Chopping, chanting, and chainsaws at MacDonald Campus

On Jan. 27, the McGill Woodsmen team hosted the 58th annual Mac Woodsmen competition at MacDonald Campus. More than 130 competitors from seven schools competed in 14 events throughout the day. A decently-sized crowd milled about the area, moving from event to event to cheer on their friends and family members while classic rock hits from the 1980s blared from nearby speakers, completing the atmosphere of friendly lumberjack competition.

A woodsmen team is composed of six members. McGill had four teams competing Saturday, two men’s and two women’s. Each competed in four team events, and each team member did a singles and a doubles event.

The singles events include the pole climb, super swede, single buck, chainsaw, axe throw, and water boil, plus a Mac Campus specialty—the snowshoe race. The doubles events all revolve around chopping: The standing block chop, quarter split, and underhand chop are differentiated only by the orientation of the block that is being chopped. The team events are pulp toss, log roll, swede, and cross cut. And, yes, all the events are as awesome as their names suggest.   

In the morning, 10 events took place in designated areas across the field. In the five corrals, marked off by red “danger” tape, competitors held the standing block chop, quarter split, super swede, chainsaw, and single buck. In the adjacent snow-covered rugby field, the snowshoe race (two laps around the field in snowshoes) was contested. Axe throw, pole climb, log roll, and pulp toss were all on the outer boundary of the main area.

All the morning events happened simultaneously—running continuously from 9 a.m. until the lunch break at noon—but the competitors still found plenty of time to cheer each other on and socialize with family and friends. When their competition times drew near, however, the athletes lost their easy-going manner and psyched themselves up to perform.

“We do a chant, like a cheer, before [the event],” second-year woodsmen Victoria Tseng Paepcke said, referring to a loud, intense huddle every team did before their team events.

The chants are specific to each team and work to create a bond between members.

“The team spirit just keeps us going,” fourth-year woodsmen Alice Viala added.

McGill had one of the largest teams at the competition and found much success in the morning. One of the men’s teams had to deal with a fallen log during its log roll run, but quickly recovered and still managed a decent time. McGill axe thrower Thierry Philippot had an excellent go in his singles event, hitting the target on all three tries.

After the break, the competition was partitioned into five corrales, with each school completing the remaining events in their respective sections. Fans crowded around the corral where their school competed and cheered on the teams.

The first two events were team sawing competitions. The events were set up like relays, where each player or double would saw off a cookie (a biscuit-shaped piece of wood) and then hand off the saw to the next. The underhand chop went third. This event had a similar relay nature but both teammates started in a chopping position, standing atop their blocks, and then chopped one after the other.

The final event of the day was the water boil. Competitors chopped up a log, used matches to start a fire, and heated up water in a tin can until it boiled over. Though this was the longest event, it was far from dull. Teammates shouted advice from the sides, and competitors got down on the ground, blowing furiously into their fires—all while the crowd watched with anxious anticipation.

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