Mac campus culture on display at annual Woodsmen Competition

Battling frigid temperatures, the McGill Woodsmen team hosted the 60th Annual Macdonald Woodsmen Competition at Watson Field on McGill’s Macdonald Campus on Jan. 27. The event, which has become a staple of Mac campus culture over the years, was an exciting affair, with close to 160 participants competing in 14 action-packed events ranging from axe throwing to the singles water boil.  

The Macdonald Woodsmen Competition, which remains unknown to many downtown McGill students, is one of the four major tournaments held by the Canadian Intercollegiate Lumberjacking Association (CILA) for young lumberjacks across the country. The road to the competition is grueling, and participants put in strenuous hours of labour in the weeks leading up to the event. 

“It’s hard [because] we have practice every morning at 6 a.m.,” McGill Woodsman Gregoire Herzog said. “Before we go to school, we go and cut some wood. It’s cold, and it’s [the same] from Monday to Thursday. [But] that’s the thing; it’s hard to get people going, but I think what keeps them [coming] really are the bonds that you create.”

With anticipation in the air, the competition finally kicked off at 9 a.m., following the ceremonial first chop. The morning stages of the competition were structured to maintain a sense of perpetual action, with events occurring all around the audience. One could watch a Lumberjill swing her axe down on a log in the standing block chop, then walk across the field and find themselves enthralled by an intense round of pulp throwing, a timed event that entails throwing logs into a target. Events like the snowshoe race—a Mac Campus special—generated much excitement, with athletes running a tiresome 1.5 kilometers in a snow-covered field.

“You really gotta get used to [the snowshoes],” first-year woodswoman Lea Taillandier said. “First of all, it’s [a lot] harder than what [you would] expect. And [you] practice and practice and get a bit better, but still, it’s so, so hard. But it’s also so much fun [at the] same time.” 

Come afternoon, the athletes and the audience retreated to the cozy Ceilidh Bar to prepare for the second session. After a hearty meal of chili and sandwiches along with beer, the second phase of the competition got underway. Athletes were corralled into their respective groups and prepared for the final four events of the day.

The team-cross and swede-cut, two sawing events, came first, followed by the doubles underhand chop, then finally the singles water boil, a frantic race to build a fire capable of bringing a pot to simmer.

The McGill lumberjacks and lumberjills were impressive in their showing, leaving the audience buzzing by the display they had witnessed. To many Macdonald students, the event is a symbol of pride, etched in 60-years of tradition and historya pride they are all too eager to share with their peers downtown. 

“Maybe [we] should rally up a petition, get the bus to come here [on Saturday],” first-year Woodsman Jacques Gross said. “I would really encourage [students downtown] to come down to our campus. I mean, we’re always having fun.”

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