Bob Campbell's 16-metre white spruce in the front yard of their Cape Breton home cut down Nov. 15 and prepared for a 1,200 km journey to the Boston Common. Photo courtesy of the Government of Nova Scotia

Tree for Boston an annual thank-you for Nova Scotians

  • November 30, 2017
Government of Nova Scotia/Youtube
There was one little chore that Bob Campbell had put off for years at his Cape Breton home — entering the Tree for Boston contest.

He can now triumphantly cross that item off his to-do list. On Nov. 15, Campbell and his wife Marion watched the 16-metre white spruce in their front yard cut down and prepared for a 1,200 km journey to the Boston Common.

The delivery of a Nova Scotian tree for Christmas has been an annual tradition since 1971. The very first tree was delivered in December 1918, as a thank-you gift to Boston for sending relief supplies and medical personnel in the wake of the devastating Halifax Explosion the year before. 

Tree candidates from across the province are submitted for consideration to the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources and undergo a lengthy judging process. For the centennial commemoration of the Halifax Explosion, the province was looking for a showstopper of a tree. 

They found it in the Campbell’s front yard in the small community of Blue’s Mills on Cape Breton. 

“We had talked about entering the contest for years, but we never got around to it,” said Campbell. 

A self-described proud Nova Scotian with deep family ties to the province, Campbell says the Tree for Boston tradition is close to their hearts. 

“Both my wife and I’s families have been in Nova Scotia since the 1800s. We also have extended family in Boston.” 

On Dec. 6, 1917, two ships collided in the Halifax Harbour, setting off a cargo of explosives with the force of about 3,000 tons of TNT, killing 2,000. When word of the catastrophe reached Boston, they sent a relief train the same day. 

“They sent a fully-loaded relief train with medical supplies and diverted nearby ships to come and help us,” said Campbell. “The tree is a token of appreciation from our province to the people of Boston. They went to such tremendous efforts to help us after a terrible tragedy.”

“(The Campbell’s tree) is absolutely beautiful,” said Tim Whynot, manager of Stewardship and Outreach for the Department of Natural Resources. “It’s healthy and it’s only 54 years old. That’s very young for a tree that size.”

According to Campbell, the tree had never been shaped or trimmed. “Just a few branches from the bottom so we could fit the lawnmower underneath.” 

Whynot says his department receives an average of 20 submissions for the tree contest each year, most of which come in during the Christmas season.

“We take photo submissions from the public and do a quick assessment,” said Whynot. “If it looks like it might be suitable, we will send staff members to assess and score it. We judge the tree on details like height, density, symmetry, overall heath and branch angles.” 

The tree made an appearance in the Halifax Parade of Lights before its two-day journey to Boston on a flatbed truck. It arrived by police escort Nov. 21, nine days ahead of the official tree-lighting ceremony.

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