Winnipeg a city of trees

Post by Daniel Fontaine in



Having moved away from Winnipeg a little over 20 years ago, I've made every effort to go back "home" to visit family as often as possible. Every time I make it back, I can't help but compare Winnipeg to the 22 cities that make up my new home in Metro Vancouver.

There are the obvious comparisons regarding scenery, topography, weather and such. Those are the easy ones. But if you dig a little deeper, you can find other interesting comparisons where Winnipeg either comes out on top or is within striking distance of Vancouver.

One of those where I think Winnipeg comes out on top is the subject of trees. No matter where you drive in Winnipeg you can't help but be amazed by the quantity and sheer size of the trees throughout almost every neighbhourhood. The most majestic of them all is the Dutch Elm which features prominently throughout the city.

To demonstrate what I mean, I took a photo high above a 15 story tower in South Winnipeg (see above) to give you a sense of how the city is covered in a large green canopy. In the summer, this canopy provides much-needed relief from those hot sweltering days that envelop Winnipeg.

Although you realize the city is green from the ground, you gain a much better appreciation for it when you fly over it. For the most part, the land surrounding Winnipeg is often dry, brown and seemingly lifeless. This is in stark contrast the the City of Winnipeg which appears like is an oasis in the midst of a prairie desert.

If we compare this to Vancouver, which often has tourists commenting how "green" the city looks, I think Winnipeg measures up quite well. At first blush you would think this wouldn't make sense considering that Vancouver is in a rain forest. However, you need to take a little walk down memory lane to better understand how we got to where we are today.

Firstly, a hundred and fifty years ago, the majority of what we know as Metro Vancouver looked like Stanley Park. It was densely covered with old growth cedar and hemlock trees for as far as the eye could see. Over time, as people into the region, tens of thousands of those mature trees were cut down to make way for property development. It their place a number of smaller trees were planted on boulevards and parks. In other words Vancouver's pre-existing green canopy was removed and replaced with a much smaller one.

In Winnipeg, they had the opposite problem. As people moved into the region they discovered nothing but barren prairie with little shade to provide protection from the summer sun. That's when the City's forefathers began a massive tree planting campaign. Those same trees are now what form the massive canopy covering most of the Winnipeg today.

About 20 years ago, the city had a huge scare as Dutch Elm disease threatened to kill all of the mature elms in the Winnipeg. Thankfully the city implemented a mitigation program which has successfully maintained most of the city's mature tree stock.

There are a lot of things you can pick on Winnipeg for, but a lack of green space and trees is not one of them.


At the risk of sounding anti-tree, I like the way Granville looks now precisely because they removed the trees. Trees can be great in the city, but sometimes it seems Vancouver uses them to try and hide the fact that it is indeed a city. Someone recently pointed me to an interview Fred Herzog did a few years age where he expresses a similar sentiment in talking about a photo he took at Granville and Smithe in the '50s:

"If you go to this spot on Granville street, all you see is trees. That’s gone. Everything that had teeth. This is what bothers me about the city. Everything that had interest or teeth or contradiction or American blaring culture which makes our cities interesting. Take that away and it’s all grey. That all has been taken away. So now we go to Granville street, it almost looks like an East German slum. It’s not nice."

I believe Stanley Park was also clear cut in the mid to late 1800's.

The trees in Winnipeg are American Elm. The disease they get is Dutch Elm. Dutch Elm is not a species.

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