Who Attacked the Trees? Visitors to Halifax Public Gardens Stunned Two Years After the Crime – Halifax

Who Attacked the Trees? Visitors to Halifax Public Gardens Stunned Two Years After the Crime – Halifax

Many trees in a Victorian-era public garden in downtown Halifax that were attacked nearly two years ago are showing remarkable signs of recovery, but visitors to the urban oasis are still puzzled by the mysterious, unsolved crime.

In the summer of 2022, sometime between July 25 and 26, an individual or group scaled the fence of the Halifax Public Gardens and hacked away at the bark of approximately 30 trees, encircling them—a method of killing trees without cutting them down. The targeted trees, all between 50 and 250 years old, were attacked with what appeared to be an axe or small ax.

The ring incident has had a lasting impact on the community and remains a topic of conversation among tree lovers, who are still baffled by the vandalism nearly two years later.

“It’s just horrifying,” Lois McVannel, a Halifax woman who often visits the gardens, said in an interview Tuesday. “And the biggest question is, what was the point? What was the statement they were making?”

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She and her friends make sure that damaged trees are inspected as they walk through the park. She pointed to a 200-year-old, massive weeping beech that was heavily rimmed and said, “I always want to see how this tree is doing.”

“Sometimes we go and sit with her. Just to be with her,” she said of the beech.

“And she looks really good. They’ve taken really good care of her and it looks like she’s starting to get scabs… So I’m really pleased that the public gardens and the public in general have taken this so seriously.”

Stan Kochanoff, a tree surgeon with nearly 50 years of experience who has treated the trees in the gardens, says he is hopeful they will heal because he sees signs of callus formation on their bark and because the trees have “budded” — meaning they put out leaves or flowers this spring.

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“Even the worst ones that were really severely contained are still there, so that’s very encouraging,” Kochanoff said in a recent interview.

“That callus layer is a kind of bridge between open areas. It ensures that the cambium layer, the growing layer, can roll over and the wound can heal.”

While Kochanoff is optimistic about the trees’ recovery and the ongoing work to help them heal, he still wonders who is behind the ring-eared trees.

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“Whoever it was, they knew what they were doing. And they clearly knew which trees to attack… they knew the valuable trees,” he said, noting that significant damage had been done to a plane tree and the huge weeping beech, both of which are around 200 years old.

Kochanoff said he believes the 2022 tree strikes are unique in North America. “I brought it up to some of my colleagues in the American Society of Consulting Arborists to see if they had ever seen anything like this, and no one had ever heard of anything like this,” he said.

Judith Cabrita, president of the neighborhood group Friends of the Public Gardens, says people who visit the information center regularly “ask how the trees are doing and complain that this has happened.”

“Like many, we don’t walk around the gardens without looking at the trees and seeing how they’re doing,” she said. Visitors to the gardens tell volunteers at the information center that they are stunned by the crime and can’t imagine who would destroy such a special place, Cabrita said.

In 2022, Friends of the Public Gardens and the foundation’s president offered a $50,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction. The offer was valid until December 30, 2022, but no leads were received and Halifax Regional Police closed their investigation in January 2023.

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Const. Ann Giffin said in an email that there was no evidence to identify a suspect in the tree-ring incident, adding that police would reopen the file if new information came to light.

Since the vandalism, security in the gardens has been increased at night and cameras have been installed.

The Halifax Regional Municipality declined to make staff available for an interview, saying in an emailed statement that “most of the damaged trees have sprouted back as expected this year, although we are beginning to lose some of the more severely damaged specimens.”

The municipality would not provide details about which trees will be lost or how many trees appear to be in poor health.

“It may take years for the trees to grow again before the full extent of the damage is visible,” the statement said.

Kochanoff said it will indeed take time to know what will happen to the trees, and that next year will tell a lot.

“I think next year, the third year, we’ll really know, and if they all come out and look healthy, I think we’ve won the battle,” he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 9, 2024.

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