For five years, the family of Bernadette Mandalfino have found themselves upset and demanding answers.
When the 77-year-old mother and grandmother died of lymphoma in 2012, her daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren paid the Town of Oakville for a memorial tree to be planted in Esplanade Park, near their home in the Trafalgar Road and Lakeshore Road East area.
The family said Mandalfino loved to spend time in the small lakeside greenspace with her grandchildren, so it was a perfect place to honour her memory with a young tree and a plaque with her name on it.
“We didn’t have any other tombstone or anything,” said Mandalfino’s son-in-law Bob Aziz.
“So this was a great way to do it and it was a way for the kids … to be able to go down and occasionally visit their grandmother.”
But the tree didn’t last long. The tree and its replacements have been intentionally killed four times.
“In the spring following the first planting, the tree had all the branches cut off of it. It was just a stick. So somebody had clearly vandalized it,” said Aziz.
“(The town) replaced the tree and … the second tree survived for a while and then we went down to visit it one day and found it broken at the base. Basically it had been cut and stomped on.”
Two subsequent iterations of the memorial tree had been poisoned. A soil sample taken by town officials when the third tree died determined it had been doused with gasoline. The fourth tree still stands in place, lifeless. A soil sample hasn’t been taken.
“She was just a really nice person. A good person,” said Aziz of his mother-in-law.
“She deserves better than this … This is no different than going into a cemetery and vandalizing tombstones.”
None of the other memorial trees in the park have been harmed, so the family can’t figure out why someone would do this or who is responsible. It was getting to the point where Aziz said he was considering setting up surveillance equipment to keep a protective eye on it.
The family didn’t want the tree moved because they felt it would be like handing the vandals a victory, but the director of Oakville’s parks and open space department was able to reach a compromise with them.
“We’re going to relocate the tree to a different location within Esplanade Park, which is actually very, very close to [Aziz’s[ house,” said Chris Mark.
“We think the tree is going to be successful in that new location.”