Ottawa

Committee to decide fate of 'historic' Parliament Hill tree

Advocates are hoping parliamentarians step in this week and save an elm tree that's stood for nearly as long as Centre Block from a date with a chainsaw.

Elm tree could come down as part of plans for expanded visitor's centre

The elm tree that could soon face the wrath of the chainsaw can be seen on the east side of Centre Block. Historical photos show the tree has been there since at least the 1920s. (Hallie Cotnam/CBC)

Advocates are hoping parliamentarians step in this week and save an elm tree that's stood for nearly as long as Centre Block from a date with a chainsaw.

The fate of the elm tree will come up at parliament's procedure and house affairs committee on Tuesday. The tree currently stands in the way of planned excavations for an expanded Parliament Hill visitor centre.

Paul Johanis, chair of the Greenspace Alliance, said he's glad the issue is finally getting some attention from MPs.

He said the tree has stood the test of time and should stay.

"We have seen photographs where we think we can see it in 1927 and we can see in 1937. Those are the jubilees of the centennial," he said.

"It's historic. It's unique. It's pretty distinctive."

Paul Johanis, chair of the Greenspace Alliance, wants the government to look at other options to save the tree. (Hallie Cotnam/CBC)

'Not just any other tree'

Johanis said he recognizes the challenge the team rebuilding Centre Block is facing, but he believes they should be thinking of the broader symbolism.

"It is just a tree, but from where it stands it is symbolic. It's emblematic. It's just not just any other tree. It is up on Parliament Hill," he said.

It's the last big tree standing on Parliament Hill and it's in the cross-hairs of Public Service and Procurement Canada. 7:46

He said MPs will have to make a stark choice, but they can save the tree if they want to.

"Either the plans for the visitor centre are somehow adjusted," Johanis said, "or this elm has to go."

Government says no choice 

Charles Drouin, a spokesperson for Public Services and Procurement Canada, the department overseeing the project, said they don't want to take the tree down.

But they have no choice, Drouin said, given the need to move ahead with the project.

"Unfortunately, there are a number of trees, including the large elm tree, in the middle of the excavation zone. To enable work to proceed, it is impossible for the trees located in the excavation zone to remain," he said in an email.

Drouin also said they believe the tree cannot be moved.  

"Three arborists were consulted to determine whether the relocation of the American elm was feasible. The combination of its declining health, the low likelihood of it surviving relocation, and the significant cost to do so led us to the decision to remove the tree."

Johanis said he would like another assessment of the tree carried out in the spring, once its leaves come out.

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