The sawdust was flying furiously at Saturday’s 49th annual Woodsmen Competition, where UNB’s team put on an impressive showing against teams from across Eastern Canada and the United States.
Held at the Fredericton Exhibition Grounds, more than 200 polo-shirted competitors were on hand to show off their skills in traditional lumberjack events such as wood chopping, sawing, pole climbing and axe throwing. Needless to say, the thought that one could lose a limb at any time weighed heavily on the mind. And yet the atmosphere was cheerful and competitive, with onlookers and teammates cheering on challengers as they hacked their way through endless piles of timber.
David Simmonds, a UNB Woodsman and fourth-year forestry student, like many lumberjacking enthusiasts, claimed a love of the outdoors as the impetus for joining the team.
“I’m actually a city slicker,” said Simmonds, “but I’m really into the woods. It’s what I grew up with.”
While you’d expect a lumberjacking team to consist of burly, bearded men, the team is actually quite diverse, featuring a number of women as well as students from various disciplines — from business to Renaissance College.
One such student is Dever Pickard, second-year business student and woodsman. For him, lumberjacking is a family tradition.
“My father used to do it when he was in school. He had some scars on his hands from giving himself a few hacks,” he explained. “I had a buddy who saw the ad for woodsmen tryouts. We just went and I never looked back.”
While each woodsman competed in a number of events, Pickard declared the doubles quarter split as his favorite.
“It’s a really fast and accurate event — it’s like splitting firewood traditionally with an axe, but there’s a pink dot [of paint] in the centre of your piece of wood, so when you split your block into four pieces you need paint on all four pieces.”
Simmonds, on the other hand, preferred the kettle boil.
“It’s about building a fire the fastest — you get a block of cedar, a hatchet and three matches. You need to build a big enough fire to get a juice can of soapy water to boil over in under three minutes. It gets intense.”
For Simmonds, win or lose, the essence of the competition is about enjoying the outdoors and honing his traditional skills.
“[Lumberjacking] is lot of practical knowledge — I’m usually in a classroom learning about forest management, but if I can learn how to run a saw or an axe, it benefits me,” he said. “Plus, on top of that, it’s a great stress reliever.”
While the outcome of the competition was not available at press time, scores will be posted on the Canadian Intercollegiate Lumberjacking Association website which can be found at Lumberjacking.ca.