(featured July 2004)
Have you heard about the huge totem pole we have here on the island of Newfoundland?
We call it the Heritage Tree of Newfoundland and Labrador and if you ever come to visit Newfoundland’s west coast you can see it right from the Trans Canada Highway.
But let me tell you why you should stop and have a much closer look at this 52 feet high, 4.5 foot wide 9 ton phenomenal work of art!
Do you like exquisite wood carvings made by human hands?
Then this Heritage Tree is for your eyes ! It has 56 incredible carvings brought forth from the tree that depict the Newfoundland way of life that goes back long before the arrival of the Vikings ( 999AD) right to Joey Smallwood(1949) and the Hibernia Oil rigs of today off our east coast. It’s all there on the Heritage Tree – icebergs, puffins, a Newfoundland dog,Heritage Tree1 John Cabot,(1497), Sir Humphrey Gilbert (1583), Dr. Sir Wilfred Grenfell, Shanadithit (last of the Beothuck race), resettlement, coat of arms, a Viking Knarr(ship), a Maritime Archaic Indian(4500BC), Churchill Falls, The Nfld and Labrador flags, moose, The Dorset Eskimo Archeological quarry site, Signal Hill(Marconi), Newfoundland 20 cent piece, The Newfoundland Forest Rangers, The Button Accordion and so much more!
Just travel down the TCH (Trans Canada Highway) about 8 kms east of Newfoundland’s city of Corner Brook and you’ll arrive in the little town of Steady Brook. Right there in the majestic Humber Valley in front of the Marble Mountain downhill ski mountains, you’ll find the Heritage Tree. Take exit 8 and a hundred yards away you’ll view this 417 year old freshly cut totempole-like structure standing solid, historical and wonderful.
Being part of the Heritage Tree committee I proudly stood there almost every day watching the “artisans du bois” carve away at this awesome 65 foot massive log. Wood carver Bernard Benoit, who carved about 48% of the Tree himself over two years, used to smile at me whenever I’d say, “I have another drawing for you Bernie!!” Then I’d joke with him and say, “Gosh you have an easy life just chipping away at wood and being paid for it! Sure we all know the image is already in the wood just waiting to come out!”
Heritage Tree2″Ah, but Mike…,” Bernie would humorously retort with his great wit, “It takes an ‘artist’ to know where that image is within the tree!”
To see these artists work was amazing. Bernie, Scott Butt, Colin Mahoney and Norman Young were four dedicated artists who chipped at this huge cedar tree every day in rain, wind, hot sun and cold snow. Then in the evening for relaxation in the cabin we provided for them, each would have their own little project to work on. Bernie was forever working on this junk of birch making it into an eagle with a snake in its claws. Colin would play his guitar, Scott would work on some brilliant aboriginal idea and Norman would work with soap stone. Their relaxation time was always of an artistic nature.
But whose idea was it to have a Heritage Tree?
Trevor Bennett, a good friend of mine, a walking Newfoundland Heritage Treeencyclopedia, a man of many years, a gifted poet, even the Mayor of Steady Brook at the time, was the brainchild behind the Tree. Trevor is the son of the famous England-born Nurse Myra Bennett who faithfully served the people of Newfoundland’s Northern Peninsula for 80 years delivering thousands of babies and even pulling over 5000 teeth in her lifetime!
Trevor had always wanted to illustrate the history, culture and heritage of Newfoundland in some sort of visible way besides his writings and his poems. So one day it hit him when he was asked in 1996 what his town of Steady Brook was going to do to contribute and celebrate the 1999 Jeux du Canada Winter games. Why not find a tree big enough and carve out images and icons and historic incidents that represented Newfoundland and Labrador?
But where could such a tree be found?
He needed a tree that would be BIG enough and that would last hundreds of years? One of those huge British Columbia cedar trees would do the job!
That’s where Newfoundlander Dan Preshyon entered the picture. He was working at the time for Western Forests Products of B.C and was given permission to cut a 65 foot section of a 5 ft. wide cedar tree and it was graciously donated to the cause. With Newfoundlanders all across Canada lending their time and equipment to transport the Tree across our great Nation, the Tree arrived in Newfoundland and ended up at the site at Marble Mountain. It was placed under a huge military-donated tent and the first carvings on the tree started with the tree on its side.
The tree was then erected on Feb 2nd,1999, the top part completed first, just in time for the Jeux du Canada 1999 Winter Games and was an awesome sight to see. The following two summers, the carvers went back at the tree and, using up to three tiers of scaffolding, finished the lower half carvings out in the open. Razor sharp chisels flicked fragrant smelling cedar chips much to the delight of tourists who watched, gathered souvenirs, and marveled at the images seemingly coming forth from the cedar wood.
Today the Heritage Tree stands completed but the project is a never ending love story. Funds are needed for a wheelchair boardwalk around the Tree, viewing telescopes, spotlights, descriptive panels and a small interpretation center.. Donations from anyone with an interest in preserving our Newfoundland heritage and culture are greatly welcome. For instance, even just a small donation (a loonie will even do) and a 49 cent stamp placed in an envelope and sent to me, PR person Mike Madigan, will have me return to you an autumn coloured postcard of the Heritage Tree. Just be sure to have your address in the envelope and I’ll transfer it and your stamp to the postcard. (see below for web site and address and info)
And finally, if you are interested in suggesting a final carving, there is ONE space left that is entitled “For a Future Carving”. If you know your Newfoundland history, suggest with your donation, a person, scene or icon for this vacant area on the Tree. The committee would love to hear from you. Think about this: when this tree was first beginning to grow 417 years ago from a small seedling, Sir Humphrey Gilbert was just claiming Newfoundland for England in 1583. So there is no time like the present to help out in any way possible.
In fact, as our committee likes to say, “This Heritage Tree is our past, our future, and our PRESENT to YOU!” Hopefully it will stand for generations to come.