I await Labour Day in September knowing that the Maynooth Loggers Games are coming up. This might have been the best one ever, and the perhaps the last. The games have been expanded to include Maynooth Madness which is a grand fete for the townsfolk located in the Hastings Highlands, on the east side of Algonquin Park. This is a little village about 20 minutes north of Bancroft with a couple of churches, a general store and an LCBO, and one gas station.
Lately it’s become a good location for artists and artisans to set up affordable studios, and the ancient Arlington Hotel now bills itself as a backpackers’ hostel, although the bar itself hasn’t changed one iota in 40 years.
Labour Day weekend the town is bustling with an all-you-can eat pancake breakfast, sidewalk sale, farmers market, church rummage sales and suppers, beer garden and barn dance etc. Cars are stacked on both sides of Hwy 62 that weekend and the town has an electric buzz running through it.
I love everything about the loggers games, from the two man Swede saw and wood bucking competitions to the chain saw chair carving. This year Echo chainsaws was a prime sponsor and had a nice display trailer. But the serious loggers seem to stick to the Stihls, with the occasional Husqvarna being spotted. In one competition 20 foot tree trunks are planted on the site and the loggers have to fell them on top of or as close to the stake placed in the ground. Driving the spike into the ground earns the competitors extra points.
These are all area loggers from Bancroft, Palmer Rapids, Barry’s Bay, Maynooth, Huntsville, most of them grizzled veterans and a few younger guys as well. After the logs are felled, the distance from the stake is measured and the pie cuts are measured for straightness and level. The lumberjacks have to cut off ten foot lengths by eye and they are judged on that as well. Local favourite Dominic Hudder was the only logger to drive the peg into the ground, while his brother David won the top skidder crown. Elton and Bryce Robinson went head to head in the picker competition with Elton narrowly beating his brother by one slim second.
There are trucks in the competition, too. Prizes being awarded for best looking load of logs, best dressed lumber in the show, and even a chip wagon B-train. In another competition, pickers operating a giant claw have to stack the truck rounds into a pyramid for which they are timed and given points for accuracy. After that comes the skidder competition.
One of my favourite aspects was that the MC would ask questions to the local kids: What kind of tree is this? “Ironwood,” one logger’s daughter hollers out and is given a prize. What kind of disease do maples get in this area, what causes the disease? Real localized knowledge that leaves the city folk scratching their scalps.
So why was this possibly the last loggers games? In a way this is ironic as the games have been growing in popularity year by year. But it’s been going for 24 years now and the committee is getting tired. They publicly made a pledge for more volunteers to come forward to shepherd the event or it won’t happen next year.
Logging has been the economic mainstay of the region for decades but the demographics are changing. Logging is not as prominent as it’s been in the past. More artisans are moving in, and middle class folks from Toronto and Ottawa are attracted by the beauty of the area, the clean lakes and rivers, and the affordabiltiy of the land.
I was first attracted to the area upon hearing about some back-to-the-land communities back in the late 80s. Since the old counter-culture days I’d heard mention of the anarchist community of Dragonfly in Lake St. Peter, the Rochdale farm near Golden Lake, Nameste and McKenzie Lake and Herschel near Maynooth, and Morninglory Farm outside of Killaloe.
These communities are still going in one form or another. Herschel is a land trust with shared tools and roads, many of the original homesteaders still there, Morninglory is a thriving off-the-grid village community that continues to shine a light on alternative, sustainable lifestyles, and Dragonfly has raised three generations of anarchists of one stripe or another. The land’s long-since paid off and more like-minded people have bought the adjacent lands.
So I was chagrined when a friend of mine heard someone complaining about the local longhairs at the turkey dinner on Sunday in the Maynooth catholic church. “I wish these hippies would go back to where they came from,” the man said. Problem is, they’ve been there for 40 years and they ain’t going anywhere. Hope the same holds true for the loggers games.
Harry Rudolfs has worked as a dishwasher, apprentice mechanic, editor, trucker, foreign correspondent and taxi driver. He's written hundreds of articles for North American and European journals and newspapers, including features for the Ottawa Citizen, Toronto Life and CBC radio.
With over 30 years experience in the trucking industry he's hauled cars, steel, lumber, chemicals, auto parts and general freight as well as B-trains. He holds an honours BA in creative writing and humanities, summa cum laude. All posts by Harry Rudolfs