Garneau tree to be removed for safety reasons

Click to play video: 'Garneau tree a symbol of Metis heritage'
Garneau tree a symbol of Metis heritage
WATCH ABOVE: A tree slated to be removed in the Garneau neighbourhood has been granted a temporary reprieve, as the Metis community looks at ways its legacy can be remembered. Vinesh Pratap has the story. – Aug 25, 2017

A tree planted by and named after one of Edmonton’s earliest settlers is slated for removal.

The Garneau tree was planted by Laurent and Eleanor Garneau around 1874 on the far northeast corner of the University of Alberta campus, near 90 Avenue and 111 Street.

The Garneaus are the namesake of the Garneau neighbourhood beside the university.

The university said the Manitoba maple, which is one of the oldest trees in the city, has reached the end of its life cycle and must be removed for safety reasons.

Laurent Garneau is the Metis son of a French fur trader. He was one of Louis Riel’s soldiers in the Red River Resistance of 1869. He moved to Edmonton in 1874 and lived on River Lot 7. Garneau worked as a charcoal burner for Hudson’s Bay Company and as a firefighter before moving to St. Paul with his family. He was active with the Metis community until his death in 1921.

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This photo of Laurent and Eleanor Garneau was taken circa 1898.
This photo of Laurent and Eleanor Garneau was taken circa 1898. Courtesy/City of Edmonton Archives

Great-great-grandson David Garneau said the significance of the tree came to him approximately 10 years ago.

“The Native Studies Department invited me out here. They were doing celebrations about Garneau generally,” he said.

“I know I was visiting the tree at that time. I did a painting of the tree. That’s when it started resonating more for me concretely.”

Garneau learned recently the tree was sick and admits he was surprised it was still living. The tree was initially set to be pulled down last Sunday but that decision was deferred.

“It suddenly made me feel very sentimental. It was one of these things you think is a permanent thing. But it is a tree – it’s three times its normal life, they normally live for 40 years.”

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Garneau said the tree is a symbol for the Metis community.

“There’s so few traces [of the Metis community]. There’s names of streets but very few buildings or objects so this tree has really [got to] continue living in some form,” he said.

More recently, Garneau said he has been spending more time with the tree and is now part of a committee to decide what becomes of the tree.

A ceremony will be held September 15 from 6 to 7 p.m. at the Garneau tree with a Metis kitchen party to follow at the Butterdome.

Cole Zubko walks by the tree all the time and, while he acknowledges it is an old tree, hopes something can come from the tree’s removal.

“Maybe they can build a bench out of it or something – use the wood to build something significant instead of just tearing it down and there being nothing there,” he said.

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Garneau agrees and said he hopes to see the tree continue on – he hopes the roots can remain.

“New sprouts can come out and the tree can continue. That would be my largest wish.”

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