Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Roots run deep, but trees have to go
Won't survive move to new conservatory
As much as it will pain Assiniboine Park Conservatory horticulturalists holding the chainsaws, trees as old as a century must be cut down.
The trees are among the most popular in Winnipeg because they have been experienced up close by generations of park-goers.
But the well-aged giants can't be transplanted when a new conservatory is built in a few years.
Park officials scrambled Friday to accommodate a flap of inquiries when media reported Friday the tropical pines and fig trees can't be moved.
Officials confirmed they must cut the trees under redevelopment plans, although the redevelopment is years away from fruition.
"I understand people have a connection to the trees. These trees have been here their whole lives," said the park's chief operating officer Don Peterkin. "I'm a horticulturalist myself."
But some of the trees are so old, moving them would kill them, he said.
-- Assiniboine Park's chief operating officer Don Peterkin
It's cheaper to ship in new trees and build a tropical hot house from scratch when the new building opens in about five years.
"At the end of the day, you say to yourself, 'We're going to have to say goodbye to this one,' " Peterkin said, gently patting the rich, chocolate brown bark on one of the Conservatory's oldest trees.
Peterkin was standing next to an aged Norfolk pine, a primordial giant from Australia's Norfolk Island, that in the wild would grow to 61 metres and live 200 years.
This giant's growth has been stunted, literally truncated to fit the building. In the conservatory, the giant pine from a species that dates back to paleolithic times can only grow as high as the 10.6-metre-high ceiling.
"This has hit the roof half a dozen times since the building's been here," Peterkin said.
Assiniboine Park's $200-million multi-phase redevelopment -- currently winding up a massive zoo reno, with the Journey to Churchill Polar Bear Conservation Centre -- will move on to the next phase this summer and shift its focus to the crumbling conservatory.
Broad conceptual plans call for a new conservatory triple the size of the current one and considerably higher. Park officials are currently canvassing botanical gardens and conservatories from Great Britain to Montreal to get a fix on a building that will take the city into the next century.
"Traditionally, people used conservatories like Palm House in the Kew Gardens in England. They were for collections of species... We're in a different era. We have television, videos and we travel to tropical areas. So now conservatories have to preserve the diversity of plants... Now it's more about the impact of plants on our lives and connecting people to nature," Peterkin said.
Costs for the new building and surrounding area are projected at $62.8 million.
Park officials are keeping their fingers crossed the old building will hold out until the new one is ready.
Some trees, such as smaller palms, may survive a transplant, but most of the older tropical giants won't, which may explain the rationale behind the last renovation 50 years ago. In the 1960s, the old conservatory glass shell was rebuilt around the trees instead of the other way around.
Now however, the infrastructure is antiquated, its heating system dates back to the Victorian era and the back of the building is crumpling.
"It's important to understand if anyone thinks this is going to be imminent, it's not. If anyone thinks we're going to knock down the trees in the spring, we're not," Peterkin said.
"We need a year and a half to complete the design (for a new conservatory) and two years to build. We're talking four or five years. And this stays in place unless we have a catastrophe," he said.
That's a timeline visitors said they can live with. Passionate tree lovers such as Rosemarie Taylor heaved a sigh of relief on a visit Friday.
She'd heard the reports and with her daughter, Sarah Whitehead, pleaded for the trees.
"Isn't there any way to transplant them? I don't like the thought of trees being killed. This is where I come when I'm tired of the dry winter and the cold air. If they get rid of this, I'm just going to die," Taylor said.
"Oh Mom, don't be so dramatic," her daughter gently chided.
For old friends like Diana De Korompay and Judith Hall, the fate of the conservatory and its trees comes down to practical realities.
"They're going to replace it, that's the main thing," Hall said.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 1, 2014 A13
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