Giants of the forest: My father's discovery of Ontario's tallest white spruce

White spruce bark (Photo by Rob Duval, Wikimedia Commons)

White spruce bark (Photo by Rob Duval, Wikimedia Commons)

October 26, 2020 | by Gary Bell

When I was young we lived in Cochrane and Dad worked for the Department of Lands and Forests (now the Ministry of Natural Resources) as a forester. Around 1958 or 1959, he was cruising a lease for Abitibi somewhere in the Hudson’s Bay Lowlands north of Cochrane and close to the Abitibi River.

Dad and his partner had just gotten to the site in the morning after a drive in their truck and a paddle down the river and had started their cruise when they came on a white spruce rising above the tops of the black spruce forest. It looked huge, so he made his way up to it and found it was growing out of a “kettle” — a sink formed by the melting of a big block of ice left by the retreat of the glaciers. He hiked down into the kettle and found this enormous spruce!

He said he didn’t have a diameter tape with him but he did have his field tape and so he took the circumference and found it was 11 feet around, which would correspond with a diameter of approximately 1.07 metres! He couldn’t measure the height because he couldn’t get a clear line through the black spruce and also because the bottom of the tree was down in the kettle. But he knew it was special.

So Dad hiked back out to the canoe, paddled back to the truck and drove in to Cochrane where he went right to the sports store where they engraved trophies for curling bonspiels and hockey games. There, he waited while they engraved the biggest brass plaque they could find with the message: “Specimen Tree, Property of the Crown, Do Not Cut.”

He drove back, paddled back and by the end of the (very, very long) day he had nailed that plaque to the tree and left with the hope that his idea would honoured and that the tree would be spared.

I often wonder if his efforts were rewarded and if that tree is still sitting in its protective hole growing slowly but surely as Ontario’s biggest white spruce.

Gary Bell (Photo courtesy of Gary Bell)

About the Author

Gary Bell has worked for the Nature Conservancy of Canada as the program director for Eastern Ontario since 2006.

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