Fredericton mayor to take concerns over Officers’ Square tree removal back to council

Fredericton councillor John MacDermid speaks with residents at the rally.
Fredericton councillor John MacDermid speaks with residents at the rally. Adrienne South/Global News

Fredericton Mayor Mike O’Brien says he will speak to council about concerns being expressed by residents over the city’s plan to cut down more than a dozen historic trees in Officers’ Square.

Approximately a hundred people showed up to a rally in the square on Saturday, in hopes of trying to get city officials to reconsider cutting down 19 trees as part of the city’s revitalization plans for the square.

O’Brien showed up to the rally along with city councillor John MacDermid to hear concerns from residents. Things got heated at times as residents formed a circle around them asking questions and expressing frustration.

O’Brien called the rally “democracy in action” and said he is taking residents’ concerns seriously.

“We’ve got a plan that we were working on for a long time, but it seems to be that the amount of trees, or any trees that were going to come down caught a lot of people by surprise,” O’Brien said.

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He said he will take everyone’s concerns back to council and talk to city staff and forestry experts about the issue.

“Is it easy to change a plan? It’s never easy to change the plan, but I’ll take the concerns back to council and that’s all I can commit to at the moment right,” O’Brien said.

“Save the Elm Trees at Officers’ Square” rally organizer Christy Rust said she was happy with the turnout and said having the mayor come out was a victory.

“I’m so thrilled. I wasn’t sure if it was just going to be the kids and I, to be honest, but there are hundreds of people here and they’re so supportive and I couldn’t be happier,” Rust said.

READ MORE: Fredericton resident plans protest against city’s plan to cut down more than a dozen trees

Fredericton resident Marcus Kingston was also in attendance and said he came out to support the trees because they are “part of the heritage landscape downtown.”

Kingston said the plan to revitalize the square has been planned for a number of years, but he said the trees were also included in future designs.

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“We didn’t really realize until a few days ago that they’d be cut down,” Kingston said. “So we’re here to fight that and we’re here to fight the heritage of the space and to meet obviously with Mayor Mike O’Brien about the concerns that we have as citizens for our green space and the heritage value, economic value of our location here.”

Kingston said it’s clear now to the mayor that the citizens have a voice. Kingston said many people will be at the next city council meeting.

The group has another rally planned for Monday night outside City Hall before the council meeting.

Concerns raised over archaeological excavation

Several residents at the rally, including a professional archaeologist, said they were also concerned over construction potentially destroying any artifacts that could be buried under the square,

Archaeologist Jason Jeandron said Officers’ Square is a National Historic Site that holds a lot of value to all Canadians.

“For me as an archaeologist it’s a really important issue to look for what’s buried in the square before they start engaging in any construction activities,” Jeandron said.

Jeandron said there’s around 235 years of military history in the square and said it’s also the birthplace of the Royal Canadian Regiment, and likely an early Acadian site.

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He said with the square being located so close to the river that it also suggests there could be 8,000 years of Indigenous history buried in the area.

“It’s my understanding that there will be no archaeologist excavation completely in advance of the construction activities,” Jeandron said.

Jeandron said that could interfere with federal and provincial regulations surrounding National Historic Sites.

“These things, once they’re gone, they’re gone,” Jeandron said.  “They won’t grow back like the trees … You lose that information forever.”

In response to concerns surrounding the protocol, Mayor Mike O’Brien said he will take that concern back to council as well.

“If that is actually a regulation or a law, I’m going to have to assume it was respected, but if it’s not respected I’ve got to make sure that it is,” O’Brien said.