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Preserving a home for the dead

Volunteers to trim Elmwood's trees

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TRYING TO SAVE THOSE LIVING AMONG THE DEAD... About 50 volunteers armed with power saws are scheduled to arrive at Elmwood Cemetery to take care of the century-old graveyard's deadwood on Saturday.

All so everyone -- especially the living -- can rest a little more comfortably. The living in this case are people like me -- relatives of the 52,620 people interred therein -- and other concerned citizens such as the cemetery's executive director, Bob Filuk, and the board members of the not-for-profit Friends of Elmwood Cemetery, whose mission is to keep the cemetery alive.

Part of that process is to save the majestic sheltering trees that give the place its name and much of Winnipeg its urban-forest character.

But over the last three years, the cemetery has lost a small forest of elm trees to Dutch elm disease.

By last count, the city has had to fell 96 diseased elms from Elmwood Cemetery. That leaves the cemetery with only 520 elms that need their dead limbs pruned if the march of the disease-spreading Dutch beetle is to be slowed.

The beetle hibernates in wood from dead elms.

Pruning is an expensive endeavour for a non-profit organization such as the Friends of Elmwood Cemetery, and the city's annual $3.2-million budget for dealing with Dutch elm disease -- $1 million from the province -- doesn't include pruning on private property.

Even though it's private property from which an estimated 80 per cent of diseased trees are removed each year, which the city does pay for and do.

In 2011, Winnipeg lost 3.46 per cent of its elms -- one the worst years on record for Dutch elm disease. The private tree loss numbered an estimated 4,800.

The city's forester, Martha Barwinsky, says she believes this year's losses will be down from last year.

Being that the cemetery's revenue stream is a trickle compared to when people were dying to get in -- much of its budget comes from donations these days -- pruning is an pricey proposition.

Which is why Matt Vinet, an Elmwood boy, rounded up fellow members of the International Society of Arboriculture, Prairie chapter, for a day of service at the 110-year-old cemetery. Their companies are also donating equipment, but they're the ones who will prune the deadwood between 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday.

And you're all invited -- in fact encouraged -- to drop by.

There will be educational booths set up where volunteers will offer information and advice about general tree care and planting.

So make a date to be there to learn and enjoy and watch the volunteers look after all that deadly deadwood.

Maybe we'll see you there.


-- -- --


AND NOW THE READERS WRITE... I received a lot of feedback after Monday's column about Jets owner David Thomson's low-key appearance at a northern Manitoba funeral for young Jets fan Les Mulholland, who wrote the richest man in Canada to thank him for bringing the National Hockey League back to the province.

That prompted this email from Free Press reader Marjorie Patterson, which she permitted me to share with you.

"Hi Gord,

"I, too, wrote to David Thomson when our Jets came home, and he, too, wrote back to me. The letter directly addressed some of my comments and was written in a style that absolutely matches Thomson's way of speaking. I have no doubt that he dictated the letter and every word is his own. I treasure that letter and have it framed on a wall in my home. He is a wonderful man. Thanks for reminding me."

And then there was this email from another reader, Linda MacKay, in reference to Les Mulholland being a "guard" at Stony Mountain.

"You wrote a nice article but I feel a seasoned journalist such as yourself should be aware of how derogatory the term 'guard' actually is to CORRECTIONAL OFFICERS. Our profession is marred by many stereotypes which are constantly repeated by people of the media. Guards sit and watch something like valuables in a jewelry store whereas CORRECTIONAL OFFICERS are responsible for so much more than that. We are responsible for human lives, must play counsellor, psychologist, parental role, police officer, teacher. Please give our profession the respect it deserves by simply getting the terminology right. We are not 'guards.' "

Thank you Linda.

I stand, um, corrected.

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