Log birling was popular for many years in Sooke.

Log birling was popular for many years in Sooke.

The glory days of log birling for the Wickheims

Sooke historian Elida Peers writes about life in Sooke

Vancouver Sun columnist Stephen Hume’s recent use of a photo such as this taken in Sooke on July 21, 1956 brings back to mind the glory days of logger sports when Sooke actually was “on the map.”

The “World Series” of logger sports was brought to Sooke during the 1950s and 1960s through the prowess of Ardy and Jube Wickheim and the International Log Rolling Association.  It was in the quiet inlet at Coopers Cove, which in those years served as booming grounds for GE Bernard and for BC Forest Products, that the brothers got their start on the logs, practicing their nimble-footed skills.

In the early All Sooke Day years, the log birling competitions were held in the Sooke River itself and it was there that the brothers gained their first local wins, then the Canadian Championship.  Spectator interest was such that up to 12,000 gathered on the Sooke Flats to watch and even place bets on which of the caulk-booted champion brothers could best demonstrate their agility and balance to withstand the spins and counter spins of his opponent.

They initiated their reign as World Champions by travelling to logging sports centres throughout the American midwest.  Among the host states were Idaho, Washington, Oregon, Illinois and Wisconsin.  Ardy first took the title in 1955, followed by Jube the next year, the brothers continuing to hold the world title between them for 15 years.  In 1957 the International Log-Rolling Association moved lock, stock and barrel to the little Canadian town of Sooke to conduct the World Championships here.

As part of the show put on in July 1956, Ardy Wickheim tests his balance as he mounts a kitchen chair placed on the floating log, trusting the strength of hand of his brother Jube with his pike pole to hold the log steady.  Elder brother Maywell is on the right, in this scene at the Sooke River’s edge. Later in the 1960s a birling pond was excavated further to the west within the Flats.

During their heyday the brothers performed at the Canadian Trade Show in Japan in 1965, at Expo ‘67 in Montreal and at the PNE. Brother Jube went on to establish Wickheim Timber Shows and with his crew of skilled loggers travelled internationally, performing shows around the world for three decades.

Birling was so popular in this period that practice logs were set up at several local schools. Young fellows that followed in the sport included Jim Duncan and Danny Eddy, but none stayed with it longer than the Herrling brothers, Mike, Steve, Paul and Danny, who became known as the “Birling Herrlings.”

Elida Peers, Historian                                                                                                                                                  Sooke Region Museum

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