An old elm tree in Winnipeg's Assiniboine Park, known as 'Grandma Elm,' was cut down on Tuesday morning due to Dutch Elm Disease.

A meeting place for Murray and Loraine Steele, every Saturday at 10 p.m. their cycling club came together under her leaves.

"It's sad, I'm sad, but its had over 100 years I understand, or close to it," said Murray. "If I can reach that age I'd be happy."

Old tree cut down

Assiniboine Park officials said Grandma Elm tested positive and had to be cut down Tuesday. (Trevor Dineen/CBC)

The Assiniboine Park Conservancy said the massive tree, which stood north of the Lyric Theatre near the Assiniboine River footbridge, was a favourite resting spot for visitors to the park.

Don Peterkin, chief operations officer with Assiniboine Park Conservancy, said it's unfortunate the old tree had to be chopped down, but it was done out of necessity to preserve younger trees in the area.

"It's necessary to protect the other trees in the park and at the end of the day it gives us an opportunity to plant something that is going to give shade and enjoyment to people 50 years from now, a hundred years from now," said Peterkin.

Darlene Lewis, a volunteer in Assiniboine Park, is sad to see the tree go, but happy to hear pieces of it will remain in the park.

"Lot's of people come here and sit under her," said Lewis. "She's a real feature, she's been a real hit in the park."

grandma elm

The Grandma Elm, which stood near the Assiniboine River footbridge, had a story that could be traced back to the early 1800s. (Assiniboine Park Conservancy)

Kaaren Pearce, director of the grounds, said in a news release that staff conduct regular monitoring programs for Dutch Elm Disease in the park's forest as part of a forest management plan.

"When possible, we use selective pruning and vaccination to try to prevent infection, but sometimes, when the disease has progressed too far, complete removal of the tree is necessary in order to prevent Dutch Elm disease from spreading."

Pearce said the tree is at the end of its natural life span and has been watched closely for several years.

"We know Grandma Elm is special and the source of some great memories for Park visitors, so we wanted to let people know why we have to remove the tree."

Marked for destruction, re-creation

With such a rich history, arbourist Dave Lutes said it was bitter sweet felling the old elm.

"I remember this tree when I was biking out here on my high handle bar banana seat bike in the 1970s, and this tree was here, so it's definitely a difficult day," said Lutes.

Dutch elm disease ravaged the tree and made it a target for removal, sharing in the fate of more than 5,600 hundred other elm trees marked for death and destroyed by the city in 2013 alone.

Twelve trees in the park have been infected by the disease this year; other trees will be removed as well.

Peterkin is hoping to salvage some of the wood and repurpose what they can.

"We hope to build some benches and some carvings to help Grandma Elm to live on yet," said Peterkin.

Peterkin and others are going to take great care to remove and dispose of the tree's bark so as not to risk spreading the disease to other trees.

"A couple of hundred years ago somebody planted a tree that became pretty important to people in the park, so if we can plant trees now to replace it ... we have to look forward to that benefit for our grandchildren, great grandchildren."


Story of the Grandma Elm (as written on a plaque near the tree)

“In the early 1800s a herdsman for Lord Selkirk’s bison herd was courting a young lady who lived just across the footbridge.

The herdsman would travel down through the pasture land —​ Assiniboine Park — and tie his horse to a tree he affectionately called “Grandma."

At the end of the evening, the couple would walk back across the old wooden bridge and stand by the tree to say goodnight.

Eventually, they married and their descendants bought the bench that now sits beneath this tree.”