will be throwing axes (not children) and that McNicol is the president (not vice).