SUMMERSIDE, P.E.I. - One of P.E.I.’s grandest trees has returned to the earth from which it came, leaving those who marvelled at its grandeur to wonder what specimen will take up its place.
An ancient elm, officially dubbed P.E.I.’s Biggest Tree, grew on private property on Russell Street in Victoria, until it was cut down last month. The tree had become infected with Dutch elm disease and some of its once mighty branches had started to rot, becoming safety hazards.
The towering tree had been a focal point for the community, and countless visitors to the picturesque village had admired it.
In fact, Victoria was so proud of this particular specimen that, in 2010, it declared the Great Big Tree Challenge to see if any other tree on the island could exceed its measurements. Victoria’s giant measured 102 feet tall, with a chest-high circumference of 21 feet and a canopy reach of 129 feet.
Pam Price, one of the original organizers of the tree challenge, also owned the champion Victoria elm. She has countless stories of visitors coming to Victoria to see the tree and taking a lot of joy in that, she said.
“They just loved (the tree); kids, everybody.”
Visitation jumped after the Great Big Tree Challenge, she said, and Islanders became invested in the results.
“I would say every year we had people coming in, Islanders coming in, saying ‘Well, our tree was big, too,’ or ‘We were the second biggest’ or third biggest. So, there’s definitely still an interest there.”
The contest touched on something with Islanders and it quickly became a popular subject of debate and discussion.
The runner-up was declared to be in East Baltic with a 19-foot circumference with a 95-foot canopy. Two trees with similar measurements earned a tie for third place; a tree on Arcona Street in Summerside with a circumference of about 20 feet and an 84-feet canopy and a tree in Woodland Mills with a canopy of 84 feet.
So, with the demise of P.E.I.’s reigning ‘biggest tree’, more than a few Islanders are now engaged in a new debate of where exactly the new champion can be found.
Marian Gaworecki of St. Nicholas, just outside Miscouche, is one such wonderer.
Gaworecki is from Toronto but relocated to P.E.I. a few years ago. One of the trees on his property is a maple dwarfing the house next to it.
When Gaworecki heard of the Victoria giant’s felling, he wondered if the tree dominating his yard might be a contender to take its mantle.
“It’s the interest of people … I think a lot of people will be happy if this tree is the number one,” said Gaworecki.
While he can wonder at whether his tree is now the largest, getting some kind of official designation is another story.
The Great Big Tree Challenge was a one-time event put on by the community of Victoria. Crowning a new biggest tree will, for the time being, remain a subject of conjecture.
Arbourist Kurt Laird acted as judge for the original competition.
He’s not surprised at all that Islanders still want to know where the biggest tree is.
“People love trees, they’re important to a lot of people,” he said.
If he had to make a bet as to the Island’s new biggest tree, Laird would put his money on a huge elm tree on the corner of Grafton and Rochford Streets in Charlottetown. No one submitted it to the original contest, he said, but he estimates its dimensions to be close to Victoria’s elm.
The tree on Arcona Street in Summerside would also be in the running, he added. The contender in East Baltic came down in a storm in 2013. Laird was unsure as to the status of the Woodville Mills tree.
Gaworecki recently measured his maple to be between 75 and 80 feet tall with an 18-foot circumference and an approximately 95-foot canopy.
If someone ever does another contest, he will happily make his entry, he said.