Friday, 24 February 2012

The Wolsely Elm - "One Great City, I mean Elm!"

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 downA 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!


  1. I would comment on this ridiculous story but I just dont give a shit!

    1. Hmmm...there's something about your comment that makes me think you might be from Winnipeg, but can't quite put my finger on...Mayor Katz!? Is that you?

      Wow! What an honour, Your Worshipfulness! I am so pleased you are reading my humble blog! I thank you for this!

  2. Thank goodness peggers have Toronto to aspire to!

    1. Hey. We do what we can. You can lead a horse to water...

      And yes I did type that while stepping over a homeless person sleeping on an exhaust grate. And in between reading about our mayor who, thank god, on his election, ended the city's "war on the car".

  3. Yeah like laat time I was in Toronto and I was trying to check in to my hotel and the front desk manager is yelling at me in broken English over his confusion about my family's reservation and all I thought was yeah this guy really gets it! He really gives a shit! Must not be from Wpg!! So I deliberatley ran him down in my rental car when I saw him jogging the next morning!

    1. I couldn't be less surprised.

      Were you shouting "go Jets go, Leafs suck!" out the window as you ran him down?

    2. No I was yelling my name is JJ (JJ!) read my blog you will like it!! Im in a romantic relationship with the city of Toronto!!

      and the tree in Wolsely had it coming!! Sitting in the middle of the street like that!!!

    3. That's interesting. He probably would have endirsed your love affair! Before being done in by his crushed chest cavity.

      And the tree had it coming, did it? Becauae it "just didn't listen"? It was "asking for it"? I see where this is going!

  4. You peaked my interest...I have been reading up on the Wolsely I had never heard of it's violent end. Where did you find the stuff about the dynamite etc? I found that the city ended up cutting it down in 1960 (Building Community Initiatives,Wolsely Neighborhood, Vol 2 community process (2003)). I also saw the story on by George Siamandas. Some sort of cover-up? What is the true story?

  5. What's the real story? I dunno. The dynamite part was actually kinda secondary. But felt like I needed in there for completeness. The main point was the setting fire to days after the protest. But I am happy to hear rebuttal on o\any of these points! I didn't head down to the archives or nottin'.

    1. lol. It's interesting that it's hard to find the "real story". I saw the fire etc in that same article, but I couldn't find any realiable resources that discuss the history (that included all the foul play). It was probably other Wolsely-ites who set it on fire...felt it was causing them breathing difficulties and keeping the mozzies away.

    2. Hey now. Go easy on them folks!

      It's probably in one of those things called a "book" that I have heard used to exist.

    3. book? what is this book you speak of?

  6. ahem...Neil he sums up Winnipeg.

  7. Why do you say that? Because as soon as he acquired a marketable skill he left town?

    Bam! You keep settin' em up, I'ma gonna keepa knockin' em down!

    But seriously "anonymous", if that is your real name, I dunno how you can lay that out as a truism without any explanation. The guy doesn't really go back to winnipeg except on tour, doesn't write songs about it, doesn't go to Tubby's and play VLT's (like some Winnipeg rockers do...)...Don't get me wrong, I love the guy. He may be the greatest person to come from Winnipeg...but sums up? Not seein' it. Need some help.