toronto christmas tree

The story of the Toronto City Hall Christmas tree

Every Christmas for more than 50 years Toronto has paid for a massive white spruce Christmas tree to be placed outside City Hall, and every year the same family company has been given the task of finding a suitable specimen, trucking it downtown, and putting it safely in place in time for the annual Cavalcade of Lights.

Weller Tree Service, a nearly 100-year-old landscaping company based out of Keswick, Ont., entered the Christmas tree business in the 1950s, supplying decorations for banks, hotels, and government offices. Before the city started focusing winter festivities on City Hall in 1966, Weller put up Toronto's tree in front of the Shell Tower on the Exhibition grounds, Wilfred Weller told the Toronto Star in 1983.

That was the year the city's tree was almost felled by marauding football supporters. Argonauts fans celebrating the team's Grey Cup victory over the B.C. Lions attempted to scale the tree, the Star reported. Luckily, despite the mauling, the branches and electric lights were undamaged. Yonge St. was less fortunate. Revellers smashed windows, looted stores, lit fires, and tore down street signs.

1983 also saw Weller deliver an 11-metre balsam to the Bank of Nova Scotia at King and Bay. Queen's Park got an Austrian pine, and the Westin Hotel two: an 8-metre balsam for inside and a 14-metre one for outside.

The Wellers don't actually grow the trees themselves. Instead, the company, now run by Wilfred's sons, scout private properties throughout the year and buy up attractive looking evergreens. This year's tree was sourced from the Bancroft area.

Once felled, the tree is trimmed to size and carefully wrapped so it can be safely transported on a flatbed truck. On arrival at Nathan Phillips Square, it takes a team of about eight people three to four hours to position the tree on its stand where it must remain, undecorated, for three to four days while the leaves and branches settle.

It then takes a full two weeks to wrap the 18-metre white spruce in roughly 3,810 metres of LED lights and hang some 700 ornaments. A cherry picker and other gear is used to assist with the decorating.

At the end of the festive season the city's Christmas tree will be carefully stripped of its ornaments, shredded, and composted along with the other 100,000 dead evergreens collected by city garbage trucks.

Somewhere north of the city another white spruce awaits the same fate in 2015.

Chris Bateman is a staff writer at blogTO. Follow him on Twitter at @chrisbateman.

Image: Jamie Hedworth/blogTO Flickr pool.

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