In August 1958, four days of celebrations were held to mark a B.C. Centennial and the official opening of the Seaview Highway connecting to West Vancouver, including a Loggers Sports Day and a Water Sports Day featuring log birling competitions.
Loggers sports competitions had previously been local affairs held on Victoria Day or in connection with the Fall Fair. The 1958 arrangements were a huge success. A bigger show was organized for 1959, following which the Times newspaper editor wrote, “As Calgary has its stampede, as Kelowna has its regatta, so can Squamish have its Loggers’ Sports Day. Properly developed from its successful embryo, this gala day can develop into a million dollar revenue producing tourist attraction for the valley.”
Al Hendrickson and other committee members toured other logging shows around the Pacific Northwest, benchmarking and looking for new ideas. This dedication to detail and high standards in the planning and delivery of a loggers sports competition as first-class entertainment for spectators has been the key element for our enduring, 65-year success story.
The 1961 show was described as a “3-ring circus” of competitive events complimented by skill demonstrations. Courtenay’s Alan Woodrow, a long-time competitor in events all over North America, stated in 1964 that the Squamish sports day was the best managed and fastest-paced one he had ever attended.
Word of mouth (“Bring family and friends”) was and is always an important aspect of promotion – also among competitors. Australian chopping legend Jim Rope heard about the Squamish show in 1962 while on the circuit in the U.S. from speed climbing and high-tree performer Danny Sailor. Rope was to be the first of many Aussies and New Zealanders to make repeat visits to Squamish.
World champion tree-climber Danny Sailor would slip away from his New York World’s Fair performing contract for a few days in 1964 to make a return to Squamish and the highest competition trees in the world.
Local volunteers applied their energies and talents getting the message out about the festival and Squamish. Chamber director Joan Brandvold put her artistic talents to work producing the valley’s first tourist maps. John Lowe perfected the festival program brochures (collector’s items, today) and brought them to the ferries and Lower Mainland distribution points and tourist haunts.
TV stations in Vancouver and Seattle were contacted. Film crews would come to Squamish to capture the show and local scenery – later, all the way from Japan and the U.K.
Working with J.V. Puttkamer’s Paradise Valley Resort, loggers sports entertainment was pitched to the conventions market. In July 1965, 1,000 American visitors attending a Building Owners and Managers convention at Paradise Valley enjoyed a special show put on in the loggers sports grounds by the high school.
In 1962, a Montreal visitor suggested, “Make this a movable affair and you could draw thousands in the east.” Mobile equipment and routines for out-of-town and travelling shows were to become important for promoting the festival, the sport and Squamish.
From 1965, Squamish loggers sports performers were a feature at BC Lions games at Empire Stadium. By 1972, a Squamish mini loggers sports show trailer was travelling around Lower Mainland shopping malls for performances, with our Timber Queen selling advance tickets for the local B.C. Day long weekend festival.
A promotional stunt in 1964 was a log truck with banners and Timber Queen contestants riding on top of big fir logs being driven around the streets of Vancouver advertising the 7th annual Squamish Loggers Sports Day. This was repeated for the city’s PNE Parade a few weeks later.
With a whole community and numerous organizations involved in delivering a multi-event festival weekend of family entertainment and show business for tourists, an overdue name change was made in 1972: “Squamish Day featuring Loggers Sports”.
By 1979, Squamish Days was a five-day festival including an extra full day of Novice and Intermediate loggers sports competition. In 1986, Squamish Days could bill itself as the largest lumberjack festival in the world — and taking place on the best, purpose-built grounds anywhere.
Along with promotion and entertainment, hosting is another aspect of Squamish Days’ contribution to local tourism. For example, an annual program of hosting RV caravans began in the 1970s and continued over many years. They would join the Sunday morning parade with big “Thank you, Squamish!” signage.
Partnerships in putting on custom shows for visitors, beginning with the Paradise Valley Resort in the 1960s, continued with the Britannia Mine Museum, the Royal Hudson and MV Britannia, the Flying Club and others.
Before Tourism Squamish was established, the Loggers Sports Association represented local interests in B.C and Pacific Northwest tourism and festival networks and conventions. Promotion was done, tactics were learned, and music acts booked — such as Johnny Cash for Squamish Days 1991.
In the 1990s, the Chamber of Commerce got interested in measuring the local economic impact of the Squamish Days festival. The Chamber discovered an increase in business account deposits of $550,000 in three local banks alone, following the Loggers Sports weekend. Hotels and campsites were full.
For Squamish Days 1997, the direct tourism revenue increase was estimated at $2.5 million. At the visitor information centre, 1,621 inquiries and 23 tour bus visits were recorded over the weekend.
From its early years, our loggers sports festival has given Squamish an international reach. In 1963, show visitors from Tanzania were interviewed: “It was a tremendous show. When we get back to Africa, people will think Canada consists of Squamish.”
Very early in the morning on the Saturday show day in 2013, a couple was encountered wandering the Al McIntosh Loggers Sports Grounds. It was timber sports veteran Werner Brohammer and his wife Barbara, who had finally made their pilgrimage to the renowned Squamish B.C. venue — all the way from the Black Forest in Germany.
Through 65 years, the Squamish Days festival has mobilized thousands of local volunteers and given opportunity to dozens of organizations and projects to deliver and benefit from show business entertainment and tourism.
Eric Andersen is a historian specializing in the history of the Squamish Valley and Howe Sound regions and of the British Columbia forest industry. He is a director of the Forest History Association of B.C. and a longtime, enthusiastic loggers sports festival and forestry education project volunteer. Eric is currently an elected councillor with the District of Squamish.