After a century greeting travellers, halfway tree’s days are numbered
Read this article for free:
Already have an account? Log in here »
To continue reading, please subscribe:
Monthly Digital Subscription
$4.75 per week*
- Enjoy unlimited reading on winnipegfreepress.com
- Read the E-Edition, our digital replica newspaper
- Access News Break, our award-winning app
- Play interactive puzzles
*Billed as $19.00 plus GST every four weeks. Cancel anytime.
Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/08/2022 (287 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The beloved halfway tree between Winnipeg and Brandon has been the site of marriage proposals and family picnics.
It even survived a fire.
The tree is impossible to miss — the billowing, 85-foot cottonwood tree has stood as a beacon next to the Trans-Canada Highway since it was planted over a century ago. For travellers who make the two-and-a-half-hour trip between Manitoba’s largest cities, it signals the “halfway” point.
The tree, which was planted between 1917 and 1919, is suspected to be 60 to 70 per cent dead. Cottonwood trees typically don’t live past 100 years old, but the halfway tree still stands today, albeit with a slouch.
Elaine Kalberg lives a five-minute walk away from the tree on her family farm. Her father, who was born in 1932, lived there his entire life. He grew up with the tree, and so did she.
“It’s certainly felt like our tree for a long time, but there are so many people who refer to it as their own tree,” Kalberg said.
Kalberg’s cousin reached out to arborist Carl Epp and invited him to examine the tree. Epp is currently assessing the tree’s health, but Kalberg said they suspect much of it is dead.
“It doesn’t have that much longer to go,” Kalberg said. “It won’t topple right away, but it won’t be around for another 50 years.”
The tree holds a special place in the hearts of people who routinely travel on that stretch of highway. On Facebook, the Halfway Tree Fan Club boasts 1,800 members. Each week, a flood of posts comes in from visitors who share sunset captures and sentimental moments.
Later in life, Kalberg learned the tree had been planted by Fred Archer, in memory of his wife and child who had died during childbirth. One of the trees was cut down after the highway construction split it, but its sister tree has lived a century and counting.
In 2007, James Harder proposed to his wife, Karlene, under the halfway tree. This month, the couple celebrated their 15th anniversary.
“It was symbolic, partly because I grew up in the region and called MacGregor my hometown,” Harder wrote in an email to the Free Press. “At the time I was going to university in Brandon and my wife was working in Winnipeg, so the tree was an important waypoint on our trips to see each other.”
It’s safe to say thousands of people have been touched by the tree’s comforting presence.
“It means so much to so many people because everyone has their own special meaning for that tree,” Kalberg said. “It sets a landmark that can be shared. And I’ll be sad to see it go.”
On Facebook, some are beginning to grieve for the tree, but its memory lives on in digital archives, familial stories and the solace it has brought to drivers on the Trans-Canada Highway.
Updated on Saturday, August 27, 2022 1:04 PM CDT: Adds correct photo of tree