Nova Scotia

Halifax Public Gardens upgrades security after axe attack on trees

Security cameras are now installed at the Halifax Public Gardens after bark was stripped from about 30 trees last month. A municipal spokesperson says along with the cameras, there is also overnight security.

'We realized how vulnerable we are,' says horticulture supervisor

Horticulture supervisor Sean Street stands next to the European beech in the Halifax Public Gardens. It was damaged in last month's attack. It is one of the best known trees at the park. (Jane Sponagle/CBC)

Security cameras are now installed at the Halifax Public Gardens after bark was stripped from about 30 trees last month. A municipal spokesperson says along with the cameras, there is also overnight security.

Sometime between the evening of July 25 and the morning of July 26, the trees were attacked with an axe. Fourteen trees had bark removed in a ring around the trunk, also known as being girdled. Four trees that were severely damaged have been cut down.

"Our sense of security in here is completely shattered because the whole time the Public Gardens have existed for the last 150 years or more, someone has been capable of doing this and it's never happened," said Sean Street, horticulture supervisor for the gardens.

Street said more security changes are coming.

"We realized how vulnerable we are and how valuable these assets are," he said. 

Halifax Regional Police wouldn't say how many tips it has received, but that the investigation is continuing. They are asking anyone with any information to contact them. 

'There are miracles'

Despite the damage, Street says there are miracles, like that the cuts weren't any deeper, which helped the trees survive this summer's dry conditions. 

The trees are getting deep-root fertilization and are being watered during the hottest parts of the day, he says, so they look better than they usually would after hot weather, but it is deceiving. The nutrients in the leaves can't get back down to the roots because the bark is damaged.

Bark was cut from around tree trunks at the Halifax Public Gardens last month. This is known as girdling and can slowly kill a tree. (Paul Poirier/CBC)

The garden's well-known ginkgo tree was only girdled halfway around, so its survival chances are pretty good. 

"Ginkgos are really strong trees," said Street.

Street says staff suspect the European beech was the main target. It's a large, beloved tree in the middle of the gardens. On a card left by one child after the attack, they referred to it as "the cave tree." 

Street says it was there before the gardens were created and estimates it is 200 years old. Street hopes the beech has stored enough nutrients in its reserves over those decades to help it heal next year. 

Optimistic about the future

Stan Kochanoff is the only registered consulting arborist in Atlantic Canada. He was called in after the attack to assess the damage and start on treatment.

"I was shocked along with everybody else," he said about first seeing the trees. 

Kochanoff says he's never seen anything like this in almost 50 years of working in horticulture.

He worked over the August long weekend smoothing out wounds in trunks. 

"It was amazing how many people came up to us and asked us what we were doing and could we save the trees and hugged the trees and wished us well," he said. 

Next month, the fourteen trees that were completely girdled will be bridge grafted. It will help those nutrients travel to the roots, but Street says bridge grafting is unproven with trees of this age and in the fall. 

It could still be years before more is known about the trees' condition. 

Both Street and Kochanoff say they are optimistic about the trees' futures.

"I always am when it comes to trees," said Kochanoff.



Jane Sponagle is reporting in Halifax for the summer of 2022. She is also the Current Affairs producer for CBC Yukon based in Whitehorse. Over the past 10 years, Jane has lived and reported in all three territories.


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