Members of The Other Guys perform one of 22 tunes in Chemainus Theatre's musical history lesson Good Timber: Songs & Stories of the Western Logger.

Review: Good Timber a rollicking musical-history lesson well worth taking

Chemainus Theatre's two-week run offers a raft of educational songs and stories of the Western logger

The Klondike was one thing.

Falling coastal forests was another.

Good Timber, Chemainus Theatre Festival’s musical-history lesson gave viewers a terrific glimpse into that colourfully crude, sadly bygone era during Thursday’s debut.

We left understanding how the dangerous, dirty job chewed and spat out men too weak, or too stupid, to tame our tall timber.

Sub-dubbed Songs & Stories Of The Western Logger, six multi-instrumental musicians with The Other Guys Theatre Company strummed and sung their way into our hearts, spinning poetic yarns from the late logging icon and inventor Robert E. Swanson.

Violinist Sarah Donald’s frollicking fiddling nicely complemented lyrics by Swanson and others, set to music by fellow stage players Collen Eccleston, John Gogo, director Ross Desprez, Kelt Eccleston, Mark Hellman, musical director Tobin Stokes — and a few other guys.

Toss in a kaleidoscope of heritage still photos and film footage, and the magical result was a field trip back to B.C.’s bunkhouses, backwoods, and brothels that spawned true Canadian legends, including some in Cowichan.

And the production had local angles of woodwork around Chemainus, Ladysmith, Lake Cowichan, and Hillcrest.

Timber’s program packed a cool glossary of logger lingo including bull cook (floor sweep, bedmaker); board hole (hole cut in stumps for spring boards); skid road (road logs are dragged on); hi-ball (go fast); hay burner (horse); donkey (logging engine with drums); powder-monkey (man using explosives in the woods); jack (money); tongs (used to load logs on rail cars); gut hammer (dinner gong); and punk (signal man on a yarding crew).

Timber’s musical talk also mentioned high demand for chewing tobacco during the tune When Snoose Was King.

The ensemble’s Snoose song was among 22 falled including Legend of the Spruce, Chokerman’s Lament, The Apes of B.C., Climax Courage, Gal From The Soo, and Camps of the Holy Ghost.

From blues and Celtic to folk and old-time, Timber’s tales were backed by guitars, saws, hurdy-gurdy, metal percussion, harmonica and more, in keeping with its rough-hewn theme.

But Good Timber didn’t duck the fallout of all that logging, showing clear cuts arranged by company brains.

Short-sighted destruction spelled the beginning of the end for a frontier lifestyle forged by brave, hardy guys awed by massive cedar, fir and spruce stands that took days to cut by hand — until chainsaws and steam power caught up.

Indeed, The Other Guys staged delightful, audio-visual education for all ages and green-leanings.

The curtain falls on Good Timber June 1.

Heritage-education musical rating: 10 skidders out of 10.

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