Nova Scotia

This venerable N.S. pear tree is older than Canada — by 81 years

When this pear tree was just a wee sapling, George III was King and Mozart was all the rage. Today, 233 years after it was planted, it's still (mostly) persevering.

Pear tree in New Minas was planted in 1786 and has (mostly) survived

The pear tree was planted by the son of a New England Planter in 1786. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

Its gnarled trunk and mossy bark likely wouldn't even warrant a second glance from most passing motorists.

If they did, those passersby might simply wonder why the half-dead pear tree hasn't been cut down yet.

But there's a lot more to this venerable tree than meets the eye.

The tree, which stands along the edge of a golf course just a few metres from busy Highway 1 in New Minas, N.S., has been rooted there for 233 years.

When it was just a tiny sapling, George III was King. Mozart was all the rage. Canada wouldn't become a country for another 81 years.

For some in Nova Scotia's fruit-growing region of the Annapolis Valley, the pear tree has earned its own place in history.

"I think the tree is a marvellous inspiration — just that it's hanging on," said Judy Norton, the chair of the community and family history committee at the Kings County Museum. "To me it looks miraculous that it's still there."

Judy Norton is the chair of the community and family history committee at the King's County Museum. (Bria Stokesbury/Kings County Museum)

The tree was brought to Nova Scotia by Peter Bishop Jr. in 1786.

Bishop, the son of a New England Planter — settlers who came to the province to receive land grants after the expulsion of the Acadians — had gotten married in Connecticut that year, and returned afterward to Nova Scotia with his wife and two pear shoots.

Bishop planted the shoots on the family's farm, but one survived only until about the 1990s, Norton said.

Although the remaining tree no longer produces pears, some in the community have tried to keep it alive and encourage new growth.

In 2010, it was heavily pruned, and some worried whether it would make it.

Parts of the tree are no longer alive and it no longer produces pears. It was heavily pruned in 2010 to encourage new growth. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

"We didn't know if the tree would live or die," said Glenda Bishop, who has conducted her own research on the tree. "It was quite a shock to have power saws removing its branches."

But the following spring, the tree was rejuvenated and produced an abundance of new leaves, said Bishop. Some of the wood was made into coasters and a gavel that's now used at Bishop Family Association meetings.

Avard Bishop, a descendant of Peter Bishop, has taken grafts that are now growing in his family farm's pear orchard. Three shoots were also planted across the road from the surviving tree.

The wood from a pruning in 2010 was used by Garth Bishop to craft a gavel and box, as well as some coasters made by Jim Borden. (Heather Bishop)

Longevity 'a bit unusual'

While the tenacity of the tree seems remarkable, an industry expert said it's not that surprising.

Avard Bishop's son Andrew, who farms 350 acres of fruit trees at Noggins Farm, said the tree's longevity is "a bit unusual but it's not impossible."

Pear trees are hardy, he said, and with the right growing conditions — good well-drained soil — they can live a long time.

The location of the tree also probably played a role in its survival, Andrew Bishop said.

"It was probably on a fenceline or something, so nobody got around to cutting it. If it was in the middle of a productive field … they would have looked at that tree and cut it down a long time ago."

In addition to the sentimental and historical value of the tree, it could someday prove to be biologically useful. Since it has survived for so long, it may have genetic resistance to diseases or pests that modern cultivars don't.

But for Norton, it's the pear tree's connection with history that appeals to her most.

"It represents for me the people that came to Nova Scotia and that have farmed and developed the land and the communities," she said.

"The tree standing there by the side of the road just says, well, there is continuity and while there's life there's hope. We soldier on."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Frances Willick is a journalist with CBC Nova Scotia. Please contact her with feedback, story ideas or tips at frances.willick@cbc.ca

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversationCreate account

Already have an account?

now