Documenting a Heritage Tree: Digital Preservation of Calgary’s Stampede Elm

Editor’s note: Digital documentation of the Stampede Elm was conducted by Dr. Peter Dawson and Madisen Hvidberg from the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology at the University of Calgary, in partnership with the City of Calgary. A digital archive post of the Stampede Elm, created by University of Calgary archaeology PhD students Christina Robinson and Madisen Hvidberg, can be found here.

Written by: Madisen Hvidberg, MA

When asked to think of something that is “heritage,” what comes to mind? Most likely you will think of things like grand monuments, temples and old buildings. Maybe you know some specific UNESCO World Heritage Sites, or you think of archaeological heritage like excavations and artifacts. No matter what you think of, I would guess that it is probably unlikely that your first thought was…a tree.

Biological and living heritage sites can also be testaments to history. Gardens, parks and trees can represent past initiatives for beautification or utilitarian uses of the plants, and can be just as much of a part of the heritage of a place as buildings or objects. In North America much of the biological heritage within major cities is related to European settler aesthetic for planted trees and gardens, a desire to add more wind breaks in open areas, and the City Beautiful Movement of the 1890s and 1900s. The City Beautiful Movement was a reform philosophy popular in the early development of North American cities, which suggested beautification would promote social harmony and as such led to the establishment of many parks, gardens and tree-lined boulevards.

Calgary’s History of Trees

Calgary was no exception to the influences of this movement, which were largely brought to the city by William Pearce who envisioned Calgary as a “city of trees”. Pearce was a surveyor, engineer and statistician, and when appointed as an inspector for the Dominion Land Agencies in 1884, he used his position to reserve land along the north side of the Bow River. That land today is Calgary’s landmark boulevard Memorial Drive. Pearce reserved other lands for parks and started a local tree farm to find different types of trees that could grow in Calgary’s climate, with the goal of encouraging Calgarians to plant their own gardens and groves.

William Pearce, ca 1880. Source: Glenbow Archives, NA-339-1.
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