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Our Northside Treasure – Ol’ Westy

Our Northside Treasure

Maureen Sexsmith-West

ISA Certified Arborist, PR4600A

OL’ WESTY, Plains Cottonwood

(Populus deltoides)

Location:  Westminster Pool

 (411 – 16 Street N)

Height:                   16.5 m, 54’

Spread:                  1.5 m, 70’ 6”’

Circum:                  4.17 m or 164” -13’9”         

Circa:                     1906

Stats:  January 2014

Ol Westy was believed to have been planted at this location about 1906. It was christened Ol’ Westy by the children and teachers of Westminster School in 1997 when it was designated a “Notable Tree of Past – a Legend”. It is also a registered Provincial Heritage Tree.

There are countless stories from north side residents about memories of this tree. One of ice hockey games that led to NHL stardom (see insert following). Talk of sweetheart rendezvous and picnics under it shady branches. I am sure every dog that passes leaves his mark on it.

As a relative newcomer – I can’t imagine it as a sapling – it seems like it has always been this magnificent.

With the onset of urban development the ice rink was replaced with a pool and the lush grass is now an asphalt parking lot. Banged by snow plows – I am sure if anyone dared to trim off the lower branches there would be a riot. It was root pruned to correct a lifting sidewalk. It has had no special attention and no one to make sure it was watered regularly. Yet, it is lush and vital. The City of Lethbridge It represents the spirit of the residents of the Northside – resilient, self-sufficient and strong. It continues to be a recognizable landmark of the Westminster neighborhood. With low branching it is still a favorite climbing tree for neighborhood kids.

It is hoped that it will be cloned so these amazing genes can live on in our community and a ‘junior Westy’. Imagine your great, great, great grandchildren sitting under the shade of its branches for a picnic. We can only hope.

If you have any great pictures of family events by this tree or stories to add – I would love copies so they can be added to the provincial heritage tree records and to the Lethbridge Historical Society archive files too.

About the Cottonwood Tree:

The Plains Cottonwood is one of four native poplar trees to our region growing naturally in the Old Man River Basin.  The term deltoides refers to the shape of the leaves.  The other two are the Balsam Poplar (Populus balsamifera), and the Narrowleaf Cottonwood (Populus angustifolia).  There is a fourth species P. trichocarpa (black cottonwood).  What is unique to our region is the interbreeding of these trees resulting in hybrids.  They have a typical life expectancy of 150 years but some have been dates at around 400.  These giant trees are revered for their many useful properties including medicinal uses, firewood, building materials and the essential role they play in wildlife habitat particularly for endangered and exotic species.

Many trees were transplanted as whips from the river valley forest.  To the untrained tree hunter, you wouldn’t know if you had a female or male tree.  It is usually cursed and then cut down for the seeds produced in abundance by the females of the species.  The ‘fluff’ resembles a summer snow fall arrives every June and lasts for 2-3 weeks.  A mature female tree can produce as many as 25 MILLION seeds (Bessey, 1904). Ol’ Westy is a male – which produces the pollen to fertilize the seeds – which is probably why it still remains in this location.  When stressed or growing conditions are not ideal, they have the ability to reproduce through root suckering as well.

1.     Cottonwood Leaf

2.     Female Seed Catkins – before bursting open they look like a cluster of small green grapes.

3.     Male Pollen catkins – formed before the leaves open

A story about a hockey hero and Ol’ Westy!

The following excerpt is from the Hockey Hall of Fame.  

Vic signed autographs in the parking lot of the Westminster Community Association, where once upon a time, he learned to play hockey on an outdoor rink located on the same spot, right there under the branches of Ol’ Westy. (Mike Bolt/HHOF)

Vic Stasiuk brought the Stanley Cup back to his hometown on Tuesday, August 16. “I feel very privileged and honoured to bring the Cup back to Lethbridge,” beamed Stasiuk.

Vic learned how to play hockey on an outdoor rink on Lethbridge’s north side. The rink, long gone, was located in the shadow of a tree local’s call ‘Ol’ Westy.’ “That tree was there when I was just a little squirt going up and down the ice,” Stasiuk recalled. “It was behind the west-end goal and that’s where we’ll have the Cup. If it wasn’t for that rink, under that tree, I never would have made it (to the NHL) because that’s where I learned to play.”

From noon until 4:00 PM, Vic Stasiuk met hockey fans in the parking lot of the Westminster Community Association, where the landmark tree is located. Signing photos of the Stanley Cup-winning Detroit Red Wings team of 1951-52, Vic encouraged donations which were to be used for building restorations of the Community Association. After 4:00, Vic, his wife Mary, their three daughters and son returned to their home where guests awaited. Vic uncorked a bottle of champagne given to him by long-time friend Johnny Bucyk. Then, from 6:00 until 9:00 PM, the Stanley Cup was taken to the Paradise Canyon Golf Club where members, friends and family got the opportunity to fawn over the Cup.

Any donations given were presented to the club’s junior golf program.

In a tradition reserved for true champions, Vic Stasiuk lifts the Stanley Cup over his head, smiling in triumph of victories once earned.(Mike Bolt/HHOF)

Although Vic was part of three Stanley Cup-winning teams in Detroit, his name is only engraved on the world’s best-known trophy twice — 1951-52 and 1954-55. In 1953-54, even though Vic played 42 games with the team, he was injured during the playoffs and his name omitted from the Cup. “We never got the chance to spend any time with it (the Stanley Cup). We didn’t get to parade it around like they do today. I’ve seen it once since then (mid-fifties), when Jamie Pushor (of the 1996-97 Detroit Red Wings) brought it back to town a few years ago. But I was so excited to just hold it over my head that I never looked for my name!”


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