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Cochrane gets an official tree and declares Arbor Day

Cochrane gets an official tree and declares first Saturday in June as Arbor Day.
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A Grade 6 class from RancheView School visited the Grandfather Tree, which became their inspiration to lobby for the white spruce to be named Cochrane's official tree

What do Manitoba, South Dakota, and Cochrane all have in common?

No, it’s not the set-up for a joke – the answer is that all three share the white spruce as their official tree.

Also from this point forward, the first Saturday in June will be designated as Cochrane Arbor Day, much to the delight of a Grade 6 class who lobbied Cochrane Town council hard for the decision. The students made an impassioned presentation to them on March 21, ending with a rousing all-class plea: “We are the future. We can be leaders in the fight to save our world. We want to be part of creating a healthier world. Please hear us!”

The message must have sunk in.

At their meeting May 24, council declared the first Saturday of June as Arbor Day, beginning on June 4 this year.

In the same motion, as also requested by Bill Belsey’s class from RancheView School, council declared the white spruce as the official tree of Cochrane.

“I’m really proud of what they’ve done and they’re pretty proud too,” Belsey said. “It’s not often students in Grade 6 get a chance to get a local government to accept their proposals, and actually have an Arbor Day in Cochrane and officially designate the white spruce, and to pave the way for students to plant trees in their school yard, so, they’re pretty proud,” he said.

Council went ahead with declaring the white spruce the official tree, going against the recommendation from administration, who had previously suggested the Town initiate a public engagement process aimed at ensuring Cochrane residents had the opportunity to weigh in on the choice of tree.

“Through this engagement we will be able to build upon the already passionate interest of our residents in our green spaces, highlighting the importance of urban forest principles, thereby arriving at a future official tree designation that is reflective of all input received,” stated a staff report at the May 24 meeting.

“Administration will work on development and implementation of an engagement strategy, with the goal of having engagement feedback received and subsequent recommendations brought back to council before the end of Q4, 2022.”

Mayor Jeff Genung favoured moving ahead.

“I would be more inclined to just declare the white spruce the official tree of Cochrane tonight and move forward with something that we’ve heard from the Grade 6 class – it is a significant tree in our community,” he said.

“I’ve not heard from one other individual in Cochrane for as long as I’ve been here, who wants to declare a tree of any kind in Cochrane.”

In the end, council agreed with the mayor and the Grade 6 class to go ahead with the designation.

“This is a really good example of how democracy works, for the youth of our community and for anybody in our community,” said Coun. Alex Reed.

Belsey’s class went on a hike to visit the Grandfather Tree in Cochrane Ranche Park, which is a white spruce, and the inspiration for their choice.

The white spruce assumed the role of Manitoba’s provincial tree in 1991 for its extensive geographic range and contribution to the local landscape.

White spruce trees are also plentiful across the Canadian landscape as specimen trees, hedges or windbreaks on residential properties, and along streets and seashores, due to their salt tolerance. 

The LEAF (Local Enhancement and Appreciation of Forests) website describes the white spruce as “a legacy tree that holds exceptional cultural, historical, and intrinsic value, contributing to a natural landscape in many ways over time. The white spruce (Picea glauca), a geographically abundant tree species found east to west across the country, as far north as the arctic tree line, and as far south as the northern states, is a Canadian legacy.”

Spray Lake Sawmills is donating 300 white spruce trees to the school project.


Howard May

About the Author: Howard May

Howard was a journalist with the Calgary Herald and with the Abbotsford Times in BC, where he won a BC/Yukon Community Newspaper Association award for best outdoor writing.
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