Main Street tree of gargoyles

Neil Carleton 2

As a landmark of many years along Main Street, the Manitoba maple that grew at the west corner of Union Street was a tree of renown. With its lumps, bumps, and protuberances, there were contorted figures emerging from a variety of perspectives.

There was one, with animal nostrils flared and eyes squinted, which was compatible with the grotesque designs of medieval gargoyles. Another was comic in its near human profile, seemingly caught with Jack Horner’s plum between its lips.

 Sadly, this shady character of distinctive growth was deemed to be structurally unsound and taken down last month.

If trees could talk, there would have been a story for each burl, knurl, and wound on the trunk of the Main Street gargoyles tree. This photo was taken on May 3, 2007, during a study of noteworthy trees along the streets of Almonte.
If trees could talk, there would have been a story for each burl, knurl, and wound on the trunk of the Main Street gargoyles tree. This photo was taken on May 3, 2007, during a study of noteworthy trees along the streets of Almonte.

Also known as box-elder or ash-leaved maple, Manitoba maple is a common tree in our area and easy to find. It’s a fast-growing tree that can survive dry and extremely cold conditions, so Manitoba maples have been widely planted for shade and shelterbelts in the prairie provinces. It continues to spread eastward and now ranges into northern New York.

Looking west along Main Street back in early May 2007, this near silhouette view shows that a full canopy of leaves had not yet developed that early in the season.
Looking west along Main Street back in early May 2007, this near silhouette view shows that a full canopy of leaves had not yet developed that early in the season.

When the tree came down in May 2014, the neighbourhood lost an arboreal icon.
When the tree came down in May 2014, the neighbourhood lost an arboreal icon.
The lumps, bumps, and warts of the lower trunk offered plenty of scope for the imagination.
The lumps, bumps, and warts of the lower trunk offered plenty of scope for the imagination.
After a tree comes down, gone is the promise of spring leaves and the rustle of a summer breeze through the canopy.
After a tree comes down, gone is the promise of spring leaves and the rustle of a summer breeze through the canopy.
The Manitoba maple is shade-intolerant, growing rapidly for the first 15-20 years, and living about 60-75 years. When I came back another day to count the growth rings, it was too late.  
The Manitoba maple is shade-intolerant, growing rapidly for the first 15-20 years, and living about 60-75 years. When I came back another day to count the growth rings, it was too late.

Being rather short lived, and susceptible to weather damage, it doesn’t usually grow to be a very big tree compared to the larger sugar maples in our region. The largest Manitoba maple found in Ontario was located in 1984 at Zorra Township in Oxford County. It had a diameter of 1.36 m (4.46 feet) and was 16 m (52.4 feet) in height.

 Thank you to Mike O’Malley for his nomination of the Main Street tree of gargoyles.

Do you have a notable or favourite tree? Readers are invited to submit their nominations for an honor roll of trees in our area that could be featured in future articles. You can contact me at 613-256-2018, <ve3nce@gmail.ca>, or Neil Carleton, 3 Argyle Street, P.O. Box 1644, Almonte, Ontario, K0A 1A0. I look forward to hearing from you.

My volunteer columns started in March 2010, as print features, to support the tree planting and tree awareness initiatives of the Mississippi Mills Beautification Committee. The contact for the Tree Committee is Ron Ayling, 613-256-4617. In Carleton Place, the contact for the Urban Forest / River Corridor Advisory Committee is Jim McCready, 613-257-5853.

Until the next column, you’ll find me looking for and hanging out with shady characters.