Old trees razed for refurbishment

Bonnie Belec and James McLeod
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Colonial Building property taking on a new look

Even if the City of St. John’s wanted to save the old trees cut down by the provincial government outside the Colonial Building Thursday, it wouldn’t have been able to, says the city’s deputy mayor.

Ron Ellsworth told The Telegram Thursday evening the province submitted its landscape plan to the city asking for its input, but that’s as far as it went.

“The city doesn’t have any authority, the province doesn’t need any permits and there weren’t any granted as provincial buildings don’t require any permitting from the city, but it did include the city and Newfoundland Historic Trust group when it decided to refurbish the building,” he said.

Ellsworth said city staff looked at the proposed work being done and concluded the damage that would take place would have a detrimental effect on the root system of the old trees and it’s likely they wouldn’t have survived.

 But aside from some of the complaints by residents as well as politicians in the House of Assembly during question period Thursday, the situation is more about informing people, said the deputy mayor.

“I think the biggest issue here — and we can all learn from this in light of the trees coming down — maybe we should have all done a little bit of communication on that piece of the project in the last few weeks,” Ellsworth said.

“Remind people this is going on, the reason why, and this is the rationale. We’re all guilty from time to time a project going on, and we’re guilty of it too at the city, working away, and maybe we need to get a little better of communicating things and reminding people what is being done and why,” he said.

Four trees in front of the historic property on the corner of Military and Bannerman roads in St. John’s were cut down as part of the provincial government’s multimillion-dollar restoration of the Colonial Building and its property.

Tourism, Culture and Recreation Minister Sandy Collins defended the move when he was questioned in the House Thursday by MHA Tom Osborne.

“The Colonial Building Act clearly states that not only the Colonial Building, but also the grounds around the building, are declared a provincial historic dite. When government announced the refurbishment of that site, the overall goal was to respect the historical integrity. Why are you destroying a part of our historic vegetation on such a valuable historic site by destroying the trees on that site just to make room for a fence?” asked the Liberal MHA for St. John’s South.

Collins said the $22.3-million project is a significant piece of work, and the removal of the trees was done for a couple of reasons.

“It was not done to destroy nature, as he had suggested. There were two reasons: remove to reinstate the original landscape design, which was an important piece, obviously; and the other piece of that is construction issues, which necessitated their removal,” said Collins.

“Each tree was not removed haphazardly. It was done with intent and reason. Certainly, that is why it was done.  I think if you look across with regard to stakeholders who were talked to prior to this, they were all in agreement with it,” he said.

Osborne said the trees were probably as old as the building.

“If he is going to return to the original landscape, I would have thought the trees would have been part of it,” he suggested.

Osborne also said as far as he was aware, the city of St. John’s did not know the trees were being destroyed.

“Not only does the minister have such blatant disregard for the value these trees offered that historic site, but the government continues to show blatant disregard to municipalities, especially the capital city,” he said. “How could you have such little foresight for these historic trees without even consulting the capital city?” Osborne asked.

“I will speak about foresight and research the honorable member should have done because I have looked at pictures, the original intent, and what the building originally looked like. We are looking at a building that was built in the 1850s, approximately, and if he looked at pictures — I looked at one earlier today from a riot in 1932, a significant time from when the building was first built — there were no such trees in front of the building,” Collins responded.

Thursday evening the provincial government @GovNL were sending out tweets about the project.

“Heritage Foundation and expert Shane O’Dea approved the landscape design. Our goal is to restore this structure to its original design,” said one.

“Removal of some trees on the grounds was necessary to reinstate the original landscape design and to deal with construction issues,” and “Restoration of the Colonial Building will see it become the flagship Provincial Historic Site and a major tourism attraction.”



Organizations: Newfoundland Historic Trust, Liberal MHA, Heritage Foundation Provincial Historic Site

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Recent comments

  • Dale
    May 16, 2014 - 20:24

    Can I come get the wood?

  • Anna
    May 16, 2014 - 15:07

    Another brillaint mind ,Sandy Collins,I couldn't believe when I drove down Military Road yesterday and saw this destruction. Spending another $23M we can't afford to bring this building back to the 1930s. This is a new position for Mr. Collins and from this seeing this Mr. Marshall should have left him just sitting in the House. What a waste of our taxdollars adding another Minister to the Government. I am so surprised at Tom Marshall, there must be something in the Premier's chair that tell everyone who sits there to ignore the people who pay their salaries.

  • Blighter
    May 16, 2014 - 11:04

    We had to save the heritage by destroying it.

  • canadafirstaid
    May 16, 2014 - 07:56

    "I'm gonna make me a big strong ax, Of shining steel tempered in the fire; I'll chop you down like an old dead tree, Dirty old town, dirty old town." So went the song by the Progues - but best sung by the Irish Desendants!! p.s. Dity ol' Town . . . Dity ol'

  • guy incognito
    May 16, 2014 - 07:44

    I wish we could raze some old trees from council. I guess they will spend thousands putting planting new trees when the landscaping is done? Typical. If a private developer had cut down trees like this there would be hell to pay from the heritage people.

  • dontgetmestarted
    May 16, 2014 - 07:43

    Perhaps they should give the wood to local woodworkers to make something useful out of them.

  • M. Chafe
    May 16, 2014 - 05:49

    This government's decision to destroy our beautiful large old trees is beyond belief. There is a global decline in large old trees, which is having a great impact on our ecosystem's health. I thought our province protect them.

  • Dave Lambert
    May 15, 2014 - 21:23

    Minister Collins, seeing as though you are responsible for culture in the province, you should know that the pictures from a riot in 1932 were pictures from The Riot of 1932. You know the one where the disenchanted with government mob chased the Prime Mininister of Newfoundland form the Colonil Building.