Written by Andrew Ashford
If you were lucky enough to be in Woss in the late 1960s, you had a lot to be grateful for. The beautiful scenery, abundant wildlife, clean living – and the annual Woss Lake Logger Sports event! For many of the people who lived and worked in Woss at the time – people like Rob Smith and Bev Webber - those fond memories created a lifelong interest in logger sports and some fantastic memories.
Bev Webber, a resident of Woss since childhood, reflected that “Logger Sports was a huge event in those early years,” as she reminisced about her childhood years and the excitement of those weekends. “Over a thousand people would turn out to watch in the showgrounds and loggers would travel from across the province to participate.”
The first Woss Lake Logger Sports Day was held in 1968 and this tradition continued for over a decade.
Rob Smith, a former Canadian Champion lumberjack now living in Nanaimo, worked as a logger in Woss during the winters back then, and travelled the professional logger sports circuit during the summers. Hailing from a family of logger sports competitors and following in his father’s footsteps, Smith started as early as nine years old when he took up log rolling. As he grew up, he took on more events, and soon learned the axe throw, obstacle pole, and chokerman race, among others. His favourite event was always log rolling, as this took the most skill, strength and speed. Smith remembers the Woss Logger Sports Show as having the nicest logger sports arena in the country and described the show arena as “as a perfect bowl, with an excellent burling pond and 100 foot tall climbing poles for the show events.”
Smith talked fondly about a favourite Woss show memory involving lumbjack Art Williams from Ladysmith. Williams had a skit with a character he called “Copper Canyon Sally” and he would come into the arena wearing a long dress and climb the tallest pole while losing bits of clothing and hosiery on the way up. After taking off his spurs and belt and throwing them to the ground, his act would include a dance at the top of the pole and then end with a wobbly handstand that left the spectators gasping in fear – until he inevitably fell and then slid down a cable to the ground.
Another feature of the Woss Logger Sports show was the steam engine train that brought spectators between Woss Lake campground and the Woss Camp showgrounds. Smith noted that “not everyone could run a steam train like Loci 113 that was used for those show days.”
The train was run by Alex Matkoski – Bev Webber’s father. Woss Lake campground was one big party for the whole weekend of logger sports, and Smith recounted that some years “there would be close to 2,000 people there, and it was shoulder-to-shoulder to move your way through the crowd.”
While not as large as these historic Woss events, the tradition of Logger Sports continues in the North Island with the Port McNeill Logger Sports Society. One of the things that distinguishes the local Port McNeill logger sports event is its inclusion of so many Novice events – and this means our local forestry workers can participate, using the same skills they practice every day in the woods. It is great to see our friends and neighbours in the action at our local shows – and this year one of them may be named a Canadian Champion.
Every year, the Canadian Logger Sports Association assigns national championship events to different shows across the country – and this year Port McNeill will be hosting the Canadian championships in Jack and Jill Double Buck, Grand Prairie Accuracy Cut, Novice Springboard, Novice Ladies Underhand Chop, and Open Ladies Standing Chop.
The Port McNeill Logger Sports Society is hosting its annual show at their waterfront show grounds on Saturday, May 27. The main show starts at 11:00 a.m. – and everyone is welcome. Come on down and watch the event. If you are lucky, you might meet Smith and hear some stories about his Logger Sports career that took him around the world as he represented Canada at international events.
Have a story tip? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.