Watch the video above: Crooked trees drawing tourists to small Sask. town
HAFFORD, Sask. – Rick Simmonds has grown accustomed to perfect strangers wandering onto his property near Hafford, Saskatchewan.
“Quite often when we’re working the land around here, you’ll see five or six vehicles out here and sometimes bus loads of seniors,” said Simmonds.
He has even had visitors come from as far away as Australia.
Simmonds owns the property upon which a crooked cluster of trees sit. The three-acre grove of aspen trees is unlike any other in Canada, mainly due to the plants’ wildly contorted form.
Its gnarled appearance has left visitors scratching their heads for years, giving way to a number of theories about how it came to be.
“The previous owner talked about how his cattle would not come in these trees. There’s talk of aliens,” Simmonds said with a chuckle.
Local folklore ranges from little green men to giant sap slurping rabbits that once lived among the trees and reduced them to their present state.
“A joke goes around about a lawyer who was buried here, so it became the crooked trees,” the farmer added.
Simmonds believes the trees have been around since the 1930s. He estimates around 5,000 people used to visit the site every year.
That number has since grown exponentially, since the unique aspens began to sprout an international following.
Numerous online blogs and web pages have entries dedicated to the mysteries of “The Crooked Bush”.
Watch the in depth video below: Crooked trees
“We’ve had the odd person cut a crooked limb off and put it in the back of their station wagon,” said Simmonds.
A short drive away is the town of Hafford with a population of just under 400 people.
As the popularity of The Crooked Bush began to soar, the local tourism board – along with help from the community – built a wooden walkway to keep visitors from trampling any new growth.
“We just hope that people realize it’s an area to preserve and there isn’t another bush like this,” says Hafford Mayor Ron Kowalchuk.
Rick Sawatzky has been working as a technician in the horticulture department at the University of Saskatchewan since 1971. He successfully reproduced the trees in Saskatoon using a sample specimen.
“The gene controlling this characteristic causes the tree – the new growth – to grow downward instead of upward. It’s part of the plant. It’s part of the genome,” Sawatzky explained.
“What a person has to understand is it’s almost a lethal gene because if it’s in with competition from other aspens, the other aspens get all the sunlight and this poor little thing can’t grow up – or grows up very poorly, gets shaded out and dies.”
Sawatzky believes they have been able to survive for so long because they simply have never faced that degree of competition.
Hafford is about 75 minute drive north of Saskatoon.