After moving away three years ago, I finally returned to my favourite province of Nova Scotia with my four kids this past week to visit my mom and other family. We were searching for fun, interesting experiences for the kids during the week and we found Lumber Axe Productions in Barrington, NS on the South Shore. We first saw this place on the Rick Mercer show.
In case you’re not familiar – Rick either finds interesting places to visit or they invite him – and he goes and tries out new adventures and profiles them on his show. Darren Hudson, a former international lumberjack champion, was profiled on The National and the story caught Mercer’s eye. He decided he’d like to try lumberjacking and the show visited. The kids and I watch the Mercer Report whenever possible and were thrilled to see this episode taped in our home province. When we started planning our vacation with my mother she mentioned a lumberjack adventure place that she’d read about in a tourism magazine. It seemed like fate so we booked an afternoon to become lumberjacks (and Jills).
We left Dartmouth at 9:45 on Friday morning and arrived in Barrington at 12:30, with a brief stop mid-trip for a quick packed sandwich. Luckily Lumber Axe wasn’t yet open for the season so the fact we were 30 minutes late didn’t mean that we missed out. In fact, we were the only ones there that afternoon and thus got full attention. When we first arrived we were a bit unsure what to expect. We almost drove by the place – it is very unassuming. Hudson himself is very laid back and either he hasn’t been in operation very long or he was more relaxed as we were the “season opener” but his spiel lacked any polish. Instead of a tour-guide approach with memorized lines what we got was individualized attention. My 80 year old mother is inquisitive (the polite way to put it) and all her questions were answered (and there were a LOT of them). Hudson explained his interest of logging went back 5 generations, he could point across the river to various family members’ homes, he explained what it meant to be a world champion lumberjack, travelling all over the world to competitions, all while building a fire – the first part of our “lumberjack experience.”
Once the fire had been built (using a combination of kindling, wood shavings, old man’s beard and other forest floor remnants – but no paper!), we moved on to the axe throwing portion of the day. Hudson explained skill, form and where to source the best axes (he’s a supplier for the Swiss company!) One at a time the kids were told to stand behind a line, take the axe in both hands, bend their elbows to draw the axe behind their heads, straighten their arms and let fly towards the target. My daughter was given a smaller axe (and she was allowed to go closer to the target), while the boys all used a regulation sized axe. It’s harder than it looks! Two of the boys did hit bullseye but it was a fluke as the rest of the time they were extremely far off (or missed the target altogether). Towards the end of the day even I tried it (I hit the target . . . once)
Next up was sawing logs – really. The first saw was a bow saw and typically this would be used by one person to cut trees, branches, etc. It’s a bit tricky and the size makes it unwieldy so for the “littles” (my two youngest) he started them off with a cut and helped them throughout the process. For the “bigs” (the two oldest) once he started them off they were on their own to finish the cut, which they were able to do in short order. The second saw was a two man, cross cut log saw. this was designed for two people and the trick is to not put too much downward pressure on the saw, which would make it bow. No matter the strength of the person behind the blade the focus should be on moving the blade fully through the wood, not exerting strength to cut through the wood. The “littles” were a good team and never “caught a tooth” but took a long time to get through their piece of wood. The “bigs” went through their slice of wood like a hot knife through butter and Hudson was so impressed he let them go a second time.
Next was pole climbing. By this point the “bigs” were a bit done and were no longer interested in anything but finding shade as it was a hot day. It took about 15 minutes for Hudson to get the safety equipment on each of the kids. Once fully geared up they each climbed for what seemed like 5 seconds before they were ready to come down. Since that was a bit of a bust he decided to show us all how it was done and strapped selected pieces of gear on himself (just the spikes – not the safety rope), and proceed to run up the pole all the way to the top in about 2.5 seconds. He sat on top of the 35ft pole for a few minutes to chat – explaining that he’d responded to our email about being late from that very location.
Last but not least was the log rolling. By this point only my daughter was still game since the concrete pool he had for this activity was cold, full of bugs and leaves and did I mention cold? Hudson had the boys help him roll the specially prepared log into the pool and he secured it on both ends with hooks so it would spin but stay in one place. He then walked across it and demonstrated how to logroll. It looked several times like he would fall in but he never did. He did give some useful advice – the log never stops moving and the log always wins. With that he jumped into the pond himself so that he could hold my daughter’s hands as she stepped out onto the log as it spun. She did a decent job with him and then tried it solo (for a quicker trip into the water).
The whole experience took over three hours and it was definitely a highlight of our trip. The kids were happy to have had the opportunity to try something new and in terms of edu-fun it was a completely different environment than what they had become used to. They’ve had hands-on experiences before – at the Ontario Science Centre for example, or even trying an old-fashioned printing press at Sherbrooke Village before we moved from NS but those were carefully controlled and predictable. Nothing could compare to this venture into the world of lumberjacking!