A beautiful old elm tree may be a familiar sight to people who frequent the Calgary Stampede grounds, as it’s been growing in one of the parking lots for years.
Surrounded by yellow lines and large concrete bricks, it’s believed the tree was planted in the early 1900s — making it roughly 100 years old.
Now, the fate of the decades-old tree is up in the air with the approval of a new event centre set to be constructed on that land.
The city struck and approved a deal last month with the Calgary Sport and Entertainment Corporation, which owns the Calgary Flames, to split the cost of the new $550-million arena.
According to Josh Traptow, executive director of the Calgary Heritage Authority, the tree was likely planted when the parking lot was the site of homes.
“Given its size and its growth, I imagine it is of good age,” he said on Friday.
Traptow said it’s too early to speculate on exactly what the fate of the tree may be when the event centre construction gets underway, but if it is chopped down in the process, it would be a loss for the community.
“This tree has probably seen a lot, if it is as old as we think it is,” he said.
“It’s seen a lot of development in Victoria Park, from when Victoria Park was a residential neighbourhood to the expansions of the Stampede over the years, to this being turned into a parking lot and losing most if not all the former single residential homes that would have been here.”
According to the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation, exactly how the tree might factor into the future of the development is yet to be determined, but officials are committed to doing a review of the age-old landmark as part of the design process.
Vice-president of marketing and communications, Clare Lapan, said the organization would have conversations with the appropriate people and interested stakeholders to determine what options and considerations they might factor in.
Traptow said he didn’t know if there was a way to have the tree designated as a piece of Calgary heritage to be protected, and said trees hadn’t really been on the heritage authority’s radar until recent days.
“Designation is at the will of the owner,” he said.
“Given the plan for this site, I think it would be not realistic to expect that the tree would be designated.”
Kath Smyth with the Calgary Horticultural Society said Friday that to her knowledge, the tree does have a historic designation from the City of Calgary. However, she said that won’t necessarily stop it from being cut down. She also said it was saved in 2008 when the home that sat on the same lot was torn down.
Smyth said ideally she’d like to see the old tree saved and a small green space and benches put up around it. But knowing that’s an unlikely scenario, she thinks officials should try to extract some of the genetic material and clone the tree so new ones could be grown.
“I just think that it’s historic and it’s part and parcel of the history of the place,” Smyth said.
“We value old buildings and value structures, we should be valuing nature.”
Smyth said there would be no chance of relocating the tree considering its size.
In recent years, more conversations are happening around trees and streetscapes and how they fit into the history of cities, Traptow said.
“When we think about heritage and history, oftentimes people just think of the buildings and the site, without the historical context of what a streetscape would have looked like back in the early 1900s,” Traptow said.
“Being a prairie town and a prairie city, all the trees that we see largely were planted by the people who came here and lived here — there really wasn’t a lot of trees in the early days when you look at those photos of the late 1800s, it was pretty bare landscape, so the fact that people would have taken the time to plant trees and that this one would have lasted that long — that is significant.”
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