Fanny Bay’s Wacky Woods gets curiouser and curiouser

           Wacky Woods Fanny Bay It just kept getting curiouser and curiouser.  Every turn and trail diversion offered up more amazing bits and pieces, some politically motivated, others just observations of life. All of which made me wish, fervently, that I had had a chance to meet the creator of Fanny Bay’s amazing, engaging – and very thought-provoking – Wacky Woods. Alas, renowned artist George Sawchuk died in early 2012, so no opportunity for a meeting of the minds. Sawchuk’s work remains, however, scattered over his four acres of woodland (and some Crown land too, which was the source of considerable controversy in 1997).Curtains

            Sawchuk was born in Kenora, Ontario in 1927.  At the age of 13 he abandoned formal education and spent 30 years working in construction and the logging industry.  A crushed leg that left him in pain for a full decade was finally amputated and Sawchuk found himself with time on his hands and a guaranteed income in the form of a disability pension. Sawchuk and his wife moved to Fanny Bay in 1974 and cleared a site for a home and large garden, leaving the remainder of their property in forest. The forest soon became the site for Sawchuk’s outdoor gallery, which was (and remains) open to anyone who cares to wander the meandering paths and contemplate Sawchuk’s work, and his message.          

Breakfast Camp 5Blue WheelsClearly, although he came to art later in life, Sawchuk’s upbringing influenced his creative work.  The offspring of a Polish mother and a Russian father, as a child he attended Roman Catholic school during the week and Russian school on weekends. Many of his forest installments reflect the social mores instilled in him at a young age.             

Book in tree, Wacky Woods

There are hand-made wooden books tucked into nooks carved in trees throughout the woods

Open BookWhat we loved about the Wacky Woods was the fact that every piece of work compelled us to stop, look, and really think about the message that Sawchuk was trying to convey.  A lot of them were pretty obvious; others, not so much.  And a few – well, to be honest we never really did figure out where he was coming from with them.  All the while though, all during our almost-two hour wander, I found myself wishing I could meet the fellow with the mind that had created such an all-engaging environment. The wooden books tucked in to nooks carved out of many trees each have a profound message inscribed in them. The hundreds of other bits and pieces are all clearly ‘found’ objects or stuff constructed by Sawchuk that convey a clear sense of where the man ‘came from.’

            ChainsawForty years in, Sawchuk’s Wacky Woods continue to survive and to intrigue and entrance people of all ages. Eventually I suppose, it will all return to the forest as undergrowth and wild west coast weather take their toll.  But for now, and for the foreseeable future, they are a destination well worth seeking out. 

            Depending on the time of year that you visit, be prepared for some muddy trails in winter and, more than likely, mosquitoes in summer.  The Wacky Woods don’t have an official ‘address’, but there are two simple ways to access them.  Head north on Highway 19A (The Old Island Highway) past the Fanny Bay Community Hall and about 50 feet north of Jacob Road you will see a yellow gate across a trail on the east side of the highway.  The trail leads along the Fanny Bay waterfront and there are several branches off  to the right to access the Wacky Woods.  Or, turn on to Ships Point Road (at the Fanny Bay Community Centre), follow Ships Point Road to Little Way, turn left on Little Way and then left on Bates Drive.  The trailhead (which is unmarked) will be at the end of Bates on the right hand side.  This is probably the safest access if you don’t want to have to cross the highway, and there is easy parking there.  It also puts you immediately into the magic of the Wacky Woods rather than having to hike along the waterfront trail.

            GPS co-ordinates for the Bates Road access are:

            Lat. 49.49458437337555  Long. -124.81377354408948

            N 49 29.675  W 124 48.826

Shirley

About Shirley

More years ago than I like to remember, I completed the Journalism program at Vancouver Community College and launched straight into a career as a newspaper reporter (thanks to my journalism professor Nick Russell and an opening at the venerable daily Alberni Valley Times.) My work as a news reporter/feature writer/columnist and ultimately, newspaper and magazine editor, took me to many interesting places and introduced me to hundreds of interesting characters over the years. I loved every minute of it, but burnout caught up with me while I was trying to juggle the simultaneous editing of five trade magazines, and for 27 years I abandoned my keyboard (on a professional basis, at least) and followed my heart in a variety of other careers. In 2010 I returned to the journalistic fold, thanks to the encouragement (nay – nagging!) of my husband. I feel no regret – only great joy to be back at the keyboard, and to be spending time interviewing interesting folks and discovering great places.
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24 Responses to Fanny Bay’s Wacky Woods gets curiouser and curiouser

  1. Courtney says:

    I enjoyed reading about your adventure through the wacky woods. Every experience in the wacky woods is very unique and leaves you with different questions and thoughts. I wish you got the chance to meet George (my grandfather) as he was a great man and welcomed every visitor into his yard and into his mind, allowing you to pick his brain and answering all questions you may have. Also, he was very humorous. He would have made sure you had a few good laughs during your visit. Thank you for sharing!

    • Shirley Shirley says:

      Courtney, it was one of our great regrets that we never met your grandfather – we marvelled and wondered about the man and the mind that created the Wacky Woods, and there was certainly no doubt in our minds that he had a sense of humour. Still, he has left a legacy that makes anyone who visits his unique creation think about things, and question. And to us, that is a GOOD thing! Thank you so much for writing.

  2. Kat says:

    We once took our young children to visit Mr. Sawchuck’s art installation.
    He happen to be moseying around his property on his small tractor and came over to have a conversation. Being from Campbell River, and very knowledgeable about life in Camp 5 my partner and he struck quite a conversation. His natural hospitality led us to a tour of the works in his sheds, with amazing descriptions of what inspired each piece (usually controversial world events). He was well spoken, and very knowledgeable! As a grande finale, we shared a scotch with his partner (sorry her name escapes me) and continued our facinating conversation in their home. By far one of the most interesting, and enjoyable road trip ever. Thank you for your contributions to art and political activism Mr. Sawchuck and to your amazing hospitality!

  3. Rawgeez says:

    I grew up in Campbell River and my friends and I made the trip down to what we called “the fanny bay trails” on a number of occasions. It was the early 90s and we were in highschool at the time. I remember going to the trails during the summer months when it got dark. We would explore the trails with flash lights. I remember there was mirrors on the trees and when a flash light would hit one of these mirrors it would seem like someone else was pointing their flash light at us from across the forest (trippy!). The books in the trees were fun to find and we would take turns reading them aloud for each other. Good to know the trails are still there, I will be sharing them with my 6yr old daughter the next time I am on the island.

  4. Terry Giblin says:

    I lived on Ships Point for 11 years; been through the Wacky Woods many times. My favourite pieces are the books. I knew George and his wife Pat; wonderful couple. The community, under the direction of Ms Lillian Tost and Ms Suzanne Husband performed, annually, a “Fright Night” right around Halloween, two years in a row. It was held in amongst George’s works…a theatre production with ghoulish characters played by locals. Guides would take groups through while narrating; usually a horror film was the basis of the performance. Always, the tour would end at George’s back yard where he and Pat would be waiting with refreshments and his homemade cookies. George will always be remembered for his artistry, humour, and a true sense of welcome he always provided for anyone who wandered into his back yard while on the paths. I remember every summer while in the Wacky Woods there was always beautiful classical music coming from his backyard that could be heard throughout the forest. Its what brought most people to the entrance to his yard! Thats also where a notebook and pencil attached to a tree for comments could be found. I always left a note for George to thank him. The community of Fanny Bay dearly miss George. Every summer everyone gets together to honour him on Canada Day; a potluck bbq in his backyard after everyone spends some time maintaining the forest so his work isnt taken over by the woods.

    • Anne Mabberley says:

      I am so pleased to hear that people are still maintaining this piece of history. I have never been but plan to go soon.

  5. Jodi says:

    Both my husband and I grew up in the Comox Valley and spent time exploring the Wacky Woods as teenagers. We were so excited to share it with our children while visiting last year, although they were too young to understand much, they greatly enjoyed exploring and running through the trails. I hope the woods are available for our children to explore in the summers as teenagers while visiting the island.

  6. roxanne says:

    we lived in courtenay for a number of years and always had a blast going through your woods the kids and also adults enjoyed it very much always something to see and explore loved every minute we all thank you

  7. Carolyn Lust says:

    I used to live in Qualicum Beach and we would venture to Fanny Bay regularly to walk the trails. Close to the house he had speakers in trees and if you came in on Ship’s Point Road he would turn them on and play ethereal music for you. Many great memories and was always first on the list to show visitors from out of town.

  8. Susan says:

    I tried copy/pasting the GPS coordinates into Google Maps but it didn’t work. Can you rephrase then please?

    • Shirley Shirley says:

      Hi Susan – when you are using Google Maps you need to use the second set of co-ordinates that we supply at the foot of the article. In this case, you want to use N 49 29.675 W 124 48.826 Hope this works for you – we have just tested it and it works

  9. Emily says:

    I grew up in Fanny Bay and was lucky enough to go to the enchanted forest all the time. While the area is no longer maintained like it once was which was so sad to see I was so happy to bring my own children to see the woods and explore the areas I used to see. I will forever miss the music he had going through. We were always told it was elves who made the woods and even when we would see him working away we would stop and tell him to thank the elves for us.

  10. cassie says:

    how many kilometres is it?

    • Shirley Shirley says:

      Hi Cassie – I assume you are talking about the Wacky Woods. No idea how many kilometres it is, as it wends its way in every direction. We spent a couple of hours there when we visited.

  11. Chris Attrell says:

    When did it get renamed “Wacky Woods” hmm I’ve met George when we were in his forest, he and his lovely wife had us to their house with our kids and we drank his homemade beer and he gave my son Phillip a ten speed bike and showed us around his studio looking at pieces he was still working on explaining each. I wouldn’t ever call his art forest “Wacky”. It was called the George Sawchuk’s Enchanted Forest when he was still alive, but I think Wacky is not a title respectful to George’s work, I will continue to use the original title in honor of George Sawchuk!

    • Shirley Shirley says:

      Not sure where the Wacky Woods moniker came from Chris, but I agree that Enchanted Forest is a much more apt name for George’s creation. Judging by the response to this story however, it seems clear that Wacky Woods is a commonly used name as well.

      • Chris Attrell says:

        I had just never heard it called that before, great works I love his creations, and the ideas behind them 🙂

  12. Irene says:

    Wow this is amazing. He is the brother of my grandfather William Sawchuk and this my Grandfather would be proud of if he was alive today! I must come visit this beautiful place☺

  13. Judi says:

    We did a Geocache in there a number of years ago called “Whimsical Graveyard” and really enjoyed the location 🙂

  14. Tannie Fielding says:

    Courtney;

    I went to school with Melinda Sawchuk and I am wondering if they are related. I love the whimsical nature of the place and will find it as early as I can. It is lovely. I particularly love the wooden books in trees.

  15. Thomas Kennedy says:

    I grew up in Fanny bay from 67-1982 and the funny part is I have never heard of this. I do believe I came across one of his pieces on the road that cuts across from this island hwy to ships point. some sort of weird jungle / native mask. scared the crap out of me. And now I know the reason for it being there. I will definitely take my son for a cruise through there next trip over. I will not need GPS as the whole of FB is imprinted in me from riding bikes all over it for 15 years.

    Thomas K.

  16. Billie-Jo says:

    I had the great pleasure of visiting with my great-uncle George sawchuk but never got a chance to go to the wacky woods. I hope to go there with my family.

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