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An elder among elders: Saying goodbye to a historic tree

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An elder among elders: Saying goodbye to a historic tree

A city is full of historic trees, but most of their stories are unknown, unrecorded. The Garneau tree in Edmonton is different, Jana Pruden reports

The Garneau Tree: part 4 of 9, by @jana_pruden. Laurent Garneau was born in Michigan, the son of a trader and an Ojibwa woman. He tried his hand at trading before following the buffalo hunters north to Canada, where he joined Louis Riel fighting for the rights of the Métis at the Red River Rebellion in 1869. In 1874, he and his young wife moved west to Alberta. In their new homestead, the Garneaus had businesses, a ranch and farm, a family, lives of both success and hardship. Eleanor bore 15 children, but lost five. In 1885, around the time of the North-West Rebellion, Mr. Garneau was arrested, imprisoned and sentenced to death, for reasons that vary depending on which version of history you believe. It’s not known whether he had a part in Mr. Riel’s second uprising, though Mr. Riel himself had invited him. Eleanor died in 1912, Laurent in 1921. His descendants carry his stories and his humour, his love of music. The neighbourhood where his home once stood carries his history, his name. 🔺 “Laurent, who was once engaged in the buffalo hunts, Riel’s uprising, was a true plainsman who contributed to the democratic opening up of the west, not just in the idealistic sense, but in the hardships and the stress, the pioneer life,” said his great-great-grandson Duane Zaraska, standing on the land that was once the Garneau homestead and is now part of the University of Alberta campus. The meaning of that spot, and that old Manitoba maple, was powerful enough to move him to tears. #TheGarneauTree 📸: City of Edmonton Archives EA-58-3

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The Garneau Tree: part 6 of 9, by @jana_pruden. The lifespan of a Manitoba maple is 40 or 50 years, and the Garneau tree lived three times that long. But through the years, the rot inside had grown. By this summer, there were concerns the tree was becoming dangerous, its wood so soft in spots it crumbled to the touch. An arborist who examined the tree said it was time to cut it down. 🔺 Knowing the tree’s history and significance, the university planned a ceremony to say goodbye. On Friday evening, they put out a podium and rows of chairs in front of a safety fence that had been erected around the tree. Organizers expected a small showing of Garneau descendants and residents from the neighbourhood, but more than 100 people came. They stood in the fall sunshine for well over an hour, listening to speeches about Laurent and Eleanor Garneau, reflecting on the meaning of a tree planted lifetimes ago. 🔺 “The autumn is the time of harvesting what has been sown with care, and a time for shedding the old to prepare for the new,” said Métis elder and veteran John McDonald, in a prayer at the close of the ceremony. “It is a time of transition, a time of regeneration, a time of bringing back into alignment with the physical realm, for reaping the awards of past sowing and sowing the seeds of tomorrow. This great monument of our past and to our Métis heritage is an elder among elders.” Later, he walked to the tree and placed his hands gently on its bark, praying to release any spirits still contained inside. #TheGarneauTree

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