The Old Spruce Forest

Grey Nuns White Spruce Park

 

Diary of a Spruce Tree

 

May 1841:      Hi! I’m a new spruce tree. My cousins tell me that I sprouted a couple of weeks ago. I don’t remember that but today I feel strong and healthy – it’s great to be alive!

Winter 1843:   Man! It’s cold! A missionary and his guide passed by today – Father de Smet, I’m told. Those dogs sure gave me a fright.

Fall 1846:        Lots of activity these days. John Cunningham settled on land near Big Lake. Seems like a good idea. The soil is good, as I can attest, and there’s lots of grass for the horses. Tall grass too. It and the poplar trees block out most of my sunlight. But I hear that’s a good thing…the shade makes me grow slowly which makes my wood strong. One fellow, Paul Kane, seemed rather odd. There were buffalo around but instead of hunting he only looked at them and drew images with smelly paint.

1850               More settlers: The Courtepatte family took land next to the Cunninghams.

Fall 1852:        Another missionary: Father Lacombe. Not like de Smet – just passing through. Lacombe comes often, always looking around, picking up soil and muttering to himself about “this is a good place.”

Fall 1859:        Three nuns and their guides went by today on their way to Lac Ste. Anne. A bustling settlement I’m told…. Now there’s a sight – a tourist, and an Earl no less – Earl Southesk from England, going to see Father Lacombe at Lac St. Anne. My, my!

January 1861:  Nice day. There goes Lacombe again with another visitor – Bishop Taché this time. Those infernal dogs drive me to distraction!

April 1861:     Father Lacombe and his friends came by yesterday with horses, oxen and lots of supplies but I don’t know what’s going on today – a lot of noise and commotion across the river. Sounds like people chopping a lot of trees… can’t imagine why. Nobody needs a fire that big.

Fall 1863         Those nuns again. All that chopping I told you about earlier… that was to build houses and a church for St. Albert, a new mission. I hear Taché gave the order… but if I know Lacombe, he probably engineered the whole thing, what with all his visits and mutterings and all. The nuns coming are probably his idea, too.

July 1, 1867    Big day in Canada today. Confederation! But it doesn’t affect us much here in Rupert’s Land. The Company still rules.

1870               Yeah! Today we joined Canada! We are now the North West Territories and St. Albert is a bustling community of 700, the same as Calgary! Me? I’m 2 cm. thick already.

1883                Surveyors from down east have been around since last year mapping out the whole area.  Didn’t pay much attention to us little spruce, though. I guess they didn’t really see us in the tall grass and poplar trees. They mentioned a grove across the river but I don’t think it will be there much longer.  The Mission needs a lot of timber these days.

1885               The last couple of years have been busy: St. Albert got electricity and telephones. The railway to the Pacific was completed this year but, on a sad note, the North West Rebellion began.

1905               Alberta became a province this year and the St. Albert School Band performed at the ceremonies in Edmonton.  Isn’t that great? I’m now 10 cm thick.

1910                St. Albert got streetlights and I can finally see above the poplars! I should be having a growth spurt any time now.

Dec. 12, 1916  Father Lacombe died today. I’ll miss my old friend…. Told you I’d be having a growth spurt. I’m now 29 cm. thick!

1945               World War II ended and I’m now 46 cm.

1950                St. Albert has 1000 people and I’m 52 cm!

1961               St. Albert celebrated its centennial this year. Population is over 4000 and I’m 56 cm.

1967               Canada celebrated its centennial and St. Albert’s population surpassed 10,000.

1977               St. Albert became a City on January 1st this year.

1984               Douglas Cardinal designed St. Albert Place. Beautiful building. I’m now 62 cm.

2001-02          I’m afraid I’ve been feeling rather poorly the last couple of months. This winter has been particularly difficult… all that wind…

 

The tree blew down over the winter of 2001-02 as a result of decay. “The section 0.25 metres above the ground is 80 cm (about 31 in.) diameter. The tree stood about 25 metres (80 ft.) in height…. the ring count from the outer layer of wood… to the pith showed 160 years. The dense, very small rings at the centre were counted with the aid of a microscope and an enlarged scanned image of the heart area. The first ring at the centre was laid down in 1841.… The slow initial growth is typical of spruce that establishes as an understory in the deep shade of taller trees or brush….

 

“If we accept that the tree began to grow in 1841, it is possible to develop a timeline or chronology of events related to the growth of the tree,” 1 as shown in the above ‘diary of a spruce tree.’

“The stand of white spruce between the Sturgeon River and Meadowview Drive (along Hogan Road) in northwest St. Albert is an interesting example of the mixed wood spruce and poplar forest that were more extensive in pre-settlement days. It is a multi-aged self-perpetuating grove with individual trees ranging from older specimens around 140-160 or more years to young trees that are establishing themselves in openings and around the edges. The stand is actively extending its extent to the south through natural seed-fall as evidenced by regeneration emerging through the brush and grass.” 1

Early in 2011, St. Albert City Council began the process to preserve the Meadowview Spruce Forest as a Municipal Historical Resource. On September 19, 2011 the ‘old spruce forest’ was dedicated in a special ceremony on site as the Grey Nuns White Spruce Park. It is believe to be the largest urban spruce forest in North America.

 

1 Murphy, Peter J.The Meadowview Spruce Forest in St. Albert, A Living Historical Backdrop; a presentation to the St. Albert Open Spaces Committee. 2002-07-21

 

Reprinted from The Echoes, Vol. XXX, No. 2, May, 2012; St. Albert Historical Society