Calgary's largest elm tree near the Stampede grounds won't be relocated

It's known as the Stampede Elm and is growing in Parking Lot 14, north of the Scotiabank Saddledome.

Estimated to be 125 years old, it's not the oldest elm in Calgary but according to Julie Guimond, the acting manager of Calgary Parks, it is the largest.

"We did try and look at the opportunity of relocating this tree," said Guimond.

"We actually got to the point where we had a date set for that relocation, we were partnering with an organization out of the United States that relocates trees of this scale. They're the only one in the world that do it at this scale."

Guimond says the city was preparing to dig out a 10-metre root ball and move the elm on rollers to another location, but a crack was discovered in mid-September on one of the tree's limbs called a scaffold branch.

"That crack resulted in the branch actually dropping slightly and so when we assessed it further with that consultant, we made the decision that it was too great of a risk," said Guimond.

"The dynamics of moving a tree, we don't know how that branch would respond, if that branch failed, it would take out a quarter of the trunk and the tree would not survive that."

The elm's days are numbered because it sits on a piece of land where the Calgary Flames new arena is proposed to go. 

Victoria Park is unrecognizable from archived photos dating to the 1920s. Josh Traptow is the executive director of Heritage Calgary and says at one time it was a residential community. 

"Victoria Park very much was a blue collar neighborhood, single family homes where people lived," said Traptow.

"Obviously it was close access to downtown, Inglewood and then on the east side, the industrial areas like the CPR and some of the warehouses on 10th and 11th Avenue, so it was just kind of a working class neighbourhood and that tree would have likely just been in someone's backyard."

But as the houses started disappearing in the 1980s to make room for development of the Calgary Stampede grounds, the elm managed to stay. Great care was taken to preserve it and allow it to continue growing and as a result it's healthy even though it's in the middle of a parking lot.

"The things that that tree has witnessed," said Traptow. "From the development of Victoria Park just to the world events. I mean, it's gone through two world wars, multiple iterations of city development and everything else that's happened in Victoria Park over the last 125 years."

But while the tree will eventually be cut down, the city has been harvesting genetic information from it by collecting its seeds and planting them at its nursery.

Guimond says in five to eight years the city will have some saplings to plant that are a genetic mixture of the Stampede Elm.

"We may have hundreds of thousands of elms that were grown from this elm that we can plant in this community," said Guimond. "We can plant them on other heritage streetscapes and we can plant them just in other parks in parts of the city where it would be really relevant to have a heritage tree."

In April, a University of Calgary research group used a 3D scanner to preserve the tree virtually. Now the group is looking at printing a 3D model of the Stampede Elm.