‘It’s a constant in our lives’: Nova Scotians mourn iconic tree felled by Fiona

Amid damaged utility poles and flooded homes ravaged by post-tropical storm Fiona, there was a smaller disaster that united Nova Scotians in a widespread outpouring of heartfelt grief.

« Whoever points out a road trip and welcomes you home…is gone, » Amanda Dodsworth wrote on Facebook.

« It had withstood about 300 years of storms, but could not withstand this one. My heart [sic] so sad that this tree will never welcome me home again. »

Hurricane-force winds Fiona unleashed on the Atlantic provinces over the weekend felled the red oak that stood alone and adored in a field along Highway 102. Known as the Stewiacke or Shubie tree or sometimes just “the tree”, it has captivated Nova Scotians with its serene and solitary presence, seen by many as a welcoming sentinel on the journey between Truro and Halifax.

The tree lies in the field after being felled by Fiona. (Len Wagg)

“Every time I post the tree people talk about what it means to them,” said Len Wagg, a local photographer who estimated he took thousands of photos of the tree.

« And it was always words like, this is my home. It was words like, this is my touchstone. It’s words like, I know it’ll be alright when the tree is alright . »

The red oak was around 300 years old and has been photographed thousands of times by professionals and amateurs. It had a sturdy trunk under an almost perfect halo of spreading branches that were as elegant silhouetted against the sunrise as they were dusted with fresh snow.

A tree stands tall in a field of snow as the winter sun shines behind it.
Photographer Len Wagg says he has taken thousands of photos of the tree over the years. (Len Wagg)

Wagg said he went straight to the field when he learned of the tree on Saturday morning and took photos of the ancient giant lying broken and defeated on the sodden ground. Her Facebook post has been shared almost 4,000 times – along with photos and tributes from other photographers, all shared with loving parting words.

« I LOVE this tree! » wrote Staci Cornett on Facebook. « I’ve always felt like it symbolized bravery, strength and the loneliness of standing up against the elements. It just goes to show that even the best can break. »

The tree was on private property and the owners declined an interview with CBC on Sunday. Wagg said he spoke to them before taking his final photos and said, like so many others, they were saddened by the sudden end of the tree.

The sun peaks above the horizon as the tree looms in the foreground.
Many commuters and travelers admired the tree when passing it on the highway. (Len Wagg)

Although the field is privately owned, Wagg said the tree has nonetheless played a role in countless lives over many years.

« People got married under this tree. People got engaged under this tree, » he said. « People had their birthdays, you know, pictures of their kids taken under that tree. How many hundreds of thousands of trees came out this weekend, but…that one hit hard. It’s a constant in our lives that fell apart. »


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