Halifax bills itself as “The City of Trees,” and true enough, natives and visitors encounter no shortage of green as they walk the peninsula’s streets and parks. But there’s a secret hiding beneath the bark…
Much of the city’s finest foliage is in fact, fake – intricate and exquisite reconstructions of hand-sculpted ‘bark,’ ingeniously covering interior skeletons of masonry and metal, terminating in polymer leaves that are secretly and painstakingly attached, switched, and removed as the seasons dictate.
That’s not to say that Halifax wasn’t once absolutely covered in timber – there was a time when you couldn’t swing a cat without hitting a tree (just one of the reasons that cat swinging is still outlawed within city limits), but in the early 1900s, through an especially unfortunate example of nepotism over practicality, the position of City Gardener was given to Major General Hector Milner-Worthing, a Boer War veteran and known Dendrophobe. Immortalized here in the Public Gardens (in surroundings that would have sent him into full apoplexy) Milner-Worthing immediately set about his new responsibilities with a city-wide program of ‘pruning’ the trees … down to their stumps. And then, shooting the stumps. (Despite what many believe, the rifle in the statue is NOT a tribute to his military service, nor is his choice of target accidental.)
By the time the city fathers realized what was going on, half the city had been denuded of all but pockmarked stumps. Milner-Worthing was given a full pension, a golden handshake, and a statue for agreeing to move immediately to Saskatchewan, while recently demobbed soldiers and idle masons from the just-completed Halifax Armoury were brought in to replace the city’s essential arboreal accessories. Through the years these artisans evolved into highly specialized masters of a still secret craft, which, over more than a century, has only changed in the materials used to replicate the leaves.
Most Haligonians know nothing of their existence, the only hints being occasional unexplained rustling amongst the leaves on dark but windless nights, and the rare cosmetic failure – like the above example outside of King’s College.
(One may submit that planting new trees would be more efficient and less labour intensive than constantly maintaining these replicas in their state of ‘can’t tell the difference’ perfection, but as time passed the Halifax Leaf Changers Union amassed powers that would make the Teamsters run to get their big brother, and local politicians would rather keep a campaign promise than tangle with the HLCU.)