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VIDEO: Nova Scotia gifts giant Cape Breton white spruce tree to Boston

A 43-foot tall white spruce is loaded onto a flatbed truck for the first part of a journey that will eventually take the Richmond County-harvested tree to downtown Boston as a symbol of Nova Scotia’s appreciation for the assistance the Massachusetts city sent to Halifax following the infamous 1917 explosion. Donated by landowners Tony and Heather Sampson of Dundee, this year’s gift will be unveiled in Boston in early December.
A 43-foot tall white spruce is loaded onto a flatbed truck for the first part of a journey that will eventually take the Richmond County-harvested tree to downtown Boston as a symbol of Nova Scotia’s appreciation for the assistance the Massachusetts city sent to Halifax following the infamous 1917 explosion. Donated by landowners Tony and Heather Sampson of Dundee, this year’s gift will be unveiled in Boston in early December. - David Jala

Border-bound for the holidays

GRAND ANSE, N.S. - Recipients of a beautiful Cape Breton white spruce now on its way to Boston might be surprised to discover the Christmas tree has a slight smoky scent. 

But not to worry, the 13-metre-tall tree, grown in a remote forested area of Richmond County, was not threatened by fire prior to being felled on Thursday. 

Instead, the giant spruce was on the receiving end of a smudging ceremony performed by Mi’kmaq elders and sisters Bernadette Marshall of Potlotek and Nora Bernard of Eskasoni. The traditional Indigenous ceremony involves the burning of four sacred plants (cedar, sage, sweetgrass and tobacco) together with the resulting smoke used to “smudge” or purify and cleanse people, other living things and places. 

“We prayed that this tree will help bring peace to a country that needs it and that the long friendship we have with the United States will continue to flourish and grow,” said Marshall, who let the smoke of the smudge stick waft up into the branches and trunk of the tree. 

The beautiful evergreen is this year’s gift from Nova Scotia to the city of Boston. The presentation of a Christmas tree has become an annual tradition to thank the Massachusetts city for the help it provided in the aftermath of the 1917 Halifax explosion that claimed almost 2,000 lives and literally razed much of the city. 


Mi’kmaq First Nations elders Nora Bernard, left, and Bernadette Marshall took some time before the felling of the Boston-bound tree to hold a smudging ceremony in hopes the positive energy of the white spruce will help a troubled United States heal from the divisiveness of its recent presidential election. - David Jala
Mi’kmaq First Nations elders Nora Bernard, left, and Bernadette Marshall took some time before the felling of the Boston-bound tree to hold a smudging ceremony in hopes the positive energy of the white spruce will help a troubled United States heal from the divisiveness of its recent presidential election. - David Jala

The tree was cut down on a plot of land located on Balmoral Road, located about halfway between Grand Anse and Dundee, that is owned by Dundee couple Tony and Heather Sampson. 

“We’re honoured to be able to donate it to the people of Boston – we have connections there and are proud to do this,” said Tony, who lived on the Balmoral Road where the white spruce grew. 

The lot is now overgrown and the house has been moved. But that doesn’t mean Sampson hasn’t been keeping tabs on his property. 

“We watched this tree grow – I’m going to go out on a limb and say it is probably about 40-years-old,” he said. 


Tony and Heather Sampson stand before the giant white spruce they donated from their Richmond County land to the province so it can be sent to Boston as part of Nova Scotia’s annual thank-you to the New England city for the assistance it provided in the aftermath of the 1917 Halifax explosion. - David Jala
Tony and Heather Sampson stand before the giant white spruce they donated from their Richmond County land to the province so it can be sent to Boston as part of Nova Scotia’s annual thank-you to the New England city for the assistance it provided in the aftermath of the 1917 Halifax explosion. - David Jala

He wasn’t far off. Once the tree was felled, Nova Scotia forestry workers counted the rings and determined it was 43 years old. 

About three-dozen people attended the chopping down ceremony, including provincial Lands and Forestry Minister Derek Mombourquette, who said this year’s tree is dedicated to the frontline workers who have been battling COVID-10 for the past eight months. 



“This is a longstanding tradition and it’s just great to see the generosity of Cape Breton come through once again,” said Mombourquette, who was joined at the small ceremony by Cape Breton Canso MP Mike Kelloway and former MP Rodger Cuzner, who Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently appointed as Canada’s consul general to Boston.  

The felling of the tree didn’t take very long. It was professionally carried out by Waddie Long, who is a forestry program instructor at Nova Scotia Community College’s Port Hawkesbury campus.  

He was assisted by a group of his students. One was Pictou County’s Allie Sutherland. 

“I’ve always been interested in the outdoors and I don’t really want to be stuck in an office, so this program sounded really good,” said Sutherland, who along with her classmates cut and collected bundles of tree boughs to serve as a cushion for the big tree on its journey to New England. 

“Today has been awesome. It’s been a tremendous experience and it’s a big deal so I’m excited to be involved.” 


Nova Scotia Community College forestry student Allie Sutherland stands in front of the bottom of the giant white spruce that was chopped down Thursday in a remote corner of Richmond County. Sutherland and her classmates were on hand along with instructor Waddie Long who wielded the chainsaw that felled the mighty tree. - David Jala
Nova Scotia Community College forestry student Allie Sutherland stands in front of the bottom of the giant white spruce that was chopped down Thursday in a remote corner of Richmond County. Sutherland and her classmates were on hand along with instructor Waddie Long who wielded the chainsaw that felled the mighty tree. - David Jala

Once the tree was finally felled, workers used a crane to lift it onto a flatbed truck which was tasked with transporting it to Halifax. From there it will be moved by ship to Portland, Maine, where it will be picked up and trucked to Boston. The large tree will be accompanied by six smaller trees donated by Green Hills Farm in Albert Bridge. 

The lighting of the big tree is scheduled for Dec. 3 and will be televised live on WCVB-TV. 

- David Jala is a reporter with the Cape Breton Post in Sydney. You can follow him on Twitter @CBPost_David. 

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