Queen West “Hug Me” tree finds a new home

As we first reported yesterday, the fabled graffiti tree at Queen West and Peter, also known as the “Hug Me” tree, fell over ending its near decade-long reign as a local landmark. But there has been a handful of developments in the last 24 hours.

With the help of Devon Ostrom of the urban arts collective THEM, the graffiti artist responsible for re-painting it over the years, known as Elicser, contacted the City to say he wanted to take possession of the tree. Last evening, he painted a crime-scene outline around the tree and repainted the trunk to memorialize its last stand (“Hug Me RIP” and Xs over the eyes of the tree’s character were added). He lit candles and held vigil over it late into the night. Passersby stopped to tell him stories about their experience with the tree.

Meanwhile, the City’s Forestry department sent out a crew this morning to collect the tree. They showed up and began the process of cutting it up (with a chainsaw) to be taken away and chipped. A number of people gathered around the tree and stopped any further cutting until Elicser arrived. The only pieces cut off were the rotted roots (which even the artist is grateful for since it now can stand flat on the ground).

A resident who lived nearby offered up her pickup truck for transport. Elicser and a small crew of friends arranged to have it stored at a studio in the Queen West and Dufferin area. Within 30 minutes, the tree had a new home, albeit indoors.

One of the charming sidebars to this story is the owner of the pickup truck (pictured below left, with Elicser, right). She felt a personal connection to the tree and wanted to see it preserved in some way. Why? Because her husband had proposed to her in front of the tree six years ago. They also stood in front of it when they learned from their doctor the sex of their son Duke, now 5 years old (also pictured below). Duke was on hand for the transport of the tree — acting as the defacto foreman — and claimed to hug it each and every time he passed it.

Elicser has asked us to help him collect stories related to the tree. You can either leave them here on this post, or you can email them to hugmetree@spacing.ca.

All photos by Matthew Blackett

21 comments

  1. And all this happens while I’m at work? Gosh, I feel a bit left out, I should get out more!

  2. Of course I should give credit to the city for leaving this in place for so long and recognizing its placemaking potential.

    Other cities would have cut it down long ago and dropped in a new one lickety split.

    Sometimes I think Toronto’s benign neglect is a helpful part of the mix.

  3. I loved this tree! I’m glad that he preserved it, but now it’s indoors and the magic of how wonderful it is can’t be seen by everyone… It’s terrible that someone would do something like that. I agree with Dabusan though, I’m glad that the city of Toronto kept it there that long. I at least have a picture of my best friend and I beside the tree to remember it by. Every time I look at the picture it makes me smile 🙂

  4. It should be noted that the studio may not be the final resting place. The artist and any number of people have other ideas for it that could see it be a public artifact in the future.

  5. Yup, we are figuring out what the best way to stabilize the insides first with resin (or something) and then next figuring out a way that it can stand safely.

    Drilling out a couple holes and putting rebar / bolts in would work w. concrete — but the insides are mushy, so it might not last. An external pole and metal strapping system would work — but I think might look grotesque.

    If anyone has experience with tree person rehab please hit me up.

  6. I LOVE THIS YOUNG MAN WHO DOES THESE BEAUTIFUL MURAL SPRAY PAINTED MASTERPIECES… GIVE HIM THE KEYS TO THE CITY.

    I WANT TO SEE THIS YOUNG MAN FLOURISH. THE TREE WAS JUST THE START.

    1LUV.
    JER.E

  7. I remember the first one….’what the hell are you doing! youre nuts man!’ hahaha Its a sad day. RIP TREE.

  8. This should give more notice to Toronto Police and City Council that many of Toronto’s graffiti artists are deeply committed to our street culture and that their work has nothing to do with “vandalism.”

    I also consider Elicser to be doing some of the best street art in the city. Thanks to him for his many pieces in the city.

  9. I drove by in a taxi and saw super mom laying down the law with the City of Toronto workers. Way to go, legend in my books!

  10. this is like stuffing grandma and putting her on the mantle

  11. “this is like stuffing grandma and putting her on the mantle”

    Kindof — better than feeding her into the wood chipper though.

  12. the tree is only the tip of the elicser iceberg, he is every where in the city and his artwork beautifies our neighbourhoods. he is one of the good guys!!

    keep up the good work elicser, don’t get lazy! it will affect us all. we yearn for more.

    do you have a show coming up? website?

    all the best

    RTLVR

  13. WAKE UP PEOPLE IT’S ONLY A TREE, GET A GRIP!!!!!!!!! THE CITY WILL PUT ANOTHER TREE THERE AND YOU CAN HUG THAT ONE. LET’S STICK TO THINGS THAT MATTER LIKE VANDALISM BY THESE LITTLE ARROGANT AEROSOL ASSHOLES.

  14. This tree was such a landmark. I thank the city for leaving it be for so long. That’s one check-mark on the “love” side of my love-hate relationship with city hall.

  15. “WAKE UP PEOPLE IT’S ONLY A TREE, GET A GRIP!!!!!!!!! THE CITY WILL PUT ANOTHER TREE THERE AND YOU CAN HUG THAT ONE. LET’S STICK TO THINGS THAT MATTER LIKE VANDALISM BY THESE LITTLE ARROGANT AEROSOL ASSHOLES.”

    it’s not ‘just a tree’, and your rotten attitude is far more damaging to city life than a thousand cans of spraypaint.

  16. Preserving that rotting trunk may prove very difficult. Perhaps the best way to ‘save’ the tree trunk would be to make a cast of it, in resin or concrete (or even bronze!) so that there would be a permanent monument to put up for everyone to enjoy outside.

  17. “One day this chalk outline will circle this city”

  18. Hello to all who love the tree. And Thanks to elicsor and his Group.

    Having worked at a hot dog stand on the day that it was first cut by the forestry dept. of the city,, ….. with the existing stump which in the next week beacme ” The Hug Me Tree “… and which I watched evolve over the years with contributions by numbers of artists and communinuity members,… Elicsor’s bveing the most dramatic… and having seen the joy that that tree has given to so many people from the hood and from arpound the worlrd .. ( this being in a tourist area.. )..

    I am so glad thatnit is back up..

    NOTE OF CAUTION: It only took two days before some vandals hit it !!!!!

    WAS restored again buy Elicsor and Friends…

    Okay so far.

    Thanks

    Gary

    ommunit

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