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Tree sculpture Woody, the ‘heart and soul’ of Bois-des-Esprits, no longer standing

After greeting travelers in St. Vital's Bois-des-Esprit for the last 17 years, a well-known forest guide has toppled over. Matt Purchase / Global News

After greeting travelers in St. Vital’s Bois-des-Esprit for the last 17 years, a well-known forest guide has toppled over.

The sculpture, Woody-Mhitik, is believed to have fallen over sometime overnight Friday or early Saturday morning.

Denis Depape, with the environmental group Save Our Seine (SOS), says the sculpture had been showing signs of rot for some time and doesn’t believe it was a victim of vandalism.

“This is not human-induced (in that) somebody pushed Woody down, this is a case of Woody’s time had come and he fell down,” Depape says.

“Interesting enough, there has been very, very little vandalism of Woody. Often this particular spot would be used for parties and stuff like that, and you know what? They didn’t touch Woody.”

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Executive director Michele Kading says Woody’s fall is a “big loss” for the community, and it was more than just a sculpture or face on a brochure.

“His value went beyond his ecological value and he took on a spiritual meaning to many people, including the carvers, the elders who gave the naming ceremony and so on. So I think his passing means something different for everyone,” Kading says.

“Nature will take its course and maybe we’ll be able to salvage a bit of Woody here and there for the future, but it wouldn’t be so bad if he just returned to the soil that supported him for so long.”

Before it became “Woody,” the tree was one of many slated for removal by the city after becoming infected with Dutch elm disease.

However, it just so happened a pair of woodcarvers had been looking for a tree to carve at the time, for both a fundraiser and awareness campaign about the potential loss of Bois-des-Esprits to development.

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“The carvers gave the tree an extra 17 years of life. It would have been removed in 2004 because it did have Dutch elm disease, but because they were there to carve it, giving it new life, they removed the contaminated parts of the tree … and they carved a wonderful legacy for the forest,” Kading says.

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“It really has become the heart and soul of Bois-des-Esprits.”

Since then, the sculpture, or spirit tree as it’s sometimes called, has taken on a greater meaning for people, including Tyler Kehler, who says it’s also the final resting place of a close friend.

“We have a young friend of ours, best friend, he passed away recently, and that hit really hard. It was right in the middle of the pandemic too and we couldn’t have a proper funeral and we had to have a makeshift one … so we decided it would be very nice to take his ashes and spread them on this tree,” Kehler says.

“This tree was a very symbolic spirit for him. Every single time he would have a hard day or things went wrong at home, it was very close to him, he would take a walk and if you’ve ever been to this forest before it’s very relaxing and it has a very special place for him.”

Kehler says he can’t count how many times he has visited the tree since then.

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“I think he was a very symbolic piece that many could come and visit and for myself, I could visit my friend who has passed and honour him every single time,” Kehler says.

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“In case this tree was vandalized, or even if it wasn’t — I hope it wasn’t — but just try to remember that it may have just been a tree, but to many other people it meant something more.”

Kading says the SOS board will discuss what happens to the location sometime in September.

“We had been talking about it before Woody tumbled over, what could potentially be done with it at the site, and hadn’t come to any firm conclusion yet,” Kading says.

“I suspect we will have some sort of an event for people to celebrate his passing, and possibly think about putting up some sort of a marker there at the location.”

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