Mary and John Streets, June 2013

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Sprucing Up the Neighbourhood

When you stroll through our Uptown neighbourhood you will notice Norway spruce trees dotting the landscape.  Soaring in many back, side and front yards, they are all a uniform size.  These trees were planted by schoolchildren in the 1920s.

Before Elizabeth Ziegler Public School was built our neighbourhood kids went across King Street to attend Alexandra School (ingeniously re-adapted into condos in 2000).  To celebrate Arbour Day, every student was given a seedling to take home.  Years ago I met the woman who grew up in my house in the 1920s.  She and her brother, children of George H. Skelton, each planted a Norway spruce in the backyard.  Hers has survived and towers above our house at 40 George Street.

A Norway spruce behind 40 George Street.
Arbour Day was started in Nebraska in 1872 by J. Sterling Morton.  He was a journalist from the east coast who eventually became Secretary of the Nebraska Territory.  He recognized the need for trees as a source of shade, for wind breaks, for fuel, to keep soils in place, and for building materials.  He proposed an annual day where trees would be planted, and chose a time in April.  That first Arbour Day saw over one million trees planted throughout the Territory.   By the 1880s several states and some provinces had adopted Arbour Day as the last Friday in April.

Mature trees are one of the elements that attracted many of us to live in the Mary-Allen neighbourhood.  

We have school children from 90 years ago to thank for the Norway spruces, part of our tree-graced urban landscape.  If you have more information on Arbour Day, or if you were one of the people planting trees in the Uptown to celebrate it, please let us know.

A Norway spruce behind 52 Willow Street.


  1. Thanks for the article, Tricia. Walking though the neighbourhood today, I counted dozens of Norway spruces - giants, twice as tall as the rooftops. At the very bottom of this blog, see a yesterday/today photo that I just posted of the line of Norway spruces in front of St. Louis Catholic Church; c. 1900, and Jan. 2013

    In our area a century ago, this species was a very popular choice for planting. Does anyone know the reason for this? Norway spruce are certainly fast-growing and hardy. On farmsteads, these trees were frequently arranged in a line as a windbreak. They were also often planted around newly built churches, and seem to have been popular trees for house lots in our cities and towns. Some lines of them planted on house lots even seem positioned to function as shade from the sun.

    In May 1897, the Waterloo Chronicle noted that spruce trees (likely Norway spruce) were newly planted in two town park areas, at King and William Streets, and at Albert and Water (Dorset) Streets. This may have been part of the local "beautification" for Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee celebrations the following month. Today there are still Norway spruce trees in the park at King and William.

  2. According to the Arbor Day Foundation website Norway spruces grow in various soils, and are the "fastest growing of the spruces. Develops strong graceful branches that are covered with dark green needles. Ideal windbreaker. Matures at 60'; 25' spread. (zones 3-7)". I imagine they were the tree of choice for those reasons.


Your comments and suggestions are appreciated!