City begins replacing trees lost in botched 2021 house move

Three so far with 20 more to come


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Felled trees line the median on Roblin Boulevard last summer after the moving of a display home that was too wide to avoid hitting the trees. (Daniel Crump / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Almost two dozen mature trees were destroyed in Charleswood during the transport of a large display home nearly a year ago. Now, the City of Winnipeg has begun replanting.

Three poplar trees were planted in the Roblin Boulevard median between Carlotta Crescent and Charleswood Road in June, while 20 other trees of various sizes and species are to be planted at Charleswood Memorial Park.

Winnipeg’s forester said the trees cannot all be replaced at the centre median of the regional street where they were unlawfully cut down in 2021, due to harsh growing conditions.

“We cannot get them established because (of), primarily, the de-icing salt spray that is used to keep our winter roads navigable and safe. It really is a challenge,” Martha Barwinsky said. “Even though there were trees there once before, those trees were actually established at a time when there wasn’t as much vehicular traffic and there wasn’t as much use of… winter road maintenance practices.”

Barwinsky said the three poplars are part of a trial to determine if that species can thrive in the location, since it tends to be heartier in places where road salt is used.

The other trees could be planted this summer, if the weather co-operates, though unseasonably cold and rainy conditions have delayed some planting.

The loss of the original mature trees took place Aug. 7, 2021, when a building transport company began moving a display home from a spot near Roblin Boulevard and Scotswood Drive. The structure was too wide to avoid hitting mature trees along the Roblin median.

Winnipeg Police Service says its officers arrived to provide a scheduled escort around 7 a.m. and discovered 17 Siberian elms had been cut down. Police said officers halted the move and arrested the vehicle’s driver, who was charged with mischief over $5,000.

City forestry staff later determined another six elms had to be cut down due to damage from the incident.

An advocate to protect and enhance Winnipeg’s urban canopy says the loss of mature trees is especially concerning because of the challenges in replacing them.

Martha Barwinsky, here overlooking the city, says plantings will proceed weather permitting. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)

“When you take out mature trees (from boulevards)… you can’t necessarily expect new saplings to grow back, to survive in that rough condition and so that’s why the loss of mature trees is a double tragedy,” said Charles Feaver, a member of Trees Please Winnipeg.

Feaver said it will take decades before smaller new trees are large enough to provide the same amount of shade and carbon storage as those that were lost, making the replants more “substitutes” than true replacements.

He said Winnipeg should add a tree protection bylaw that requires construction crews to work a minimum distance away from trees and their key root systems.

“You don’t want people digging up your gas-line infrastructure but you also don’t want people killing your tree (root) infrastructure,” said Feaver.

Trevor Soltys, a licensed arborist with TreeSolve, echoed the concern the hearty Siberian elms lost can’t be immediately replaced.

“When they’re gone, it takes a long time to re-establish that mature canopy,” said Soltys. “Trees are invaluable, they do a lot for our environment and this has a major impact on everybody.”

The city is exploring a bylaw to protect trees.

The addition could be recommended as part of its urban forest strategy, a final version of which is expected in November. Barwinsky said other city bylaws offer some tree protection for trees on public land, which allows the city to charge compensation fees to those who unlawfully cut them down.

However, the city lacks the authority to protect private trees and would require a provincial change to its charter to do so, Barwinsky said.

A company was penalized for the display home move last year.

Kola Building Movers Ltd. received two tickets under the Highway Traffic Act, including a fine of $3,169 for an overweight load and a separate $298 penalty for height and plate requirement violations, court records show. (The display home also collided with an overhead sign on the Wilkes Avenue overpass at the Perimeter Highway Aug. 11, 2021.)

The City of Winnipeg reached a compensation deal with the company as well, which covers clean-up costs and the value of the damaged trees. The city declined to reveal the amount of money it received.

Twitter: @joyanne_pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga

Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.

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