It starts one morning in late June. The far off buzzing of chainsaws.

And it can mean only one thing, the Transformations on the Shore carving competition has begun at Frank James Park

in Willow Point, in Campbell River’s southern end.

It’s Campbell River’s premier summer event that draws chainsaw carvers from all over British Columbia, other parts of Canada, the United States and even Europe for a friendly competition. It’s technically a competition but the atmosphere is relaxed and more cooperative than competitive, even though – or maybe because – there are a range of levels from novice to professional.

“For them it’s a carving week and it’s like a family,” says Don Daniels, president of the Campbell River Shoreline Arts Society, the organization that puts on the event. “It’s like a social event.”

This year there is expected to be approximately 22 carvers participating. The exact number is never known until the competition begins because some of the participants don’t register until the last minute.

This year’s festival runs from June 24 – 28 and carvers can compete in novice, amateur, semi-professional and professional categories.

This is the 17th annual Transformations on the Shore and as with every year, it is the lead off into Canada Day celebrations in Campbell River.

In reality, the festival runs for months because the completed carvings remain on site at Frank James Park in Willow Point, overlooking the entrance to Discovery Passage right up until September. And the carvings are popular attractions as visitors and residents alike love to wonder around the carvings and look at them closely.

In fact, from the first crank of the chainsaws on the first day of the festival to long months afterwards, spectators flock to watch the carvings take form and then they come back afterwards to see the completed works of art.

And the carvings that result range from mythical creatures to local animals, from dragons to wolves. Wizards, warriors, fishermen and more emerge from the logs each carver is given to work with.

It is a unique event. There is nothing like it anywhere in the country, although a smaller scale carving event is held in Chetwynd, B.C. but it is limited to a small number of professional carvers.

This is a unique festival with a unique origin.

The competition website explains: “On July 1 (Canada Day), 1996, well-known local artist Max Chickite stood working on an old stump that had been on the beach for many years. After 10 hours, a remarkable octopus appeared from the wood and “Octy” was born. Octy was a gift to the city from Chickite. A few days later, vandals cut off the Octopus’ head and stole it, but it was found 11 days later on a logging road.

“Chickite repaired the charred, damaged head and returned it to Octy’s body. The vandalism caused a furor and is the reason the Driftwood-Carving Competition was started. It was felt that since a city could be so upset about the damage to one carving, it would surely appreciate a city filled with carvings.

“Barb Comeau was also down on the beach that day and saw Max creating his work, was impressed, and stopped to talk about it and together they founded the Campbell River Shoreline Arts Society Transformations On The Shore which this year celebrates its 18th Annual Event.

“Transformations on the Shore began in 1997 and has been seen by thousands and thousands. Visitors and local residents love to watch the carvers at work and enjoy the carvings that are left along the Sea Walk and throughout the City of Campbell River.

“The Octopus has had other adventures as well, but he is still standing proudly (although much smaller) in his spot looking across Discovery Passage (on the 50th Parallel).”

The competition has become the premier event of the summer and has become woven into the fabric of the community – or should that be, carved into the grain of the community? The business community supports the event with sponsorships and in-kind donations. Local hotels donate rooms to put up the carvers. Restaurants supply free lunches.

The co-founder of the event, Chickite is still involved and each year he hosts a salmon barbecue for the carvers on the final night.

Each year, it seems the crowds flocking to the event get bigger.

“There’s a steady flow of traffic right from the Tuesday before when they set up the logs,” Daniels says.

No number is kept of spectators to the free event but hundreds happily wander around the carving grounds watching the artwork come to life. The carvers are often happy to talk to people about what they’re doing.

One of the most popular components of the competition is the Quick Carve event held on the Saturday afternoon. In this event, the carvers carve small carvings quickly – of course – and then they are auctioned off as a fundraiser.

In the end, the carvings are judged and awards are given including a People’s Choice Award voted on by spectators.