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).
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.
Clearly, 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.
What 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.’
Forty 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