Who knew that a little plaid and a couple of plastic axes could get you so far? Certainly not Ken, Jon and Charly.
Back when season tickets went on sale for the Ottawa Redblacks’ inaugural season, the three friends got together, and inspired by team mascot Big Joe, came up with the idea of dressing like lumberjacks. While deciding upon the name and concept was easy, actually putting their outfits together took a bit of work.
Originally, the trio planned on using body paint, but after a quick Google search revealed how tough it would be (not to mention the 35 degree weather forecasted for that July day), the LumberJoes settled on regular clothes. That came with its own issues though, as the original tuques used needed to be dyed from white to off-pink, not to mention that their suspenders lasted only for a single game before snapping, which led to some creative fastening methods for the rest of the year. As for the axes, those are macgyvered out of a couple of Dollarama toys, baking trays and a roll of duct tape.
“It was just a way to do something different and celebrate the fact that Ottawa had a team again” says Ken Lancastle. “For that first game, we marched down to the Senate Tavern and took their boat down the canal to the stadium. The reactions we got as we walked through the Byward Market, at the bar, on the boat, and pretty much everywhere we went, kind of solidified it for us. Not to mention that as we walked home that night we ran into CFL Commissioner Mark Cohon just outside the Westin, who absolutely loved our outfits. Plus, I think we took close to 100 photos with fans that game. When we finally had a chance to sit down, we all looked at each other and realized that we’d never be able to go to a game again not dressed up.”
To say the LumberJoes were blown away by people’s positive reaction would be an understatement. They credit much of their popularity to the power of social media. Despite receiving a few negative comments online, overall R-Nation has supported and embraced the group that unofficially personifies it. “We’ve met so many people doing this, and made some awesome friendships as a result. There’s a huge contingent of Ottawa football fans who are just amazing people who we may never have met if not for this. They know who they are, and it’s pretty great to have those relationships now” observes Lancastle.
It’s not just fellow fans embracing the LumberJoes either, as the Redblacks themselves have been extremely happy to settle into a mutually beneficial relationship with the group. The team helps market the LumberJoes as fans and Ottawa ambassadors around the league, and in turn the LumberJoes are there when the team needs them for an event or promotion. That being said, the LumberJoes don’t officially work for the organization, which is something many fans assume. “Even if we don’t work for them directly, we do feel a bit of an obligation to make sure we’re not doing anything that would reflect poorly on the team” says Lancastle.
Though the LumberJoes weren’t around in the Rough Rider or Renegade eras, the men behind the plaid have always been CFL fans and lived in Ottawa. Two of the three members were born and raised in the Ottawa Valley, and the third, an Albertan native, has spent the majority of his life in the Nation’s Capital.
Nowadays, R-Nation can find the LumberJoes standing in the last row of Section X, or Section aXe as they refer to it, at every home game. The proud Southsiders used to sit in Section VV, right behind Mr. Shoe Beer (a South Side legend in his own right), but made the switch after the 2014 season. Now, the LumberJoes are strategically positioned so they can remain on their feet cheering and pumping up those around them without obstructing anyone’s view.
As the years go by, the LumberJoes hope that Section “aXe” becomes known as the home of the LumberJoes and that other fans in the section begin to dress in plaid shirts, suspenders and carry plastic axes. “Anyone can become a LumberJoe if they’re willing to do a few basic things” states Lancastle. “First, you’ve got to be willing to wear a tuque and flannel in the hot July sun. Secondly, you need to be as optimistic as possible. It’s easy to get down on a team if they’re losing but leave that for other fans, we believe in cheering our boys on until the last play. Thirdly, you have to make noise on defence even when the rest of the crowd has gone quiet. As a sports city, Ottawa has a tendency to jump on its teams too fast then things go rough, we want to change that.”
It’s important to note that the LumberJoes aren’t gender exclusive either, though Lancastle admits there is still some debate as to if female members should be called LumberJoes or LumberJills.
Like Batman, the LumberJoes hope to become a symbol of Ottawa football and something that R-Nation can take pride in, join, and enjoy. “It’s an amazing way to celebrate the team, and show that Ottawa maybe isn’t that sleepy government town that everything thinks we are. It’s pretty incredible to be a part of something from Day One, and to hopefully start something that one day we’ll be able to look back on and tell these stories to some new generation of LumberJoes.” says Lancastle.
And if last season’s “LumerJack/Jill Night” (a home game in which TD Place was painted plaid and flooded with great costumes), is any indication, the LumberJoes mania might only just be starting.