George Sawchuk was 13 years old when he left school. He headed west on boxcars and made a living in construction and the logging industry. His leg was crushed during a bridge-building accident; after ten years of pain, it was amputated. Disability checks left him with a lot of free time, and a man who owed him some money offered a chainsaw to relieve the debt. As Sawchuk put it, “All of a sudden I had time, a saw, and a guaranteed income.”
In the 1970s Sawchuk had his first art show. In ’76, he and his wife Pat Helps bought four acres of land in the small Vancouver Island town of Fanny Bay. They built a house and tilled a vegetable patch and Sawchuk used the rest of the wooded area to work on art.
He spent his time attaching found objects to trees, carving sculptures, and building wooden books with quotations. His forest gallery is filled with works that range from Dadaist to surrealist, often with a political slant. Wacky Woods (not an official name) became a hit among locals and tourists, and within 10 years he was a beloved figure in the Canadian art world.
Sawchuk continued adding to the project, which he called doing “yard work,” until he passed in 2012. Though the woods keep growing, consequently altering some of the works, the path is still in good condition and should offer many more years of whimsy to those who visit it.
Sawchuk came to art late in life, but his legacy will be revered for a long time. As Comox Valley Community Arts Council director Robert Moon once claimed: “You can’t get more Canadian than George. He spent the first half of his life cutting down trees and the second half paying homage to them with his provocative sculptures.”