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O Christmas Tree: A look inside the industry

By Scott Gardner [1] and Lindsey Cooke [2]

BELLEVILLE – The Christmas tree is an easily recognizable symbol of seasonal joy. What you may not know is Christmas trees have a year-long impact on thousands of Canadians working in the farming, transportation, and retail sectors of this festive industry.

Frank Thierrin has been part-owner of Carol’s Christmas Trees in Napanee for the last 18 months since his family purchased the land from its previous owners. A year and a half makes Thierrin very new to the world of Christmas tree farming. But its been long enough for him to learn about the endurance and year round toil that comes with owning a Christmas tree farm.

His summer days run a similar course all season long, and one typical of many making a living in agriculture. An early morning, trimming trees, and a daily battle waged against the forces of nature threatening the crop that is the light hearted man from Switzerland’s lively-hood. This years dry summer presented an especially challenging season.

“You can look over there and see that we actually lost a number of our trees this year” Thierin said as he pointed to an area of his farm filled with smaller or dying trees.

Like other Christmas tree farmers, Thierrin has growing competition from big box stores selling pre-cut or artificial Christmas trees to many customers. But he says he can attest to the feeling of Christmas ceremony and history that his property can provide to his guests.

“It’s a great tradition,(going to pick out trees) and I think that’s why people love coming.” Thierrin said pointing toward the sign above the property reading “The Family Tradition Continues.”

It’s a sentiment shared by Thierrin’s fellow industry worker – Jared Switzer, a third generation Christmas tree farmer from Bancroft Ontario.

Every year, Switzer sets up a trailer and his impressive Christmas tree crop here in Belleville. This year he was set up in a parking lot on the corner of College Street and Cannifton Road. Switzer stays in the makeshift camp for an entire month selling between 800 and 900 trees during his stay. Enough to pay off his bills and for a crop to start it all again next year.

Switzer explained that to him being a grower is not about making a lot of money. Rather, it’s about the personal experience and connection to annual customers.

“Meeting the people year after year and seeing the families grow”, is really what Switzer says keeps bringing him back to the Christmas tree fields every season.

 

Canadians have been commemorating the holiday season with Christmas trees since before even Confederation. They are a cherished and joyful token of the most important time in the Christian calendar.

Since 2015, the first Saturday of December has been dedicated to the people who grow, manage and sell Christmas trees. It’s Ontario’s very own Christmas Tree Day. [11]

There is even a provincial organization,the Christmas Tree Farmers of Ontario, [12]dedicated to educating people about the different types of trees, growing and care options and special deals for growers.

The Christmas tree industry is as Frank Thierrin puts it, “not a lucrative business.” Much of the money from sales go into ensuring there are trees to sell come next December. But the tradition of cutting and decorating a real Christmas tree to grace the homes of Canadians coast to coast is still strong enough to keep families like the Thierrin’s and Switzer’s getting up on those early spring mornings planting and trimming the trees.

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