Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Dozens flock to Boston Common for annual Nova Scotian tree arrival tradition

Nick Peace
A man dressed as Santa Claus stands in front of the Nova Scotia tree and greets participants.

The chilly air around the Boston Common Visitors Center resounded with Christmas music and holiday spirit last Tuesday morning. The occasion marked the annual arrival of a Christmas tree donated to the city by Nova Scotia.

A man dressed as Santa Claus representing the Boston Parks and Recreation Department handed out candy canes to children. Surrounding him, Boston Police officers bearing Nova Scotian flags filled the Common beside dozens of community members and several organizations to watch the tree be raised.

A man dressed as Santa Claus takes pictures with the crowd. (Nick Peace for The Beacon)

This year’s tree was a 40-year-old, 45-foot-tall evergreen white spruce donated by Bette Gourley of Stewiacke, Nova Scotia, and her family.

The tree left the Nova Scotian capital of Halifax on Nov. 19 and was unveiled in Boston on Nov. 21, making a three-day, more than 600-mile journey before coming to its final destination on the Boston Common. Nova Scotia will also donate six smaller trees to local charities in Boston.

The tree donation from Nova Scotia is a tradition demonstrating the friendship between Boston and the Canadian province. 

This bond formed in 1917 after a French cargo ship carrying large amounts of high explosives collided with a Norwegian vessel in the waters of Halifax, Nova Scotia, causing a massive explosion.

It was the largest human-made explosion at the time, releasing about 2.9 kilotons of TNT with pieces of the cargo ship, the “Mount Blanc,” landing as far as 3.5 miles away from the collision site. A concurrent blizzard dropping 16 inches of snow made the situation even more dire.  

Following the explosion, former Boston Governor Samuel McCall formed the Halifax Relief Expedition, which sent a train filled with doctors and Red Cross workers from Massachusetts and Maine to support the community in need. 

After setting up emergency hospitals to treat people, a second train came up from Boston with more doctors, clothing, food, and $10,000 cash to provide continued aid to Halifax. 

This year marks the 106th anniversary of the explosion. In 1918, the inaugural tree was gifted to the city of Boston. The tradition resumed 52 years ago in 1971 and continues today. 

Workers begin to take off the tree from the truck. The tree is a gift from Nova Scotia that is part of a more than a century-old tradition of friendship and cooperation between Boston and the Canadian province. (Nick Peace for The Beacon)

This year, multiple organizations gathered to celebrate. Third-grade students from Mather Elementary School, the oldest elementary school in North America, have a pen pal program with students from an elementary school in Halifax who saw the tree leave Nova Scotia. The students of Mather traveled to the Common to celebrate the arrival of the tree, bringing homemade comic strips depicting the tree’s arrival to help the students improve their reading ability.

“It’s important to highlight [this connection]. Even though it is a different country, we have so many things in common,” Mather teacher Mary Kate McKinnon said. “It’s just nice to assemble a symbol of friendship between the two cities.”   

Also among those in attendance were members of the Walk The Beat programs in the North End and Cambridge. Walk The Beat is a senior citizen walking group created by Boston Police officers and their community liaisons, aimed at promoting strong community relations with Boston Police and healthy lifestyles for senior citizens. 

The group attends field trips with BPD and has attended the tree arrival throughout the past several years. Boston Police officers were in the festive spirit themselves as they distributed hot chocolate and took pictures with the seniors and Santa Claus.

“I think [the tradition] is marvelous,” Cambridge Walk The Beat member Sheila McGonagle said. “I think it’s great they get a crowd [to come to watch it].” 

Students and staff from English High School’s multi-handicap special education program were also there to celebrate the event for their second year.

Lauren Wichland, a special education teacher at English High School, described the event as a fun and educational experience for her students.

“We talked a lot about the tradition of the gift of the tree from Nova Scotia,” Wichland said. “It’s really good to see it in action.”

The event also draws many Nova Scotian expatriates and tourists in Boston who come out to show their support for the tradition.

Barbara Madalene Gedde is a resident of Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, who traveled from Salem to Boston to celebrate her birthday by seeing the tree arrive in Boston Common. 

“This [tradition] says a lot to how we feel about … the fact that Bostonians came to the aid of Haligonians in 1917 during the explosion and the aftermath, [and] how we still feel to this day over 100 years later,” Gedde said. “[We are] so grateful for the help.”

Liz Sullivan, the director of external affairs, communications, and marketing for Boston’s Parks and Recreation Department said the presence of Nova Scotians at the ceremony underscores how cherished the tree arrival tradition is.

“It is an amazing testimony to a partnership that the city has forged with Halifax and with Nova Scotia,” she said in her speech. “Being able to come here and enjoy a tree for the holidays … brings us all together.”

The truck from Nova Scotia travels through Boston Common to deliver the tree. (Nick Peace for The Beacon)

The tree-raising was facilitated by Maltby & Co., an arborcare company from Stoughton, Massachusetts. Maltby has been responsible for raising the tree during the arrival ceremony for more than 25 years, according to John Murphy, an arborist representative for the company.

The company used a crane to hoist the tree up and plant it in a hole designated for holding the tree. 

Murphy said Maltby workers arrived at 8 a.m. that morning to begin setting up the crane and estimated that the full planting process would likely conclude around 2 p.m.

“It’s always a fun day for our company … a lot of fans come every year to see this,” Murphy said.

Following the celebration of the arrival of the tree, on Nov. 30, WCVB 5 and the city of Boston will host Holiday Lights, a ceremonial event with live music and festivities including the lighting of the Nova Scotian tree. 

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About the Contributors
Sam Shipman
Sam Shipman, Assistant News Editor
Sam Shipman (He/Him) is a sophomore journalism major from Natick, Massachusetts. When Sam is not working for the Beacon, he can be found working with WEBN as the J Channel Manager, SPJ as the Vice-President, or staff writing for WECB Milk Crate.
Bryan Hecht
Bryan Hecht, News Co-Editor
Bryan Hecht (he/him) is a freshman journalism major from Havertown, Pennsylvania. He currently serves as an assistant editor of The Berkeley Beacon News section. Bryan also contributes to WEBN Political Pulse and hopes one day to work in broadcast news media. As a member of the Emerson Cross Country team, Bryan can likely be found on a run around the Boston area when he's not writing for the Beacon.

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