Every year, Winnipeg’s City Hall erects a large Christmas tree in its courtyard at the corner of Main St. and Market Ave. The tree is usually donated by a local homeowner. This year’s 12-metre Colorado Blue Spruce was donated by Ron Gerth, from his home on Doubleday Drive in the Maples. This year, the tree was ceremonially lit for the first time on Nov. 26.
Donated trees must be:
- 12m-15m (40′-50′) in height
- fully symmetrical with a single trunk and no brown needles
- in the home’s front yard and easily accessible by city crews
The homeowner receives no compensation, but city crews will remove the stump and clean up the debris at no cost.
A 32,000 kg crane is used to remove the tree and place it on a flatbed truck. The tree is tied down to a width of 3-metres to allow for road travel. It is then transported by flatbed to City Hall, where a crane will be used to raise and position the tree in the courtyard.
There are usually between 9,000 and 11,000 LED lights on the tree. Once the tree is decorated, it may weigh over 1800 kg (4000 lbs).
I tried to find out more about the tradition of the City Hall Christmas tree, so I contacted 311, who referred my question to City Hall. After waiting two weeks without receiving a reply, I contacted them again. I was told that the Forestry Branch had placed a note in the file saying only that the tradition “wasn’t recent”.
A search of the Winnipeg Free Press archives proved more fruitful. In the “Anytime” column (a Q & A column) for Dec. 22, 1978, a Free Press reader asked where the City Hall Christmas tree came from and how many lights were on it. The answer stated that the annual tree came from various places and that an ad was placed in newspapers every year asking for the donation of a tree that was approximately 35′ (10.7 m) tall. In 1978, the tree came from the future site of the St. Vital Shopping Centre, which was beginning construction at the time. The advertisement for locally donated trees only began six or seven years earlier, which places the custom starting in 1971-72. A Parks & Recreation spokesman was quoted as saying that prior to this, “the city journeyed into the country for trees”.
Going back further, the old “Gingerbread” city hall had two large Christmas trees in front of the building every year until it was demolished in 1962. A Oct. 31, 1962 article in the Winnipeg Free Press stated that there would be no trees that year because there was no room for them now that the area was a construction site. It also stated that the trees had been an annual tradition for over 25 years, which would date the custom to the late 1930s. These trees presumably came from the country.