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Saying goodbye to the Spencer Smith willows; cuttings available; wood will be saved; ideas welcome

willow ceremony 2willow ceremonyAbout 50 of us gathered in Spencer Smith park last night to say goodbye and thank you to the willow trees for the 70 years they have sheltered and served our community. We huddled in the gazebo as a light rain fell, truly “gathered” together, a fitting tribute to the trees that became a gathering place for friends, family, children, and young lovers planning a future together.

willow rot 2These trees have survived generations of families – children remember climbing her branches, then becoming engaged under her cascading leaves, then returning to celebrate wedding anniversaries, then bringing children and grandchildren back to experience her grandeur. Last night people spoke of the trees as akin to a family member – an integral part of important milestones in life.

A summary of some of the Facebook comments from residents is here: City of Burlington Facebook willows june 6 2016

The ceremony was videotaped and will be posted here shortly, along with photos. The program is available here: Willow Tree Program

willow cuttingsCuttings from the trees are available today down at Spencer Smith Park. The wood is being saved, and uses will be determined at a later date. The branches will be removed today, with the trunks remaining until after the Sound of Music Festival (the grass is too wet now to support the heavy crane required to remove the trunks intact). We are exploring using the trunks for a sculpture, and taking a a slab of one of the trunks showing the timeline of the trees and key historical moments in Burlington’s history.

Memories of the trees are being collected at the city’s webpage here: We will determine a way to compile and share them all.

It took a small village of people to organize the signage, publicity and ceremony for the trees, in less than one week from the time I first learned about the rot and risk to the public of falling branches. I’d like to thank my assistant Georgie Gartside, for always rising to the occasion, doing research and preparing the program; my intern student Claire Bradbury, for creating the program; Brian McKelvey, our city arborist, for alerting us to the rot and participating in our ceremony to provide information and answers to residents; Kate Sault, president of the Burlington Horticultural Society, for sharing the history of the trees and Spencer Smith’s legacy; Julie Hamilton, for her moving poem, read at the ceremony by her friend Carol Gottlob; Rod Nettagog, of the Henvey Inlet First Nation, for the powerful smudging and drum ceremony, and prayer for the trees; Kune Hua, of True Essence media for videotaping the ceremony; the Globe & Mail for taking pictures and sharing the story; Donna Kell for media and publicity; Mary Battaglia, our director of Roads & Parks maintenance, for her support on the ceremony and saving the wood;  Lana Kosterowa and Cameron Stevens for the web banner and web updates on; Jeff Crowder for the ad in the Burlington Post; Carla Marshall for posting on Instagram.

Last but not least, thanks to all of you who joined us for the ceremony and the many hundreds more who have shared your memories of the trees online. Stay tuned to this space for future updates on the trees.


Written by Marianne Meed Ward

I was inspired to seek public office because I believe, like so many of you, “I can do something about that” on the issues we face. As councilor, my role is to take a stand on what’s best for residents and go to bat for it. Pushback is inevitable from those who don’t have the community’s interests at heart. I will stand with you and for you, to achieve the best interests of our city, without caving to unacceptable compromise in the name of consensus.


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  1. While I had no emotional attachment to these trees personally, I wish to acknowledge our councilor, for her sensitivity to those who might. Cudos to you, Marianne!

  2. Well, (tongue in cheek), if you want to get wheepy, I doubt that many showed up when the Brant Inn bit the dust, nor the canning factory or for that matter when the train station closed, (the one which probably could have been rebuilt from scratch by the money that’s been spent on it), just an observation as I remember all those places in their hey day.

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