Edmonton's historic Garneau Tree comes down

Branch by branch, the historic Garneau Tree in the Edmonton neighbourhood of the same name was cut down on Sunday.

'It's very emotional for me to see this come down, knowing what it means, what it stands for'

Duane Zaraska says his final goodbyes to the maple tree planted by his great-great-grandfather, Laurent Garneau. (CBC)

Branch by branch, the historic Garneau Tree in the Edmonton neighbourhood of the same name was cut down on Sunday. 

Duane Zaraska's great-great-grandfather, Laurent Garneau, planted the tree in 1874. Zaraska arrived at 111th Street and 90th Avenue before the arborist did so that he could say his final farewell. 

"It's very emotional for me to see this come down, knowing what it means, what it stands for for the family, what it means to the Métis Nation of Alberta, to the Métis people," Zaraska said Sunday. 

Laurent Garneau settled in the area after serving as a soldier of Louis Riel during the Red River Resistance in 1869. Garneau, who later moved east out of the city to St. Paul, was a prominent member and supporter of the local Métis community until he died in 1921. 

Zaraska, who lives in the St. Paul area, is a regional council president for the Métis Nation of Alberta, which brings him to Edmonton often. ​

He said he's made a point over the years to visit the tree on the University of Alberta campus while in the city.

"It just feels like his spirit is here," Zaraska said, referring to his great-great-grandfather. "I feel that. It's special."

Strong roots

Kenton Darlisle brought his three-year-old son, Malcolm, to say goodbye to the Garneau Tree. 

The little boy had questions about its history. 

"He's an important man to the community," Darlisle told his son of Laurent Garneau. "He did a lot for the community here and he's still doing a lot for the Métis community."

Kenton Darlisle, tells his three-year-old son, Malcolm, about the history of the Garneau Tree. (CBC)

Darlisle and his wife attended the University of Alberta. He said he recognizes the significance of having the Garneau Tree in a central Edmonton neighbourhood that's become synonymous with education, growth and progress. 

"It's one of those things that goes by quietly," Darlisle said. "People don't realize how much Métis and other cultures have contributed to make Edmonton what it is." 

Darlisle said it's important that his son learns about his Métis heritage. 

"We want to recognize that we came from somewhere and that somewhere is here," Darlisle said. "We're part of here.

"The roots of this tree are similar to the roots of us being here."

New growth

The University of Alberta had the tree evaluated and found its trunks splayed and branches drooping. 

The investigation showed brown rot hollowing the tree from the inside and it was deemed a safety risk. 

Zaraska took a broken-off piece of the tree's trunk with him when he left. He said he plans to display it in his home office. 

He's hoping that some of the wood from the tree is salvageable. He would like to see it turned into tokens for members of the family. He said someone's suggested making bowls out of it. Someone else suggested making guitar tops. 

"If there could be any new growth, maybe seedlings, collected from the tree, maybe we could collect some of those. Maybe the family could grow them," Zaraska said.​

An arborist cuts branches from the Garneau Tree. (CBC)