As Vancouver rain poured down on a gloomy Saturday morning, I followed the sounds of buck saws and axes into a deep clearing in the forests at the UBC Farm.
Despite the wet weather, a group of around 15 people had gathered to practice loggers’ sports with the UBC Thunderjacks. The club has been around for decades, and members gather three times a week to learn how to chop, bucksaw, pole climb and throw axes.
After signing a waiver, loggers’ sports club secretary and a second-year forestry student Mary Haanen led me through an axe throwing demonstration. Wielding a heavy double-bladed axe, she showed me how to properly swing and aim for the wooden target.
As we watched other participants practice their throws, Haanen told me just how important the club was to her.
“I went through a period of my life where I felt like my power had been taken away from me. This was a way for me to actively feel strong and watch myself grow. And being able to cultivate that with other people is really special,” she said.
Haanen stumbled upon the Thunderjacks when she first came to UBC.
“It’s kind of random, but it’s my home now,” she said. “I love loggers’ sports. I feel very fortunate that we have this space. This is a whole different world.”
At the Thunderjacks’ headquarters, it really does feel like a whole new world. You’re surrounded by the scent of evergreens and leafy underbrush. Pieces of wood — donated by locals and later sold — are tucked away in neat piles. Within the dense forest, the atmosphere is calm and quiet. It’s easy to forget that you’re still on a university campus with almost 60,000 students.
Loggers’ sports were started over a century ago by early Canadian loggers looking to keep their lumberjacking skills sharp through friendly competitions at their logging camps. In a profession where a lapse in judgement or strength could be fatal, practice makes perfect.
Nowadays, the UBC Thunderjacks are using the club to keep a historic sport alive, while also providing students a space away from the urban.
“Coming here to Vancouver, I felt really overwhelmed with the city and everything,” said Mabel Moses, a fourth-year forest resources management student from a small island off the coast of Washington state.
“And then I found out about [the UBC Thunderjacks]. It felt very comfortable and like home for me to be outside with people. Because that’s what I had been used to growing up.”
Moses had just finished prepping a friend for pole climbing, an event where you climb a large pole over 40 feet tall using shoe spikes and a rope wrapped around both your waist and the trunk of the pole. As you pull yourself upwards, someone belays you from the other side. On a rain-slicked piece of wood, it’s quite a feat.
It also happens to be Thunderjacks President Liam Doering’s favourite event. He will be competing in pole climbing at the Great Canadian Classic at UBC on March 25.
A second-year forestry student, Doering had also just moved to Vancouver when he joined.
“I grew up in a small town, and I value nature a lot. I’ve always felt very connected to that, and so I thought this was a really cool opportunity in a city which is very urbanized,” he said. “To be in your own little secluded area away in the woods.”
Doering had joined when former President Remy Altasserre had been running the club. Altasserre graduated in 2022 from the Faculty of Forestry, and led the Thunderjacks for two and a half years. During that time, the COVID-19 pandemic had limited practice times and halted all club competitions.
Although it was a great experience, Altasserre described moments when he wasn’t too sure about the club’s future.
“COVID made it really tough, and it mainly felt like we were just trying to keep the club together. Like we were treading water,” he said. "But last year we were able to start practicing up again.”
“I really enjoyed my time as a part of loggers’ sports. I’ve made a lot of fantastic friends, spent a lot of time outdoors, rain or shine. The connections I made within the club and the greater community were truly fantastic. I have no regrets.”