The Garneau Tree

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Near the far northeast corner of North Campus sits the Garneau Tree. One of the oldest in Edmonton, the tree has become a natural monument to a founding family of one of the University of Alberta’s closest neighbouring communities. Now that the Manitoba maple, planted by Laurent and Eleanor Garneau behind their home more than 140 years ago, has reached the end of its life cycle, it needs to be removed for safety reasons. The University of Alberta plans to carry forward the history and heritage the tree has come to represent.

Laurent Garneau, the Métis son of a French fur trader, took up residence on the south side of the North Saskatchewan River on River Lot 7 in 1874, having relocated to Edmonton after serving as one of Louis Riel’s soldiers in the Red River Resistance of 1869. Garneau gifted the land to the Catholic Church when he moved his family in 1901 to St. Paul, Alberta, where he was known for his business activities, political involvement and generous support for the local Métis community until his death in 1921.

Nathalie Kermoal, director of the Rupertsland Centre for Métis Research at the Faculty of Native Studies, said the tree is an important reminder of Garneau’s impact on Edmonton in its early days.

“When we look at the historical documents, we find Laurent Garneau was the seventh recognized settler in the Ft. Edmonton area. He became wealthy and a very central figure to the community during that time,” Kermoal said. “So the maple he planted is very important as a symbol of the Métis presence in Edmonton and western Canada, and how influential the Métis were throughout the 19th and early 20th century.”

In 1953, the City of Edmonton’s Archives and Landmarks Committee placed a plaque at the juncture of 110 Street and Saskatchewan Drive in honour of “farmer, community organizer and musician” Laurent Garneau. Thirty years later a second commemorative plaque was placed at the base of the tree at 111 Street just north of 90 Avenue.

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Though Manitoba maples are well-adapted to survive Alberta winters, the Garneau Tree has outlasted the species’ typical lifespan by several decades. An assessment by an arborist in the spring of 2017 found the tree was no longer viable and recommended removal for safety reasons.

University architect Benjamin Louie says that, while it is unfortunate to lose this living link to local and national history, the present circumstances afford an opportunity to find other ways to recognize that history and renew the university’s relationship with our neighbouring community.

Louie says the facilities and operations department is working in consultation with the Faculty of Native Studies and stakeholders within and outside the university community to achieve what he calls “continuous adaptive use of a heritage resource” consistent with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action.

“For decades this tree has been a means to commemorate the Garneau family and the social history of the whole community,” Louie said. “Now we have an opportunity to imagine afresh how we can let this historic site enrich our understanding and our relations with our neighbours.”

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