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What Happened to Burlington’s Roly Bird Horse Chestnut Tree?

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Over the holidays, we had to say good-bye to a beloved City of Burlington landmark.

The Roly Bird Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) tree (known as ‘The Tree of Good Fortune’, located on the northeast side of Burlington City Hall shadowing Burlington’s Cenotaph, had to be removed. During a powerful 2018 windstorm with wind gust exceeding 100 km/h, the Roly Bird Horse Chestnut suffered a major limb failure exposing rot in the tree. Since then, Forestry staff have performed both aerial inspections and resistograph testing of the tree to investigate the extent of the decay.

Unfortunately, results showed extensive decay in both main stems of the tree’s canopy. Also, staff determined that based on the location and extent of the rot in the canopy, no amount of pruning or re-cabling could mitigate the risk to public safety. So, the tree had to be removed. It was done during the holiday closure of City Hall to safely remove the tree with reduced pedestrian traffic in the area. A sign was left up during the holidays explaining what had happened.

However, all is not lost. Staff will work to remove the stump of the tree and in the spring of 2020, we will replant a new Horse Chestnut tree in the same place.

Next to the tree were two plaques explaining its significance. The first plaque read:

The Tree of Good Fortune

dedicated to ROLY BIRD Mayor of Burlington 1978-1991

in honour of the faith and ambition he instilled in the recipients of the tree’s fruit.

Tuesday, May 26, 1992

In December 1978 this horse chestnut tree was named by Mayor Roly Bird as “THE TREE OF GOOD FORTUNE”.

During Mayor Bird’s term of office (1978-1991), he gathered the horse chestnuts from this tree in the fall and presented them throughout the year to citizens of the City, visitors to Burlington and political dignitaries.

When Mayor Bird honoured someone with a souvenir chestnut, he offered the following words of wisdom…

“This is the fruit of THE TREE OF GOOD FORTUNE. If you accept this fruit and believe, have faith and work very hard in life, you will achieve all of the goals and objectives you set for yourself, and everything that you aspire to will come to pass. You must, however, continue to hold on to the fruit of 

THE TREE OF GOOD FORTUNE,

to have belief, great faith, and especially work hard, and the fruit of

THE TREE OF GOOD FORTUNE

will greatly assist you as you move through this life.”

During the 2019 trip of the Official Burlington Delegation to the City of Itabashi, Japan to commemorate the 30th anniversary of our twinning relationship, I presented a horse chestnut from our Tree of Good Fortune to Itabashi Mayor Sakakmoto.

The second plaque next to the tree read:

This chestnut tree was planted from seed by Dr. Wilber Weaver and is plaqued in remembrance of the significance of this location to Burlington’s heritage.

After the tree was taken down over the holidays, city staff began working with the Burlington Sculptors and Woodcarvers Guild to give them planks of wood from the tree for its members to use.

— Mayor Marianne Meed Ward

MY TAKE:

This was an important tree and piece of Burlington’s history. I was truly sad to hear of the damage it suffered and that nothing could be done to save it, while ensuring the public safety of our residents. But, I’m happy that staff will be looking to plant another horse chestnut tree in its place as a symbol of the original to commemorate Burlington’s rich history. As well, I’m glad wood planks from the original tree will be donated to our local woodcarvers guild — I’m sure their members will make beautiful pieces to extend the life of this important Burlington tree.

*Posted by John Bkila, Mayor’s Media and Digital Communications Specialist

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5 thoughts on “What Happened to Burlington’s Roly Bird Horse Chestnut Tree?”

  1. Elizabeth Haswell

    Sentimental feelings about Burlington trees make good memories. Peter Woolly, a life time resident of Burlington, tells a tree story that I find highly amusing. It seems that once a year, in the 40s and maybe before, the gentlemen of Burlington were asked to bring their guns and rifles on a certain day, not to kill the hundreds of crows that gathered there, but to scare them away. The tree existed on the corner of Brant St. and Elgin, where there were hydro towers. A picture of this fun-filled event exists to this day at Smith Funeral Home. Can you imagine doing that in this day and age?

  2. Does the mayor believe that this notification is in tune with her commitment under Schedule B Section 11 of the Code of Good Governance and would the public have got any notification at all (other than a notice beside the tree) if we had not asked the Ward 2 Councillor, Lisa Kearns on twitter why the Chestnut Tree so many of us loved was axed.

    Section 11 We will communicate information to the public in ways that are accurate, timely and in the interest of the Corporation.

    Many members of the public would have liked an opportunity to have one last look at this beautiful tree that and some would call part of our heritage – failure to keep this commitment denied that opportunity.

    1. Hi Anne and David,
      This is John Bkila, the Mayor’s Media and Digital Communications Specialist. I’m afraid I have to take responsibility for this one – we had every intention to publish a post on the Mayor’s blog before the holidays to let residents know of the tree coming down. However, due to December being budget time and there were updates to the City’s Interim Control Bylaw process and the re-examining of the downtown policies for the Official Plan that needed to be shared as soon as possible, I regretfully didn’t have an opportunity to put together a post on the tree coming down and publish it before the holidays — while ensuring residents were up to date and informed on everything budget-related and the upcoming meetings in January 2020 regarding the ICBL and downtown.

      In the future, the Mayor’s Office will endeavour to work with our internal communications partners to keep residents informed as efficiently as we can. Thank you for your comment on the Mayor’s website.

  3. Grahame Richards

    Dr. Weaver was our family doctor for many years until he retired in his 90’s. As a child he often gave you a chestnut after your visit and told you to plant it at home.

  4. Thank you Marianne for all these little one time occurrences and details provided to residents… I have beautiful pictures of this tree over the years.
    I still remember the ceremony you arranged when we had to say goodbye to the Spencer Weeping Willows. That was hard for so many of us and you respected that…. thanks.

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