St. Boniface residents rally to preserve one of its oldest trees
Large tree in Whittier Park has Dutch Elm disease and had been marked for removal
Some St. Boniface residents want to save a dying elm tree — one that has been part of Winnipeg's francophone community for hundreds of years — or give it a new life as a sculpture.
The large, mature tree, which stands just outside the palisades of Fort Gibraltar in Whittier Park, has been marked for removal because it has Dutch Elm disease. It's believed to be almost 300 years old.
The Brigade de la Rivière Rouge, a non-profit organization that commemorates the history and lifestyle of the Voyageurs, wants to see the tree saved or, failing that, turned into a commemorative tree sculpture.
"I don't know how old it is exactly, but we know that it's definitely old enough to have likely been there during the fur trade era," Ginette Connelly, the group's president, said Tuesday.
"To imagine what this tree has witnessed in terms of the Voyageurs and just everything that happened during that fur trade era, it's kind of sad to think that it could potentially be taken down."
The good news is that the tree won't be cut down for now, as the city considers a proposal to convert the tree as a sculpture, said St. Boniface Coun. Matt Allard.
"Residents in the area noticed and had the great idea that perhaps the tree could be repurposed as a sculpture, as we've seen in the Bois-des-Esprits Forest," Allard said, referring to a popular local attraction featuring trees with faces carved into them.
"I understand there was a very similar situation in the Bois-des-Esprits where trees that were slated for destruction were repurposed as structures and we now have the picturesque Bois-des-Esprits Forest that has trees with faces in them," he explained.
"I have a lot of confidence in the people that brought forward the idea to repurpose this tree as a sculpture and [I'm] going to want to work with them to try to make their project a reality."
Longtime St. Boniface sculptors Denis Savoie and Émile Chartier say they hope to preserve the history of not just the tree, but the community and its history.
"I'd like to see tourists come here in the years to come and/or residents of Winnipeg look at it and go like, 'Wow, is that ever cool!'" Chartier said.
"That's what I would like to see for the next 100, 200 years."