Bob Swanson, logger poet and engineer

Posted by Daniel on Jul 13, 2010 - 5 comments

Nice to see that the Royal BC Museum in Victoria is hosting a tribute to Bob Swanson (pictured above) this summer in the form of a musical produced by the Other Guys Theatre Company.

Swanson was a real renaissance man. He was born in England in 1905 but emigrated to Vancouver Island with his family before WWI. He trained as a steam engineer and found his first jobs in logging camps up and down the coast. It was there that he collected the stories and songs that he later spun into the folksy poems that earned him the nickname Bard of the Woods. Howard White, Swanson's publisher and no stranger to a logging camp himself, has said that Swanson did for the west coast logger what Robert Service did for the miners in the Klondike. In 1992 White re-published a collection of Swanson's verse, Rhymes of a Western Logger, and it is this volume that is the basis of the Other Guys production, which runs at the museum until August 28.

Swanson is known for more than his versifying, of course. As the chief inspector of railways in the province, he developed a distinctive air horn that came to be used around the world. That led him to found Airchime Manufacturing, maker of tuned whistle systems of all types.

Whether they know it or not, all Vancouverites know Swanson's horns because he designed the system that plays the first four notes of "O Canada" that blare out over the harbour every day at noon. The set of ten aluminum horns originally sat atop the old BC Hydro Building on Burrard; Swanson designed them as a centennial project in 1967. Since 1994 (the year that Swanson died) they've been sounding from the roof of the Pan Pacific Hotel.

During the recent Olympics, Swanson's horns played their familiar notes each time a Canadian athlete won a medal.