Drivers coming in and out of Riverdale one day last month had a unique excuse for being delayed.
The bridge was closed to make way for a whopper of a tree.
Each Christmas, the City of Whitehorse installs a massive Christmas tree at the intersection of Front and Main Streets.
This year’s 33-year-old white spruce came from Riverdale, all 14 metres of it. Moving it downtown took some planning, including closing the bridge.
“The width of the tree, it blocks off more than a lane… the truck came down the middle of the bridge,” says parks supervisor Marc Boulerice.
Before a tree makes it to that honoured location, it needs to get Boulerice’s seal of approval.
The ideal tree is dense, he says, with no big holes between its branches.
“Then just a good, balanced shape,” he says. “Ideally a Christmas tree shape.”
That means a bushier bottom that tapers off to a point at the top. To get that shape, most of the trees chosen for the job come from residential neighbourhoods.
Residential trees tend to get bushier because they don’t have to fight for space or sunlight the way that tall, skinny, wild-growing Yukon trees do, Boulerice says.
Most years, residents with large trees on their lawns volunteer to give them away in exchange for the free removal.
This year’s tree came from a family who said it was getting too big for the front yard, Boulerice says.
Last year was the first season in a while that a local tree wasn’t volunteered.
So staff trudged out to find one.
“We went looking in green spaces around town and we found one along Fish Lake Road,” Boulerice says.
“It was really tall and had good density, it just didn’t have that triangular shape.”
Once a tree is picked for the job, the planning starts for how to get it downtown.
Enter ATCO Electric Yukon. With the same equipment used to install utility poles, the company’s staff are able to clamp onto the trunk and hold it vertical while the tree is cut and lowered onto a flatbed truck.
The final stop is the legacy of a festively inclined city planner.
Boulerice isn’t sure when it happened, but someone thought ahead to install a metre-and-a-half deep pipe in the ground at the intersection of Front and Main to use as a permanent Christmas tree stand.
Boulerice estimates about 20,000 lights cover the tree, which was officially lit up as part of the Winterval festivities.
The thousands of lights used around the city are all energy efficient LED bulbs, he said.
“For example, one strand uses 7.5 watts. Whereas in the past, just one light bulb used five watts. It’s phenomenal.”
After the city rings in the New Year the tree comes down.
“When we take down the tree we often get calls, ‘How come the city’s cutting down this tree that’s been growing at the end of Main Street?’” Boulerice says.
The wood does not go to waste.
The larger pieces become benches along Whitehorse’s trails.
The rest gets dried out and is used as firewood for events or at the fire pit in Shipyards Park.
Boulerice says he’s always interested in talking to people who might have a tree to donate. He already has one picked out for next year.
“It’s there to promote joy and create that Christmas spirit,” he says.
“We live in a pretty dark place in the wintertime, so our hope is really to just create lots of places with these decorative lights to make things a little bit happier and hopefully bring a smile to people’s faces.”
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