Beep! Beep! Outa the way, tree! Trying to drive without my seatbelt here!
While smoking! And drinking! And pregnant!
Well hello, Internet. Just sitting here wondering if you have heard of the "Wolsely Elm". No? Well, ole' JJ, storyteller that he is, is gonna tell you about it. Now, anybody else reading this may have heard the story of the Wolsely Elm on the Vinyl Cafe on CBC. And of course, ole' JJ is not trying to compete with Stewie McLean on the story-telling front. The guy could bring tears to the eyes telling you about Marley cutting her toenails or some such. "It was a hangnail, she thought..."
So go hunt down the Winnipeg Vinyl Cafe episode on itunes. Listen. Seriously. It's good. But in case you don't, I am going to tell you, coles notes style, the story of this tree.
This tree was planted in the Wolsely area of Winnipeg around 1857. As the city was built up and roads were made and paved, this tree turned out to be right in the middle of Wolsely Avenue (around Greenwood Street, for you 'Peggers). Here's a pic!
Shouldn't that sign say "Hot Stuff!"?
Heyyyoooo! Oh, settle down, I am just kidding!
This tree. 100 years old. City planners were all like "Hey! This tree! It's in the middle of the street! Let's tear this mother down! 1957. They come to cut it down. 12 neighborhood women come out. Surround the tree. "You Shall Not Pass!"
Note: Not an actual photo from the incident.
You can tell by the absence of a tree.
These women are all like: "this is a part of the heritage of the city. It has been here for 100 hundred years. It should stay." What happens? The city workers get told to stand down by the mayor (I was unable to determine whether there were any snipers with "a shot".)
Beautiful. Right? Citizens caring about their community and their history. Right?
A few days later, under cover of night, vandals came, doused the tree in gasoline, and set it ablaze.
With some grafting, it revived long enough to have some university students attack it with saws and a crowbar (U of W students, no doubt - Oh, no he din't! Oh, yes he did! U of M represent!) the next spring. And then, the last straw. Halloween, 1958. Somebody put dynamite in the tree. Kaboom. Dead.
When I heard that story for the first time, it just seemed to really sum up Winnipeg for me. Now you might say "Hey, JJ, you flew the coop to Ottawa in 2002, then came back for only two years before leaving again to Hogtown! What right do you, deserter, have to tell anyone what Winnipeg is really like?" And you'd be right, I suppose. But it's my blog. So I guess the nice folks at Blogger give me the right. Or opportunity, at least. But you certainly have the right to dismiss my comments as the uninformed ramblings of an outsider. I won't take offence! Swearsies.
Anyhoo, why did it strike such a chord with me? Winnipeg is, has always been, this place where people care so much about their community and their fellow citizens. Winnipeg boasts Louis Riel, Nellie McLung, J.S. Woodworth, Tommy Douglas. The Winnipeg General Strike. And right up to now, with people like the late Reverend Harry Lehotsky. And tons of others who are so committed. Makes me so proud that I come from Winnipeg.
But the flipside is that Winnipeg is also full of people who just don't seem to give a shit. A jogger deliberately run down. A taxi driver killed by joy-riders. Winnipeg is the violent crime capital of Canada. I don't want to generalize too much, I know there are a lot of factors that go into this kind of stuff. And I am well aware that bad stuff happens in other cities. But with Winnipeg I feel like I am always being surprised at the shitty things people can do to other people.
So....uhhhhh....yeah. That's why the Wolsely Elm perfectly sums up Winnipeg. A bunch of people Thoroughly committed to trying to make their community better and a bunch of people who just don't give a shit.
If JJ was a good writer, he would now make a some sort of reference to how he "hopes that Winnipeg as a city fares better than that doomed elm." But he's not. So...JJ out!