Skill, strong events and living history keep logger sports spectators coming back to the Alberni District Fall Fair on Sundays, event patriarch Al Boyko said.
The logger sports competition is being held at the fall fair logger sports venue on Sunday, Sept. 8. Eliminations start at 10:30 a.m. and finals, including Canadian championships, start at noon.
This year marks the 30th year that the venerable event is being hosted at the fairgrounds.
The fall fair needed to attract more people on Sundays and logger sports participants were contemplating leaving their venue on Shoemaker Bay Road. “It’s been like a great marriage ever since,” Boyko said.
The married father of three has logged ever since he left school at age 16 to work as a chokerman at the former APL Camp No. 1. “School didn’t really interest me and there were a lot of employment opportunities around for a young man then so I went to work,” Boyko said.
Boyko was introduced to logger sports in 1954 when he worked in Franklin River. His bunkmate was then world-renowned tree climber Danny Sailor, who set up a logger sports training site at the camp.
“Back then, after-work activities for the guys in camp was limited to reading books or out of date newspapers or listening to the radio,” Boyko said. “Danny’s setup gave us something more to do with our time.”
Workers who participated warmed up with a quarter-mile walk to the training site with equipment. Once there, the men learned the finer points of axe throwing, cross-cut sawing and pole climbing, Boyko said.
He competed in several competitions starting with an event at Sproat Lake hosted by the Elks Lodge in the 1960s. “I saw it while I was growing up but it meant more as an adult to compete in it,” he said.
“I knew I could do as good as the guys I saw back then.”
Boyko and others formed the Logger Sports Committee, which secured use of the Timber Bowl site on Shoemaker Bay Road from MacMillan Bloedel for logger sports events.
The site was a mecca that drew competitors from around the world. But in 1984 the committee struck an agreement with the Alberni District Fall Fair to hold their event as a Sunday venue, where it has stayed since.
Boyko’s memory is a vast archive of information about logger sports. He’s also studied logger sports history world wide, even citing early Spanish Basque log chopping events he’s read about.
And he’s the man when it comes to local lumber and logger sports history.
“Back then the union was really strong and you could see that kind of support in the competitions,” Boyko said. “Today though, the industry is fragmented into smaller companies instead of one or two big ones and the union isn’t as strong as a result.”
Out-of-work men and families left the Valley for greener pastures and this had a lateral effect on logger sports, he said.
“Young people today don’t necessarily have an interest in it because they don’t have a family history of it,” he said. “And physically, it is a very demanding sport. You need to be skilled and safe and that takes time.”
Boyko has seen several changes in logger sports over the years. There are fewer events now, and some – like cable eye splicing — have been eliminated. At competitions, four to five out of 20 competitors are loggers, and the rest work in other professions, often white collar. And logger sports competitions are larger in Europe than Canada now, he said.
Boyko and wife Jean have been married for 56 years. Jean also competes in the axe throw and sawyer events, winning multiple ladies’ world and Canadian championships. She is also the main organizer for local logger sports events.
Boyko’s son Mike is a stellar logging sports competitor, as is his daughter Janice—a skilled axe thrower. “I packed it in when Mike started to beat me. That was it,” Boyko said.
Today, Boyko MC’s for logger sports events all over Canada and the United States. And he tools around with a vast collection of axes and sawblades, often imparting advice about them, and working on them for international competitors.
Logger sports isn’t the only thing that has endured in Boyko’s lifetime. He’s lived to see another generation of his family continue with the sport. Both of his grandsons are learning the ropes: one is a log birler and the other an axe thrower.
“I started by cutting kindling for my mother when I was a kid. I had to fill the box at night. That’s the age you have to get them,” he said.