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Tree carvings add to London's reputation as green "Forest City"

© By Hans Tammemagi

Wood chips rained down like hail from high above. Armed with a chainsaw, Robbin Wenzoski stood on scaffolding, cutting at a large dead maple tree. A master carver whose work has received national recognition, Wenzoski spent four weeks transforming the tree into a sculpture that told the Western Fair story, complete with agricultural animals and birds, a clown and a Ferris wheel.
     Wenzoski's work is part of an innovative program started in London, Ontario, in 2006. Instead of putting large trees that have reached the end of their life through the wood chipper, they are being transformed into beautiful pieces of art. Wenzoski has turned dead trees into a crusader knight in full battle armour, a blue jay beside a waterfall and much more.
     "Some cities have decorated their streets with murals, but we wanted to try something unique, something that would make people talk" said Marty Rice, a London Tourism manager. Smiling, he added, "And it's worked."
     London enjoys many identities. It's a city of museums and history, starting from when Lieutenant-Governor Simcoe selected it as the capital of Upper Canada (sadly, its position was usurped by Toronto.) It's a university city with the ebullience of youth, sports, pubs and lively nightclubs. Culture thrives, centered on the Grand Theatre, which has operated since 1901 with a galaxy of stars such as W. C. Fields, Sarah Bernhardt and Sir John Gielgud strutting about the stage. And Covent Garden Market and the annual Western Fair are reminders that London, surrounded by rich farm land, is the agricultural hub of southwestern Ontario.
     But the reason I love London is its greenery. The cityscape is softened by two meandering branches of the Thames River that provide a richness of green spaces seldom found in other urban centres. You can hike or bike from one end of the city to the other through a network of trails and parks, never once having to battle with traffic. Parks abound including Fanshawe Pioneer Village where you can wander amongst 30 historic buildings of the late 1800s, while chatting with guides in period costumes. London boasts many natural places throughout the city that are open year around including Kilally Meadows, Meadowlily Woods, Medway Valley Heritage Forest, Warbler Woods and Westminster Ponds. Sifton Bog is a particularly intriguing place. An environmentally sensitive area, it is Canada's most southerly large acid bog and contains trees, plants and wildlife usually found much further north.
     The tree-carving project demonstrates London's love of trees and is enhancing its reputation as the "Forest City". Three carvers are creating sculptures that, instead of being confined to an art gallery, are right out on public streets. I strolled the downtown core and gazed in admiration at an eagle, a hand holding a globe and a castle turret. Twelve carvings are complete and eight more are planned for this year. Additional carvings will follow and a brochure describing this arboreal art walk is in the works. There's nothing like an alfresco art gallery!
     Neil Cox, one of the carvers, explained that about 95% of the carving is done with chainsaws ranging in size from large blocking saws to delicate carving saws. (It's not surprising that chain saw manufacturer Stihl of Canada is a sponsor of the project.) Detailed finishing work is accomplished with chisels and power rotary tools. The artwork is usually painted or stained and then coated with automotive polyurethane enamel to preserve the wood against the weather.
     "Designing the sculpture is the hardest part," Cox explained. "It needs to fit the history and style of its location and we need to get the approval of city officials as well as the people who will live next to it." For example, Shining Brightly, an inspirational sculpture, is located next to St. Leonard's Youth Centre.
     "Each carving is a magical adventure," said Wenzoski. He described how passers-by comment or honk, but are always supportive. "People love these carvings," he said. Once, a blind lady asked to "see" the sculpture that he was working on. She ran her hands methodically over the carving, recognized the parts and was excited by its beauty. "London is full of great, friendly people," said Wenzoski," and encounters like that are priceless."

         

Hans Tammemagi has written six books including: Exploring Niagara - The Complete Guide to Niagara Falls & Vicinity and Exploring the Hill - A Guide to Canada's Parliament Past & Present. He is the environment columnist for the Vancouver Sun and his articles appear in newspapers and magazines across Canada.

Photo credits
Hans Tammemagi: sculptures
London Tourism: Bicycling in autumn

If you go
General information on London and for updates on the tree-carving project: www.londontourism.ca
Hiking in and around London: www.thamesvalleytrail.org
For London's hiking and biking paths: http://www.london.ca/d.aspx?s=/Transportation/bikepage.htm
Environmentally Sensitive Areas: www.thamesriver.on.ca/Wetlands_and_Natural_Areas/ESAs.htm
Wikipedia: http://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/London,_Ontario
Wikitravel: http://wikitravel.org/en/London_(Ontario)

Activities and Sights
Museum London www.museumlondon.ca
Banting House: www.diabetes.ca
Royal Canadian Regiment Military Museum: www.rcrmuseum.ca
Fanshawe Pioneer Village www.fanshawepioneervillage.ca
Grand Theatre www.grandtheatre.com
London Children's Museum www.londonchildrensmuseum.ca
Storybook Gardens: www.storybook.london.ca

What's happening, money, distance, time?
Media Guide: http://www.abyznewslinks.com/
Currency conversion: http://www.xe.com/ucc/
Distance calculator: http://www.indo.com/distance/
Time zone converter: http://www.timezoneconverter.com/
Tourism London


Transportation, visas, health, maps and temperature
Airlines (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_airlines
Embassies/Consulates (Embassy World): http://www.embassyworld.com/
Health precautions (WHO): http://www.who.int/ith/en/
Maps (Mapquest) U.S. & Canada: http://www.mapquest.com/maps/main.adp
Maps (Mapquest) World: http://www.mapquest.com/maps/main.adp?country=GB
Temperature (Temperature World): http://www.temperatureworld.com/



When travelling to London Ontario, you may wish to investigate the following links:

Other Destinations
Travel Tips
Travel News Readers' Forum London Tourism


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