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'Would be a shame': Group rallies on Parliament Hill to save century-old tree

cbc.ca logo cbc.ca 2019-02-11 Krystalle Ramlakhan
a man standing next to a suitcase: Tom Whillans and his baby daughter Cora attended the information event on Parliament Hill Sunday. © Krystalle Ramlakhan/CBC Tom Whillans and his baby daughter Cora attended the information event on Parliament Hill Sunday.

A group devoted to saving a century-old tree on Parliament Hill is urging more information about its health be released before it gets the axe.

The Greenspace Alliance of Canada's Capital held an information session Sunday focussing on the elm tree, which could be torn down to accommodate excavation work during upcoming renovations to Centre Block.

a person standing in front of a building: Owen Clarkin, chair of the conservation committee of the Ottawa Field Naturalists Club, lead the informative talk. © Krystalle Ramlakha/CBC Owen Clarkin, chair of the conservation committee of the Ottawa Field Naturalists Club, lead the informative talk.

The tree is estimated to be about 100 years old. 

"It would be a shame to remove something like this that has a legacy — both a living legacy as well as kind of a cultural legacy," said Tom Whillans, one of about 20 people who attended the gathering.

Living legacy

Whillans, who was there with his young daughter, said he's concerned about development projects leading to the loss of large trees, both in Centretown and across the city.

"[They] are valuable to the community at large," he said.

Owen Clarkin, chair of the conservation committee of the Ottawa Field Naturalists Club, delivered an informative talk Sunday afternoon.

"I think the more we know, the more we appreciate what's here — and the more we protect it for future generations," said Clarkin, who's been researching trees as an amateur for several decades.

Clarkin said elm trees are "extremely tough" and are known for recovering from damage. 

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Call for more information on tree's health

The Greenspace Alliance of Canada's Capital said it would be calling on the National Capital Commission (NCC), which looks after trees on federal property, to release more information about the endangered elm. 

The alliance is making the move after Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC), the department responsible for the renovations of Centre Block, pointed to a 2018 arborist's report that determined the tree is in poor condition and is being held together by cables as a result of deterioration. 

a person posing for the camera: Krystalle Ramlakhan/CBC © Krystalle Ramlakhan/CBC Krystalle Ramlakhan/CBC

"We're thinking there's probably more information about the health of this tree ... that the NCC might have," said the alliance's chair, Paul Johanis.

The NCC also has to give permission to PSPC to remove the tree, since it's on Parliament Hill. 

While PSPC estimates the cost to move the roughly 20-metre tree would reach $400,000, Johanis said the alliance isn't asking for it to be relocated — just protected during the renovations. 

The PSPC has said it's taken the decision very seriously and although no one in the department wants to take the tree down, the best course of action would be to remove it and reuse its wood for commemorative purposes.

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