Have we seen the “last” Wells Gray Birchleg?

The 14th and possibly last Well Gray Birchleg Race was held on Feb. 18

Longtime Wells Gray Birchleg participant Grace Gormley (the wooden legs around her waist commemorate each year) confers with Little Fort resident Jim Chambers

Longtime Wells Gray Birchleg participant Grace Gormley (the wooden legs around her waist commemorate each year) confers with Little Fort resident Jim Chambers

By Margot Venema

The 14th and possibly last Well Gray Birchleg Race was held on Feb. 18 and was well attended. Some of those taking part even wore colorful Viking costumes and hats.

Participants had the choice of doing a relaxed three-km, the more challenging 10-km to the warming hut, or the 20-km loop. This scenic route leads through the forest and along the beautiful Murtle River.

At the end of the race a wonderful tasty chili with a bun was waiting at the Upper Clearwater hall, along with treats and warm drinks. All children who participated in the ski got to pick a prize and the adults had a chance to win something in a draw.

Over their bowls of chili a few of people were wondering what birchleg actually stands for.

In 1206 a civil war raged in Norway. In the middle of winter two birkebeiner warriors risked their lives and traveled 55 km through forests and over dangerous mountain ranges in cold weather to bring the two-year-old heir to the throne, Haakon Haakonsson, to safety.

The name birchleg (the English translation of birkebeiner) is based on the footwear Norwegian warriors were wearing, which consisted of animal skins wrapped around their legs and held in place by birch roots.

Every year birchleg cross-country ski events are held all over Canada and Scandinavia to remember this rescue. However, this was, as far as we know, the last Wells Gray Birchleg Event.

Jim Chambers said, “Ellen and her husband Kelly Ferguson have always been the driving force behind organizing this yearly event in Clearwater along with many other volunteers.”

Chambers, a Little Fort resident, was one of the original promoters of the local event.

Sadly, but understandably, the Fergusons have now decided that the time has come to stop.

No doubt everyone who attended the Birchleg Race would like to say thank you to all the volunteers with the Murtle River Nordic Club, who put so much effort into organizing this event for the last 14 years.

This fun and active event for the whole family will surely be missed (although there are rumors that the tradition might not totally end after all). I guess we’ll have to wait and see.



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