Michael Brousseau

Log Driver’s Waltz

Log Driver’s Waltz

This short, created by the National Film Board in 1979, is based on a Canadian folk song of the same name written by the late Wade Hemsworth; it details the perceptions a young women has of the men participating in log drives in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. 

The national film board of Canada describes the video as: “Easily one of the most often-requested films in the NFB collection, this lighthearted animated short is based on the song “The Log Driver’s Waltz” by Wade Hemsworth. Kate and Anna McGarrigle sing along to the tale of a young girl who loves to dance and chooses to marry a log driver over his more well-to-do competitors.” 

I’d ask you to first watch the 3 ½ minute video embedded below or at the following link: https://echo360.ca/media/5913ae66-8046-480b-b598-72cc9cc6de6e/public  

Who are the key characters? 

The LadyProtagonist
The Log DriverThe Muse
The LawyerAntagonist
The ParentsAntagonist

focus of this artwork and comment on the art form

Would you marry a clumsy lawyer willing to get out on the dance floor?

Or a plaid-clad woodsman with undeniable style?

This short has a rough and exaggerated hand-drawn artistic style that pairs well with the musical storytelling used. The style suits the mythological folk-hero like depiction of the log drivers of old in the Canadian north. The short is lively and fun; however, it idealizes many of the aspects of the real lives of these men stuck in the wilderness away from family and friends. By all accounts, these men worked in grueling and dangerous conditions for little pay. There is a nice nod to the origins of the log driving tradition at the beginning of the short as archival footage of log driving merges into the start of our animated short.

Log drivers in Chippewa Falls, 1906

key issues & THEMES? 

Stylized Histories

  • Log drivers as folk heroes of the wilderness

Class Tensions At Play

  • “Civilized society” at odds with “working class” men on the river
  • What constitutes a desirable skill set?

Relationship with Nature

  • Highly idealized depiction of log drivers’ relationship with nature
  • Real log drives were highly destructive to natural environments and the animals that inhabited them
A large sorting pond full of logs that have been floated down stream

Female Empowerment VS Female Objectification

  • Is our protagonist an independent women or star struck damsel?

How are time and place dealt with? 

Time appears fluid but generally unidirectional in the short. The relationship between the log driver and the lady moves very quickly from desire, to dancing, to marriage following traditional conceptions of a male+female relationship. Our characters don’t age or even change appearance until the very end of the short when they don marriage attire.

The only exception to this unidirectional flow of time is the transition of archival footage at the beginning of the short to animated footage. Here, a more modern archival footage transitions to a stylized historical setting.

How is education conceptualized and presented? 

I’ve positioned this within my own forms of education growing up. As a young person spending time in the provincial parks of Ontario, I saw this short dozens of times as part of interpretive programs on the history of logging as a formative part of Ontario heritage. “Logging days” was an activity and history filled week with logging games such as boiling water, cross cutting logs, and rolling logs with cant hooks (long pools with a movable hook). The mythology of this time in Ontario, and Canadian history, was described with hands-on activities, friendly competition, songs, and dance.

As with my experience in the parks growing up, traditional education is presented as stuffy and undesirable to our main female lead in the short. As with our evolving practices in higher education, it is a focus on experiential education that features prominently.


In this image, we see the goofy depiction of our lawyer, doctor and several other men in suits.

The short also refers to the skills our log driving muse gains on the river. Specifically, that the river is “where the log driver learns to step lightly”. This is later translated into his skill on the dance floor. In practice, unskilled men would be gathered from the local area and brought to assist and apprentice under skilled log drivers. With informal training and experience, these local recruits could themselves become skilled log drivers to teach others.

References

https://www.nfb.ca/film/log_drivers_waltz/

The home and creators of the animated short

https://content.mpl.org/digital/collection/mcml/id/3483

A historical collection of log driving accounts and images

https://books.google.ca/books

An article appearing in popular mechanics of the stories and images of a log drive

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