Do You Remember Arbor Day?

If your answer to the question in the title of today’s Flashback was yes, then its a safe bet that you were in school some time during the early to mid-decades of the last century. From roughly 1900 to 1950, Arbor Day, which simply means Tree Day, and usually held on a Friday in May, was encouraged by provincial Departments of Education. Since 1950 in some provinces, it has been dropped from the calendar or absorbed by Earth Day. Just recently Ive been checking the annual reports of the New Brunswick Department of Education. During the early twentieth century, each county school inspector reported with pride on the manner in which Arbor Day was marked in their schools.

It started out as a time for planting trees and gradually, as time went on, other conservation ideas became incorporated in the days events; such as establishing a school garden. I have been told by several former teachers with experience in one room rural schools that it was also a day when the girls thoroughly house cleaned the classroom; while the boys raked the yard and washed the windows. Then everbody planted a tree, either at home or sometimes on the school premises.

The observance of Arbor Day may be traced to the United States and the state of Nebraska in the year 1872. Such a day was the brainchild of one J. Sterling Morton and from there it was duplicated throughout the United States and around the world. In 1884 a few Canadians began marking Arbor Day. On May 10, 1893, the Council of the North West Territories officially recognized the day. From there, it spread across the entire country. In some provinces such as Alberta, it is still listed on the school calendar and will be observed this coming Friday, May 09, 2003. On this day spruce or lodgepole seedlings will be made available to all grade one students to plant in comemoration of their first year in school.

To illustrate its world wide appeal, Arbor Day was first marked in Australia as early as 1889 in Adelaide, South Australia. From there it expanded to other parts of Australia and New Zealand. In Japan the event takes place over several days and is known as Greening Week. In Israel it is the New Years Day of Trees, while India has an annual Festival of Tree Planting. Obviously in the Southern Hemisphere the date is at a different time of the year, to correspond with their spring season.

In addition to being observed in Sackville schools, for a number of years Arbor Day was also officially recognized by the town. The driving force behind this move was a new womens organization founded in Sackville in April, 1910. It was known formally as the Local Womens Civic Council,and for the next half century it was a force to be reckoned with, according to C.C. Avard, then editor of this newspaper.

While there were other womens organizations in the town, the vast majority were dedicated to temperance or church related objectives. The Local Womens Civic Council was unique in being unrestricted as to membership. The organizational meeting was held at the home of its first president, Mabel Fawcett Ryan, and from day one, it became a dedicated lobby group on all questions of public interest.

One of its most effective committees was early off the mark with a presention to Town Council for improved Parks, Streets and Lawns. In response, May 12, 1910 was officially designated by Town Council as Arbor Day in Sackville. The purpose was to encourage civic beautification through the planting of trees. The day had the full support of the Board of Trade and, to no one’s surprise, the LWCC.

As Arbor Day approached, it became apparent that there was an informal contest taking place throughout the town. The objective: to see who might plant the largest number of shade trees. The clear winner was Henry C. Read who was responsible for planting 75 trees along Bridge, Charles and St. James Streets. Some of these, in the vicinity of his home The Marshlands still stand, a silent testimony to Sackvillles first fulfledged Arbor Day. The runner up was Charles W. Fawcett who planted some 50 trees in other locations throughout the town.

In all probability one of the trees planted by Henry C. Read was an elm at 59 Bridge Street. Unfortunately this tree had to be removed recently. The owner of the property, Ms. Donna Sharpe, came up with a ingenious solution to the problem. A fourteen foot stump was left to be turned into a work of art. Thanks to the skill and artistry of wood sculptor Albert Deveau, from Saint-Basile, NB, the elm stump has been transformed into a Sanderling Sandpiper, a unique signature sign for the Sanderling Bed & Breakfast Inn operated by Ms. Sharpe. Sometimes even shade trees can be recycled!

Visitors to Sackville often comment on the beauty of its tree lined streets, the carefully manicured lawns and the tree studded Mount Allison campus. The latter did not happen by chance. During the building boom of the 1960s a number of trees were planted because of the personal interest of the then Chancellor Ralph Pickard Bell. In the years since then, a policy of tree replacement has evolved. If a tree has to be removed because of storm damage or disease, its automatically replaced.

In conversation with Mount Allison’s Grounds Supervisor Ms. Andrea Ward, I discovered that she is a graduate of the Nova Scotia Agricultural College and an ardent arborist. When asked about this interest, her immediate reply was: I just love trees! Proof that she is in the right occupation can be found in a few statistics. Since her appointment in September 2000, no less than 100 new trees have been planted, plus some 250 shrubs and approximately 1,400 ground cover shrubs and plants.

At present, she is working on an inventory of campus trees and noted with enthusiasm the discovery of a few in the rare category. These include one species, a magnificent Swiss Stone Pine found only, to her knowledge, on the Mount Allison campus and in the Public Gardens, Halifax. There is also a Columnar Oak, which is not found elsewhere in the Maritimes. A third example, not quite so unusual, since there is at least one other example in Sackville, is a Copper Beech. Its the arborists conclusion that approximately 65 to 85 years ago, there was someone at Mount Allison with a keen interest in tree planting and who was responsible for these and other examples of rare trees. To date, her research has not revealed any clues.

Looking to the future, Ms. Ward noted that the University has a Memorial Tree Program in place. This means that a class might donate funds earmarked for tree planting to commemorate a reunion, or an individual may wish to honour the memory of an alumnus or some other person. A similar program has been implemented with great success at other universities, most notably at the University of Western Ontario. Later this spring, when the trees are fully in leaf, take a stroll on campus and note the many improvements that have taken place.

In addition to initiating Sackvilles first Arbor Day, the Local Womens Civic Council may be credited with another major achievement. At the time of its founding, a large lot on the south corner of Weldon and Bridge Street had degenerated into an eye sore. Rumours were floating that a storage warehouse was about to be built on the site. Immediately, the Parks, Streets and Lawns Committee of the LWCC swung into action. After some study, they decided that this would be an ideal location for a Town Square or Public Park. Their request that Town Council purchase the lot for this purpose was granted in May of 1911. When the plot was filled in and seeded to grass, the LWCC paid for the trees and shrubbery. The rest is tree lined history.

To bring this topic up to date it should be noted that one objective of the present Town Council is the planting of 100 Red Oak trees to mark the 2003 Centennial. For details contact Sackville’s Community Development Department (506-364-4930). If you have not already planted your Centennial Oak (or anther tree of your choice) there is still time. Future generations of Sackvillians will be glad that you did.