Meet The Artist: Lifelong Logger Finds Love Of Wood Art Later In Life

Gord Hart donates proceeds from Woodtic Gallery to local charities
Gord Hart has been working with wood in one way or another nearly his entire life. Photo by Marissa Tiel

Stepping into Gord Hart’s home, it’s easy to forget where you are.

Up a sloped driveway off 128 Avenue, the log cabin he custom-built overlooks the valley. The main floor is home to a living area, upstairs is wife Judi’s quilting studio and downstairs is where Hart displays his wooden wares for sale, in Woodtic Gallery. Beginning in the gallery and reaching all the way to Judi’s studio is a beautiful solid cedar trunk.

A crane dropped it down the middle of the house, but there was a problem: who would take the rope off the top, swaying some 32 feet in the air? So he called up his son, Greg, who could climb trees without a problem. Donning his spurs, he shimmied up the trunk, dancing at the top.

Forestry runs in the Hart family blood.

Hart grew up in Burnaby’s Capitol Hill until he was 10. His dad bought a homestead, 160 acres on East Road near Buntzen Lake. He started sawing in 1945. In the fall of ‘45, Hart’s dad came home and announced a move. “Grace, pack up the kids,” he said to Hart’s mom. “I just fired the camp cook.”

The young family moved out. 

“No lights, no running water, no nothing,” recalls Hart. His little sister was five weeks old, his older sister was 13. Hart was 10. “I don’t know how mom did it.”

Hart started working. By the time he was 12, he was driving a team of horses in the bush. At 16, he was supplying all the wood for his dad’s mill. 

He got out of forestry after that, going to work for a telephone company, but it didn’t last long. Then he worked as a Chrysler mechanic for a few years.

“That was OK,” he says. “But it never made enough money.” By that point, he had four kids and he wanted a house. His parents had divorced. His mom was running a garage with an RCMP contract, so she had to be open 24 hours a day. Hart would fill in wherever he could and on his two days off, would go help his dad at the sawmill. 

The duo were responsible for cutting all the Douglas fir wood for Playland’s wooden roller coaster in 1955, Judi later told me. The coaster is undergoing repairs today, but has a world-class reputation.

Name an aspect of forestry —sawmills, shake and shingle, log cabins — and you can almost be sure Hart’s done it at some point in his life. By the 1980s, it was clear that sawmills were not the place to be making money. 

“You could clear a whole bank just by going in and yelling ‘sawmill,’” he says.

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He got into the log cabin trade, taking over an unlucky businessman’s company. Hart was able to build it into a profitable business. To date, he’s built over 2,000 log cabin homes. He sold them as kits through True-Craft Log Structures and they travelled far and wide. When Expo 86 was in Vancouver, it introduced him to the Japanese market. 

“Inside of another year, I had 50 guys selling them,” he says. “They sold Cowichan sweaters, B.C. salmon, Coca-Cola and log cabins.”

There’s 80 cabins today within a two-hour drive of his house and 10 in his current neighbourhood, if you know where to look.

They were sold as kits and were “quite easy” if you followed the instructions, he says.

As an employer, he believed in generalization. “I never liked the idea of Ford where a guy put a wheel on all day,” he says. “So everybody that worked for me did all the jobs all the time.”

Gord Hart works at his lathe. Photo by Marissa Tiel

It wasn’t until later in his career that he started his current hobby: woodworking, specifically, the lathe. He and Judi were snowbirds for many years and found themselves in San Diego one winter. Turns out, the city is home to one of the largest woodturning clubs in the country. They set him up with a lathe and for the next three months, he was turning wood three or four times a week. 

When they got home, Hart bought a lathe and continued to hone his craft. A few years later, Judi remarked there wasn’t any room left in the house to invite people for dinner, it was so full of his creations. They decided to start a business and would donate all the profits to local charities.

When you walk into Woodtic Gallery today, you’re greeted by a family of bears. Those are his grandson’s specialty.

“I can run a chainsaw upside and backwards,” he says, “but I can’t carve.”

Also in the gallery are cheese platters, cutting boards, lamps, bowls, vases and interesting decorative pieces. The bulk of the wood comes from his 40 acre holding near Harrison, but there’s also a handful of exotic woods. His favourite wood to work with is big leaf maple, thanks to its burls — the growths produce interesting textures beneath the surface that are revealed in Hart’s work. He is drawn to trees with unique features like a tree that starts to grow two limbs. When cut a certain way, it can produce an interesting piece.

The wood talks to him and he’s just the type of guy to experiment.

“Not everything has to be functional,” he says. 

Hart picks up a beautiful piece that has turquoise inlay. While he was turning the piece, he heard a crack, so he switched the machine off, but initially he couldn’t find the crack. He eventually located it with a magnifying glass, then drove a hardwood wedge into both sides, filled it with turquoise and carried on turning.

Gord Hart used to compete in timbersports. Photo courtesy Gord Hart

In a corner of the gallery, there’s a wall of images celebrating Hart and his family’s participation in timbersports. Participation may not be the right word for Hart, rather domination.

When he entered his first competition in 1974, he had never competed, but he did have lots of bush experience, chopping trees down. You start as a novice and each time you win, you move up a division. Within two months, he was competing in the pro division. His event: standing block. His son Greg is on the cover of ESPN magazine and his grandsons also competed. Greg and Stirling became the first father and son in Maple Ridge’s Hometown Heroes when Stirling received the honour in 2010.

These days, Hart isn’t on his lathe as much. He just finished a commission for Fraser Health, but he does have many pieces available for the Maple Ridge Pitt Meadows Art Studio Tour this weekend. Hart is stop #22, just up the road from Lyn Thomas’ place. 

On another wall in his gallery is a collection of photos of some of the organizations that have received Woodtic Gallery donations over the years. With any luck, the photos will continue to multiply.

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