FOND FAREWELL TO THE FAMILY TREE
Metis Nation of Alberta, U of A to celebrate life of plant
David Garneau is the great great grandchild of the planters of Garneau’s Tree — which is being removed after 143 years
Garneau’s tree has stood in the same spot for 143 years, as the land around it shifted from homesteader’s yard to a parking lot on the University of Alberta campus.
Now the two-pronged Manitoba maple is slated for removal, after being deemed unsafe by arborists.
“It’s definitely a loss for the Garneau community,” said Dan Rose, vice-chair of the Edmonton Historical Board. “It is, after all, a tree and has a natural life cycle. But it’s remarkable how attached the community is to the tree.”
Laurent Garneau, a Métis settler who fought for Louis Riel, and his wife Eleanor planted the tree on their homestead around 1874, making it one of the oldest trees in the city. Today the tree stands on the east side of one of the University of Alberta’s HUB mall parking lots.
But the tree won’t go without a goodbye.
The U of A and the Metis Nation of Alberat are hosting a ceremony Friday to celebrate the tree and it’s connection to local history. Métis elders will carry out opening and closing prayers, and there will be reflections and stories from members of the community.
The Garneaus’ great great grandson, David Garneau, an artist who grew up in the city and now teaches at the University of Regina, flew back to Edmonton for the occasion.
“It’s really wonderful that tomorrow evening the Metis community will be getting together,” he said, pointing out that the tree is an important marker for local history, / Metis heritage in particular.
Garneau came back to the city when he first heard the tree was to be taken down, and a lot of people, “people who weren’t Metis or Garneaus” shared stories and photos with him about the tree.
“There are a lot of trees out there, but people know this one.”
He said when the tree comes down he’s hoping to get his hands on some of the wood, so he can send tokens to the other Garneau descendants.
Rose said that the tree is in the city’s Inventory of Historic Resources, a list usually reserved for buildings. He hopes that some of the wood from the tree could be incorporated into a new plaque or historical marker, or even a bench.
David Ridley, executive director of the Edmonton Heritage Council, said that the tree is an important point of reference in terms of who was here, what happened, and how the community has developed.
“This is a particularly important (historical landmark). We see them as important in their own right because they remind us of people and places and events that are significant to the city,” said Ridley.
The university plans to remove the tree in the coming weeks — but there has been no set date for the removal.
“It’s wonderful to have these things in the urban landscape and it’s sad when we lose them,” said Ridley. “I like the idea of that ceremony. It’s a kind of funeral for the passing of something rather than not caring or noting at all.”
David garneau is the great great grandchild of Laurent and Eleanor garneau, who planted the garneau tree.