At first glance, Big Timber is a reality TV series about trees — big trees. But it’s also about the people who fell them, and the family that sells them — namely, Kevin Wenstob and Sarah Fleming, who own and operate the Sooke-based logging and milling operation, Wenstob Timber Resources.
The married couple and their extended family were introduced to audiences on the History Canada network two years ago, when the first season of Big Timber premiered. Not unlike other “professional reality” shows on the network — Ice Road Truckers, for example — the initial appeal to viewers was the mixture of inherent danger and homespun humour. Wenstob is the centrifugal force behind the family business, and his adventuresome spirit while he makes his way in the high-stakes world of timber production makes for very watchable television.
“What we do is unique,” Wenstob said. “The end result is a retail product, so we go hunting for wood, be it beachcombing or in the forest, to satisfy the markets we have, which is [building materials]. We have the ability to manufacture all those things, and an inventory of stuff available.”
The third season of Big Timber premieres tonight on History Canada, and Wenstob promises a better product than ever before. The first two seasons had great stories, Wenstob said, “but they were diamonds-in-the-rough.” Now, with two years of television experience, Big Timber delivers a slicker on-screen product. “We understand how it works better now, and we understand what it takes to get the story across, so we’re able to achieve that.”
The eight hour-long episodes in the upcoming season came together quite naturally; Wenstob Timber Resources is fully operational, with no end to the possibilities. The company uses tugboats and barges, at various stages in the production process, and uses large-scale road-building equipment when they are logging. There’s also the family’s Sooke-based sawmill, which is housed on a seven-acre parcel of land on Idlemore Road and is constantly manufacturing wood, in addition to a dock in Hook Bay near Port Alberni from where massive logs are salvaged.
“Everybody has an idea of what is going to happen in that season, but our life doesn’t work in seasons,” Wenstob said. “Our life is continuous.”
His primary job is to keep the family business, which employs the couple’s two sons, Erik and Jack, in addition to more than a dozen others, busy with projects. When that involves harvesting West Coast cedar trees of up to eight feet in diameter, and navigating frequently perilous situations, it doesn’t take long for something spectacular to occur. Which is to say there aren’t a lot of meetings with producers, with regards the pacing and story arc of each episode.
“The camera people show up, and ask what’s going on.” Essentially, that’s it — that’s the meeting, Wenstob said.
While jobs in the forest sector on Vancouver Island have been declining, Wenstob Timber Resources has yet to feel the pinch. “The money’s there, the projects are there, the wood’s there,” Wenstob says in an upcoming Season 3 episode, “I just gotta hit it hard.” Hit it hard they do, collectively. Millions of dollars are ultimately at stake, which is an almost inconceivable tally, the couple said, when you consider their humble roots.
Fleming and Wenstob were both born in Vancouver, and moved at a very early age to Vancouver Island. The two families were close (“My mother used to babysit Kevin,” Fleming said with a laugh) but their paths ultimately sent the couple in opposite directions. Wenstob spent many years in Barkley Sound, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, while Fleming grew up in Gordon Head. “She’s a city girl,” Wenstob said with a laugh. “I wore gumboots from age nine to 25.”
Fleming said she would often hear stories in passing about the Wenstob family, who salavaged wood by beachcombing in the Tofino-Ucluelet area, doing whatever it took to survive. The family eventually opened a fishing lodge in Barkley Sound, and Fleming worked there as a chambermaid each summer during nursing school. When the couple relocated to Victoria, an early version of the logging and sawmill business began, laying the foundation for Big Timber in the process.
“It was always so exciting, and always so interesting,” Fleming said of her husband’s go-for-broke approach. “It seemed like a no-brainer that his life and his skillset would eventually be filmed.”
The third season of Big Timber premieres today on the History Canada channel.